On Feb. 19, Charise Williams appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 3rd District in the March 2018 primary. Check out her response in the video below.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Cook County Board of Commissioners a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Williams submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget. Can county government now claim an appropriate balance of revenue and services, or will more revenue or more cost-cutting be necessary? Please be specific as to where new revenue might come from, or where further cuts could be made.
ANSWER: There is an enormous difficulty in forecasting the proper amount of revenue and service expenditures without access to the same staff and financial experts reserved for incumbent County Board members. Here’s what I do know – residents do not feel they are taxed fairly for the services provided and the regressive nature of a tax like the pop tax proved it. I opposed this measure because it unfairly aligned revenue generation with a policy preference and laid that on the doorsteps of primarily African American communities. Cook County needs fairness in its property tax system so that trust can be restored in Cook County Government and the current leadership has failed this test. I would also explore legalization and sales taxes on marijuana.
Political/civic background: Democrat
Occupation: Deputy Chief of Staff of Civic Engagement, Illinois State Treasurer Frerichs
Education: Master of Public Policy, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
Campaign website: www.chariseforcommissioner.com
QUESTION: If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, what would you propose doing to keep the county’s Health and Hospitals System on sound financial footing?
ANSWER: I would work closely with the next Democratic Governor on Medicaid buy in. We have a strong need for affordable healthcare services and a unified Democratic government could get a great deal done on this issue.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I think privatization is something we look to way too often as a one size fits all solution to problems that we fail to address. There are no doubt services and purchases that the County makes that private sector could handle better, but we have seen nothing but cuts at County Government for years now and there are few areas for privatization left to explore.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: Removing Bruce Rauner from office. He has been one of the worst Governors in Illinois in the modern era and an impediment to getting things done.
QUESTION: What is your position on tax-increment financing districts? Are they a valuable development tool? Are they underutilized? Is the process sufficiently transparent? Should there be more community input? Should the definition of a “blighted” area be revised?
ANSWER: Chicago is often the focus on TIF policy and that is unfair to the policy. There are good uses for TIF, but mistakes in the law and mistakes in the application of it have given the program a bad name with the voters. I would like to see full transparency on all TIFs, triggers to end or reshape districts have far surpassed the need in a “but for” case for economic development, and a more comprehensive economic development strategy from Cook County, Chicago, and the State of Illinois when it comes to jump starting economic development. TIF should not be the only tool.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I think the ones calling for these freezes have political goals in mind instead of taxpayers. I completely understand how communities are struggling to pay bills and property taxes can be extremely burdensome – especially given recent changes in Washington. However, Illinois has a regressive flat income tax and that has resulted in an overreliance on property taxes. I’d like to see taxes addressed in a comprehensive fashion instead of just gimmicks.
QUESTION: Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
ANSWER: Support. We have to go to the people and talk to them about the benefits.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: The County has to work with Chicago, it’s neighboring municipalities, and Springfield together on this matter. We have limited tools compared to others, but we act as a glue in the region to bring people together. The most important area I believe we can address is our criminal justice system and I think a smarter application of law enforcement along with strong programs to rehabilitate people coming out of jail would go a long way to promoting economic improvement in minority communities.
QUESTION: An additional $40 million per year is needed to fund the Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Where can the county find the money?
ANSWER: Residents need us to be creative in these matters and I will work closely with my colleagues on the board and our neighboring communities to come up with the right plan.
QUESTION: Traditionally, the Forest Preserve District has not charged for parking in the preserves, but it is considering doing so at Swallow Cliff Woods. Do you support that?
ANSWER: User fees are reasonable to preserve and promote facilities.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: At this time, I don’t see the need to do so. The County Commissioners are more than capable of handling both roles whereas it’s difficult to call for expansion of government – and the salaries that go with it – at this time. I would be open to exploring this change in the future.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: No, and to be frank, there is a racial component as to why. Republicans frequently attack “Chicago politics” all around Illinois and use coded language to imply that there is some sort of siphon of tax dollars away from people who deserve it to those who don’t. Race is absolutely a part of that game they play and it needs to stop.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: We have to address the fact that politicians in Cook County made promises and have failed to take the steps to keep them. That will require sacrifice on all sides and I view my role as somebody who brings people together to find the solutions that everybody can support.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: None. I generally believe that it should be avoided at all cost, but there’s no reason highly qualified individuals should be barred from public service because of their family. There needs to be transparency on the issue so the public can apply proper scrutiny to any such moves.