On January 16th Bushra Amiwala appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 13th District in the March 2018 primary:
Hi, my name is Bushra Amiwala. I’m currently a candidate representing the 13th District on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. I’m a sophomore at DePaul University majoring in marketing and finance with a double minor in community service studies and public policy studies. I have been an active community volunteer and member of the Skokie and Rogers Park community through various non-for-profit work and organizations that I’ve worked with there.
My main priority is to increase full transparency at the county level and to serve as a voice for middle class residents along with all of those who are currently under represented. Whether that be families from minority backgrounds, immigrant backgrounds, or also those who are currently low-income and small businesses as well. To help increase the minimum wage but also again, take small businesses into consideration to really implement long-term substantial change.
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 state of Illinois. Amiwala 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: Cook County needs to take a proactive approach when addressing potential budget deficits, as opposed to having a reactive response. We must prevent this from becoming an “issue,” as opposed to trying to solve it after the manner. One of the main reasons the sweetened beverage tax was introduced was to clean up the 1.6 million dollar grant funding error made in April, along with other mistakes. It was to clean up budgeting errors, along with static revenues and increasing costs. It is imperative we hold our county government to a said standard that makes it so we finally have the balance of revenue and services. As a means to plan ahead, I think we should currently look at where we are allocating the majority of our funds to, and if it is necessary. The first place where we should put less money into is the county prisons. A lot of the people behind bars are literally innocent, because they have yet to be convicted of a crime, and around a third of the County’s budget is dedicated towards keeping innocent people behind bars. The most revenue will come from cutting costs of incarceration. On average, it costs about $143 to keep an innocent person behind bars. As opposed to being put being bars, temporary house arrest with electronic monitoring is the more humane solution, that takes up less resources as well. With geolocation technology, an ankle bracelet can shock the person wearing it if they are a certain distance away from the designated location. Technological advances have made this a far more convenient, effective and humane alternative and it is time Cook County modernizes its system as well. In regard to tackling the County’s budget in a proactive manner, means we must have a realistic view of what the County can accomplish with the current budget, and this must be monitored as the year goes on. Simply voting on and passing an annual budget is not sufficient, but it must be amended and drafted as the year goes on – if necessary. A lot of the time, initially there is rapid growth financially, which leads to rising costs, but this later leads to stagnation, or even a decline in revenue. Unincorporated areas must incorporate into neighboring suburbs to ensure residents in these areas are paying their fair share, which is another example of how revenue can be brought in.
Running for: Cook County commissioner in the 13th District
Political/civic background: Candidate for the Cook County Board of Commissioners D 13
Occupation: Market Research Intern at Technomic Inc. / Student
Education: DePaul University, Bachelors in Marketing and Finance with a Double Minor in Community Service Studies and Public Policy Studies
Campaign website: amiwala2018.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: Currently, CountyCare is able to generate about 1.2 billion dollars, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but seeing what it was before, this is about 200 million more than was it was before this implementation. If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, the County would have to make up about 200 million dollars. This should be done by bundling payments differently based medical or surgical protocols. The current model is open to error which leads to over billing. This will lead to more flexibility in payments, and will save revenue by spending on a case to case basis. This reduces the costs of care, meaning if the ACA was curtailed, we would not have to suddenly make up for the 200 million dollars which were being generated under this legislation, but we would have to find ways to reduce the costs of care. This will eliminate pharmaceutical companies incentivizing the use of higher cost drugs and will remove special interest from the healthcare field, as things such as medicine, should not have special interest attached to it.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I oppose privatization and out sourcing government services such as health, court and justice systems and jails, as this should be done in an efficient government workforce. I would never support the privatization of our prison, or health insurance. It is all about management, regardless of if the ownership is public or private, service levels must be met at a certain standard without reducing workers’ wages and benefits. Although it may seem like a reduction of cost short term, I don’t think privatizing has ever had a completely positive outcome, such as the parking meters. All non-traditional functions that do not fit the few I have listed, I would be open to supporting the privatization towards, only if it genuinely leads to a dramatic reduction in costs.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: The taxpayers of Cook County should not have to pick up the financial burden as a result of the state of Illinois’ lack of funds. A long-term solution would be to give ownership to the worker when it comes to their pension plan, as a means to solve this crisis. This would alleviate the financial stress imposed upon the taxpayers of Cook County. A long-term solution I seek to explore is investing a portion of the county budget annually. I believe .5 percent of the County Budget should be invested in various corporations based on their price to earnings ratio from the previous year. This measures an investors confidence in the company, and this contributed capital should be purchased as preferred stock. As a result, the owner of this stock gets money first if a corporation liquidates its assets, but also, the said owner of the stock would have no say in voting for the Board of Directors, which would minimize any conflict of interest. Worst case scenario, this common stock and various bonds are sold at par value, the legal minimum, meaning there will be no loss in this investment. Going off of the .5 percent of the County’s 5.2 billion dollar budget, means we will be investing about 26 million dollars annually. Based on economic trends, the average return on stock annually is 7%. This means, we will be able to increase the County budget by at least/on average 1.82 million dollars. If this model is replicated for the next decade, assuming the county revenue is completely static (which will not be the case), that is the creation of at least 20 million dollars in revenue, and not a single dollar came from taxpayer money – but in fact is a strategic way to draw more income from the extremely wealthy. With this model, we will be generating more revenue as the year goes on, and will have to amend the budget and will be able to include various County services which may not have been in the initial budget plan, based on how the investments go.
