The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the nominees for Illinois Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Bridget Fitzgerald submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Fitzgerald: As Illinois State Senator, my primary goal is to consistently pass a budget every year. I have a specific plan to address the pension crisis and I support term limits for all legislative leaders. Additional priorities include common-sense gun laws, funding infrastructure and using my professional healthcare experience to make healthcare more affordable.
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
Fitzgerald:Sterigenics International in Willowbrook
Sterigenics International, a medical device manufacturing company located in Willowbrook, has been brought to the forefront of discussions around Illinois environmental and public health standards. A federal report released on August 21, 2018 concluded that prolonged exposure to Ethylene Oxide (EtO), an industry-known carcinogen which Sterigenics uses to sterilize medical equipment, poses a public health hazard to the residents of Willowbrook and neighboring communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Report recommended Sterigenics take immediate action and partner with federal and state agencies to reduce the public health risk.
I share great concern with the residents of the 41st District, having family members living within a mile of the facility and suffering the symptoms listed in the ATSDR Study. As the Sierra Club endorsed candidate, voting for environmental and labor protections are core principles to my legislative plan. We need real leadership that can repair the damage that has inflicted in the community of Willowbrook and surrounding communities.
Property Tax Assessment Reform in Cook County
Rising property taxes concern taxpayers across the State of Illinois. Yet in Cook County, which includes portions of the 41st State Senate District, we face great concerns also in the assessment process. Through various publications, we have seen the Cook County Assessor’s Office has been well – overdue for change. Similar to the change needed in Springfield, I will partner with local agencies to ignite positive change at every level of government. Positive change can occur when we integrate existing data to better serve the community. Not only does innovation and integration benefit our current tax-payers, but it will attract the next generation of homebuyers, residents and families to Illinois.
Water rates in Homer Glen (Will County)
According to a recent survey, Homer Glen residents can pay up 20 to 70 percent higher water rates than neighboring communities using the same Lake Michigan water. Homer Glen residents pay an estimated $85.58 a month per 5,000 gallons, not including sewer charges. Legislation passed earlier this year exacerbates the inequity.
Governor Bruce Rauner signed HB 4508 which amended the Public Utilities Act allowing for-profit companies to impose automatic rate hikes on existing ratepayers for Lake Michigan water. The Citizen Utility Board was strongly opposed to HB4508 and providing a monopoly opportunity by the private companies who treat and deliver water to the area. In the Illinois State Senate, I will advocate for strengthening our oversight of the Illinois Commerce Commission and imposing a rate-cap to mitigate unexpected utility bills.
Who is Bridget Fitzgerald?
- Senate 41st
- Village Clerk, Western Springs
- Village Clerk, Western Springs
- St. John of the Cross Grade School and Parish: Western Springs, IL
- Fenwick High School: Oak Park, IL
- John Carroll University: Cleveland, OH
- Northwestern University: Evanston, IL
Campaign website: votebridgetfitzgerald.com Twitter handle: @votebridgetfitz
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
While in the healthcare sector, I focused on changing policies to put patients first. As state senator, I will continue to put people and patients first through legislation that protects public health. As the Sierra Club endorsed candidate, my professional experience and pledges for the future are aligned to protect public health and the environment. I believe all people have the right to clean air, affordable water and access to healthcare.
Unlike my opponent, I’m not afraid of standing up to extreme political interests in either party. I’ve come out strongly in favor of legislative leader term limits, even when it applies to leaders in my own party.
My opponent voted against additional school funding for the 41st Senate District (SB1), voted against a minimum teacher salary (HB 5175), and voted against graduate students unionizing (SB 2546) . I am proudly endorsed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL CIO) and Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) for my commitment to education and organized labor success.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Fitzgerald:Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why people are leaving the state, but in my opinion the strongest reason is uncertainty about the future. Politics has always been a part of Illinois’ identity, but it’s the first time in modern history that such an exodus has touched all of our lives.
We must reform our unfair property tax system. I am ready to partner with agencies across the state, to integrate existing data to better serve our community and bring transparency to the property tax assessment process.
We must end a decades-long culture of corruption. Implementing legislative leader term limits is a step in the right direction. I believe in legislative leader term limits for both parties and each branch of the legislature, including the Governor, Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate President and Senate Minority Leader. I support a ‘no budget, no pay law’ to hold our elected officials accountable for doing their jobs.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Fitzgerald:The biggest financial problem Illinois has to address is the over $130 billion unfunded pension liabilities. It’s important to note the difference between Tier I pension recipients (e.g., those who were hired in 2010 or earlier) and Tier II pension recipients (those hired after) that is already in place today. The benefits for Tier II recipients are much less robust than those for Tier I — the retirement age is higher (67 vs. 55), cost of living increases for Tier II beneficiaries are not compounded like they are for Tier I recipients. Over time, as the number of Tier II beneficiaries increases and the number of Tier I beneficiaries diminishes, the State’s pension system will become more solvent, rather than less.
