On Feb. 5, Aaron Ortiz appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic nomination in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1st District:
My name is Aaron Ortiz and I am a college and career counselor at Back of the Yards College Prep High School, and I’m a lifelong resident of the Gage Park neighborhood, and because of this, I’ve had the ability to relate to many of the needs and concerns that exist in our community. Back in 2015, I was a precinct captain for Rafael Yañez and Chuy Garcia which, you know, gave me another opportunity to engage with our residents and understand that many of the needs and concerns that these families have are many of the same ones that my parents had growing up. So, it’s really allowed me to relate to many of the issues that the families at the school were bringing up to me constantly.
My top priorities are to go to Springfield and fight for a livable wage which is at least $15 an hour. I want to go to Springfield to fight for universal healthcare coverage for all. You know, our families need that. It’s what they deserve and I also want to fight for free college education at public universities and colleges because it’s one of the most basic fundamentals that our communities needs in the 1st District. A quality education and those are my top three priorities when I get to Springfield and that is to support our working class families in the 1st District.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Ortiz submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
TOPIC: Top priorities
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: School funding, Housing Security, Healthcare
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives 1st District
Political/civic background: Democrat
Occupation: Counselor, Back of the Yards High School (CPS)
Education: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Bachelors Degree
Campaign website: ortizforstaterep.com
TOPIC: Top district needs
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: Proper assessments and home foreclosures are very important in several communities in my district.Funding for education needs to be revisited and a more reliable income tax based increase needs to be considered, especially if we seek to alleviate the property tax burden. Medicaid needs to be expanded to include a broader constituency statewide.
TOPIC: Pension debt
QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?
ANSWER: Illinois’ pension is an obligation to its retirees and that needs to be the constant underlying framework. I think Center for Tax and Budget Accountability plan for a 44-year re-amortization should be seriously considered.
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TOPIC: Minimum wage
QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?
ANSWER: Illinois should increase its minimum wage so that no person should be working full time and not be able to support their family. The state should, at a minimum match the Cook County and Chicago wage. I do support a living wage of $15 per hour.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, credible science shows that marijuana is not anymore a gateway drug than alcohol or cigarettes. Marijuana use has persisted for decades despite attempts to curb its use. Better to take away the economic incentive for the illegal production and distribution and regulate it and use it as a revenue source.
QUESTION: Casinos. Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: No, gambling is an unreliable source of revenue. It also is unclear what problems the increased development of gambling establishment may create.
TOPIC: Property tax freeze
QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.
ANSWER: I do not support a property tax freeze. Local governments have been forced to rely on property taxes to fund education in the absence of sufficient state funding. The state needs develop funding sources that are more progressive such as a graduated income tax, a financial transaction tax, and an expansion of the sales tax to business and financial services.
TOPIC: School funding
QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?
ANSWER: Yes. The state needs to revisit how and to what extent it uses the state income tax to fund education. The states retreat from education funding has resulted in an overreliance on property tax revenue.
TOPIC: Opioid abuse
QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.
ANSWER: I support State’s Attorney Foxx’s lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their questionable practices in encouraging over-prescription of opioids. I believe it may be necessary for the legislature to examine pain management practices at facilities in Illinois that are funded by the State.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. There is no reason for this to be an issue and the arguments in favor of permitting silencers are patently absurd.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, gun dealers are a key factor in how guns are properly or improperly distributed in Illinois. There has to be more effort taken to ensure that gun dealers are engaging in practices that protect the public and do not sacrifice public safety for profit.
QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, as with other matters where safety and well being of family and their emotionally and mentally disturbed relatives are concerned the court should permit family to intervene for the safety and well being concerned.
QUESTION: What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
ANSWER: As I indicated previously I believe Medicaid should be available to a larger pool of recipients. I would support expansion of the ACA to include a public option. I also think that the ACA should be expanded in phases to be a Medicare-for-All program
TOPIC: College student exodus
QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
ANSWER: Closing state universities could arguably lead to even more young people leaving the state for better funded and supported systems elsewhere. Defunding and closing state universities is comparable to CPS’ policy of closing schools in neighborhoods badly in need of educational assets that serve all children. Disinvestment in the rural areas and small towns in Illinois is what leads to exodus. The state instead should be seeking to bolster rural Illinois with explicit linkages between its universities and the towns/communities in their areas of Illinois.
TOPIC: Gov. Rauner
QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.
ANSWER: I think it’s a positive step for the Governor to choose to stay at the Quincy veteran’s facility. We will have to see what comes of that. I believe the Governor took a positive step in finally agreeing to a budget for Illinois. I believe it’s a step forward to hear the Governor criticize the GOP tax bill.