On January 16th Larry Suffredin, the incumbent, appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 13th District in the March 2018 primary:
Hi, I’m Larry Suffredin. I’m currently the Cook County Commissioner for the 13th District representing the north end of Chicago and the northern suburbs. I’m a lawyer by training and have been on the county board since 2002.
As we go into this next year it’s going to be budgetary. It’s going to be to able to figure out how we do the right balance of revenues and services. The new federal tax law has really hurt Illinois. Our three main taxes are income tax, property tax and sales taxes. Those are the ones the feds will be limiting. We need to figure out a new way of raising revenue that’s fair to our citizens and gives us the money to provide for the healthcare system for the public safety, running the courts and for doing the other government services the county provides. We also need to be figuring out how to get the Cook County Forest Preserve to have enough money to be able to meet its goals. The forest preserves would be the one that I feel really needs to have an advocate right now because it’s the smallest part of our budget. It’s a separate budget and protecting the 70,000 acres of land we have I think is one of the most important things that we should be doing.
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. Suffredin 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: All taxes need to be reviewed to put together the fairest tax structure. The new Federal tax law should give us the platform for discussing tax fairness.
Running for: Cook County commissioner in the 13th District
Political/civic background: Cook County Commissioner, 13th District
Education: BA Loyola University, Chicago; JD Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC
Campaign website: Suffredin.org
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: If the Federal government takes away the ACA and restricts Medicaid we will have to take drastic actions to survive. Some services may need to be turned over to the State (especially if they have Block Grant authority). County Care has the potential of generating funds to support our health care system; but the Federal government could change that. The future changes so quickly on health care that there is no easy answer to this question.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I believe we should only privatize unique services that we need for short periods of time. Most County privatizations have cost us more money not less because of cost over-runs.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: We need to make sure all know how much the County is owed. Last year the monthly amounts ranged from $40 million to $21 million. We should try to have the Legislature cover us under Prompt Payment Act, so at least we could get interest. Being part of the State of Illinois will be challenging for the near time.
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: The County is not able to have TIF financing. We have responsibility to monitor TIFs. The County should use its Economic Development team to help communities know when a TIF is reasonable. TIFs are dollars spent off book and therefore require more oversight at the front end before the money comes in. I believe all the definitions “Blight” and other terms should be reviewed. TIFs have an impact on our budget as certain funds are removed from us. As a taxing body losing funds, the County should have a vote to determine if a TIF is reasonable.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I am opposed to freezing. The County has had a freeze since 1994 and nobody knows that! You must review all taxes for fairness. Freezing one tax will only cause more confusion and will put pressure on our schools that are totally dependent on property taxes.
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: I support reducing the amount of unincorporated land. To get municipalities to annex our property we need a capital program to bring streets, lighting, water and sewers to the same standards as the annexing community. Up to now annexations have occurred when major housing or commercial developments occurred which gave the annexing community an expansion of property taxes. The land that is left does not have development potential.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: Use our property tax incentives to create more employment opportunities. We need to better cooperate with our municipalities to insure we are enhancing job opportunities.
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: We need a referendum to increase property taxes to accomplish this. The CCFPD is a non-home rule government that can only get additional money by referendum. I have been in favor of a referendum and a separate board for a long time.
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: I support anything that is reasonable and gets the CCFPD some funds. I have encouraged renting parking to business neighbors during week days when the parking is available. We must come up with new revenue ideas. I am, though, opposed to Ziplines. The revenue from it does not cover the damage to our land.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: Absolutely. The CCFPD is held back by the politics of the County Board. The people deserve a Board that is only concerned about protecting the land.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: No. Our government is not treated fairly when we are owed so much money. Our citizens are taken for granted by Springfield because we are only 40% of the State. Our schools and housing are discriminated by laws that create barriers to success. We need a change at the State level.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Pensions are a difficult issue because of the Constitution. Cook County with its extra payments that I fought to get starting 4 years ago is in the best shape of any local government. I believe absent a Constitutional change the best way to get change is through Collective Bargaining.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: No relatives have jobs. I have written or voted for every anti-nepotism measurer.