There are powerful actions we should take today, too. Pensions are promises, and Illinois governments need a better, modernized method to fulfill these promises. Through consolidation, negotiation and innovation, the pension crisis is a solvable problem. First, Illinois can consolidate the administrative services of each of the multiple pension funds it administers by adopting an administrative-services-only model (similar to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund). Second, Illinois can expand and promote ‘’pension buyouts’ to move the financial liability off the books. Third, Illinois can immediately eliminate the practice of ‘double dipping’ (simultaneously receiving multiple pensions), starting with elected officials.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?
Fitzgerald:We must address high in-state tuition for our Illinois universities. Our Illinois tax dollars have helped build the nationally recognized university system we have today and our legislators should recognize the importance of preservation. Legislators need to pass a budget every year that promotes and supports higher education for trade schools, community colleges and universities. Our current Governor has not enacted a budget that fully supports public higher education.
To bridge the gap between budget stalemates and operating costs, higher public education has been forced to raise tuition costs. Despite political challenges, Illinois continues to offer a world-class education that attracts international applicants. We live in a global market and Illinois students are competing with international students for admission. If Springfield does not prioritize funding higher education operations and student aid through programs like MAP (Monetary Award Program) Illinois admissions departments will not be competitive with other states.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Fitzgerald:When I speak with the voters of the 41st Senate district, gun violence is a serious concern. There are common–sense gun safety laws we can pass to prevent school shootings. I support legislation that allows communities to ban assault weapons, enact comprehensive background checks, enforce strict gun licensing laws, and close gun ownership loopholes with domestic abusers.
As a matter of principle, I believe we need to disincentivize the purchase of firearms and ammunition. There is limited reporting data on sales tax revenue from SIC Code 3482 (Small Arms Ammunition) and SIC Code 3483 (Ammunition, Except for Small Arms) to provide precise revenue forecasts. All new revenue generated from an increased ammunition tax for SIC Code 3482 and SIC Code 3483 should be directly spent on security and intervention resources to prevent acute and mass shootings. We need to keep our schools, churches, public gathering places and neighborhoods safe.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Fitzgerald:I fully support a Fair Scheduling Law that includes the Oregon parameters. The Oregon Fair Scheduling Law establishes work scheduling standards for certain employers in retail, hospitality, or food services industries that have at least 500 employees worldwide. Employers may maintain a Voluntary Standby List for employees seeking additional hours and employers preparing for a short – notice workforce.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Fitzgerald:While knocking thousands of doors, I’ve realized that legalizing marijuana is not the highest priority issue for the voters of the 41st Senate District. I’m definitely open to studying the issue, particularly because of the positive external effects a well-crafted legalization policy could produce: bringing additional tax revenue into our state’s adverse financial situation to criminal justice reform. I would like to first consult with other states about their framework for implementing legal recreational marijuana, incorporating the pluses and minuses of what they have learned and what they recommend. I can certainly pledge to be open-minded, diligent and thoughtful in working on this issue.
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Fitzgerald:Given the scope and intensity of the opioid epidemic nationwide, it’s naive to assume that the problem can be cured simply through legislation. Although steps have been made in the right direction, I support the three-pillar State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan assembled by a coalition of state agencies last year.
Three pillars: Prevention, Treatment and Response have been deconstructed into a series of action plans. One specific action item I endorse is to increase the utilization of prescription monitoring programs (PMPs). The Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program (ILPMP) receives controlled substance prescription data from retail pharmacies and allows prescribers and dispensers to view historical data for current and prospective patients. The usefulness of a PMP is limited by the number of providers who actively use it. Current estimates indicate that only 18.4% of all potential users in Illinois are actively using the ILPMP.(State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan, Sept 2017) I support legislation that encourages higher participation in the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program (ILPMP) to diagnose unethical practices.
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?
Fitzgerald:I agree with the objectives and substance of the FEJA provisions because it is a massive job creator. Investing in clean, renewable, and sustainable energy has great potential for our Illinois economy. Illinois can expand its commitment to renewable infrastructure with incentives for homeowners, municipalities, and businesses to ‘go solar’. FEJA is not an end-all-be-all, but it is a great way to invest in our infrastructure.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?
Fitzgerald:Illinois may continue to integrate Medicaid services and ensure continuity of care. I was pleased to see the legislature recently passed HB4383, which allows seniors to keep their primary care physicians. Illinois can continue to make strides to coordinate care and hopefully improve health outcomes.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Fitzgerald:The findings of the auditor general are legitimate and require thoughtful action. Public dollars should be spent transparently, and the legislature should pass measures focused on reducing recidivism and improving the rehabilitation prospects of IDOC inmates.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Fitzgerald:Public safety is my top concern. Only through a qualified team of medical and legal professionals, should parole be administered. I am a full supporter of the Summit of Hope programs within in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Summit of Hope events bring together persons with a new perspective on life and prospective employers for job opportunities. In the Illinois State Senate, I will advocate for affordable healthcare, a thriving middle class and to create jobs that allow all Illinoisans to succeed.