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: Yes, Tax Increment Financing is an undervalued tool, and it is not being utilized to its utmost potential. Especially in underdeveloped areas, where TIF could be used for new development, cleaning up contaminated areas, or even providing job training programs. The underutilization of TIF has led to further gentrification in other areas and has lead Chicago to be increasingly more segregated. TIF can be used to make all neighborhoods and towns at living standards, and this can solve an overarching systemic issue. Another result of TIF will be the increase and introduction of businesses in the redeveloped areas, but sometimes a direct view of this is not apparent since the process is not sufficiently transparent. There should be more community input before the introduction of a TIF method, and there should be a general idea of the goals sought to be accomplished as a result of financing the district in this manner. A “blighted” area should refer to a town that is unable to reach its full capacity in regard to economic growth and prosperity for businesses due to an external factor that has led to harsh living conditions.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: People want to freeze local property taxes because of the unconventional method houses are assessed on currently. I would introduce a progressive taxation model, as opposed to a straight-line tax hike. I would not be in favor of a regressive, flat tax, because of the way they disproportionately affect marginalized communities. With this progressive taxation model, there should be a correlation between the income one makes and the property taxes they pay. For example, you could have a billionaire living in a small apartment, who does not pay nearly as much in property taxes, as opposed to a family of six who live in a nice neighborhood, because they want adequate schooling for their children. This scenario is extremely relevant to myself, because this is the kind of family I grew up in. My parents were working four jobs combined, yet their annual income together was literally less than $30,000. Our property taxes went from $6,000 to when we first moved to Skokie, to almost double, around $11,000, after about 8 years of living there. This is where progressive taxation comes into play. There has to be a correlation between income and property taxes. The current method encourages dramatic disparities between neighborhoods, schooling and promotes gentrification and the further divide between “rich” and “poor” neighborhoods. Those who cannot afford to pay, and those who have seen their taxes almost double over the past 5 years are the ones calling for a property tax freeze.
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: Yes, I do support merging unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities, because it is the only way to ensure members from these neighborhoods pay their fair share, especially when it comes to the utilization of county services. Being unincorporated puts a financial burden on the county. The effort to adjoin municipalities should be based off of school districts, as this is a universal reflection of the taxation process, to ensure all these unincorporated areas are annexed into neighboring municipalities.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: It starts with assimilating low-income residents back into society, as people who live in high-poverty areas have lower social mobility, which derails economic development in that area, along with neighboring towns as well. This spillover effect, impacts Cook County in its entirety. The County should provide public housing for those below poverty level, and should create allocate funds for this with statewide and federal funding as well. After conducting independent research about the affects of redlining and systemic poverty as a result of housing discrimination, this takes a dramatic toll on the way some residents in Cook County pay taxes over the others, the impact this has on schools, and ultimately when it comes to business and job creation. Also, the key to economic development is through small busiensses. With that being said, The minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinance/legislation needs to be solved once and for all. The majority of the members in my district were in favor of increasing the minimum wage, however this was a very poorly written piece of legislation. By allowing municipal levels of government to opt out of this ordinance was the first mistake, but also, not separating small business from large corporation was the second. If about 90% of the municipal levels of government opted out of said legislation to increase the minimum wage, at the end of the day there was nothing done. I would bring this ordinance back and include a dictionary definition of small business, and one of a larger corporation. I would attach numerical values to this to ensure there is no loophole as to whether one is a small business or not. Since small businesses were the ones to band together to opt out of the increase in minimum wage, the logical solution would be to hear their concerns, and understand you cannot expect to fight for small business if you hold them to the same standard as large companies and corporations.
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: There should be an additional cost for parking in these areas to generate revenue, whether it be through a parking garage with a flat fee, hourly, or through parking meters. Obviously, these would not be privatized, such as the parking meters in the City of Chicago.
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?
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, the Forest Preserve District should have its own board independent of the County Board, that includes county wide elected officials, in a non-partisan election, where Commissioners are elected based on experience and interest in forest preserve governance. This will remove the conflict of interest in regard to land preservation and economic development in particular.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: No, asking Cook County and the City of Chicago to keep a tax hike as a means to alleviate the financial crisis created by the state is not fair treatment.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Yes. Pensions should be owned and controlled by the employee which removes the obligation from the employer or other taxpayers to pay into one’s retirement. This will assist with the budget crisis and will give workers more ownership over their retirement.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: None. Should not be allowed, I look down upon this.