On Feb. 21, Kevin B. Morrison appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 15th District in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Kevin Morrison, I’m someone who has always devoted my work to helping positively affect communities, that’s why I’ve remained my focus on both working on candidate and issues based campaigns, most recently I worked with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi as a special projects coordinator.
My top priorities as commissioner are first and foremost dealing with the property tax loopholes that are allowing the biggest corporations to skirt their property taxes which then fall on our backs. We could deal with those loopholes and start bringing down household property taxes across the county. Secondly I want to make it easier for people to invest in Cook County, I want to push a new initiative on new small businesses that would allow for a lowered property tax for new business that will remain and hire locally which will allow them to get on steady ground. And then after that two year period slowly ween them on off of over a number of years to where they should be, which would bring in whole boatloads of new revenue into the county that do not include new taxes on the backs of working class families.
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. Morrison 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: The budget that passed for FY 2018 compared with expected revenue seems balanced enough, until you take a look at the deficit. Cook County currently has a deficit of $139 billion. I was not a supporter of the sweetened beverage tax, but new innovative ways for bringing in revenue must be considered. I would not support any regressive taxes. The biggest problem with the sweetened beverage tax was that it disproportionately affected small businesses, working families, and the middle class. New ways of bringing in revenue must be fair, and not fall on the backs of working families. The only way to truly balance Cook County’s budget is to begin chipping away at our deficit. In order to do that we must consider were we can save on costs, while not diminishing vital services. For far too long the weight of our looming debt crisis has fallen on the back of working families, and that is why as Commissioner I would push for a new corporate lease tax on large corporations to bring in the revenue our county so desperately needs.
Kevin B. Morrison
Running for: Cook County commissioner in the 15th District
Political/civic background: Experienced community organizer. Have held organizing and leadership positions in local, state, and federal elections. Precinct Captain for Precinct 52 in Schaumburg Township. Sierra Club and environmental group volunteer.
Occupation: Most recently Special Projects Coordinator for Congressman campaign. I have been a Community Organizer since 2012.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, DePaul University. Major: Political Science Minor: Environmental Science & LGQ Studies. Graduated Cum Laude.
Campaign website: KevinBMorrison.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 fight against any type of proposed repeal, and I am hopeful that the American people would stand up once more and stop any attempt by Congress. I am hopeful that the American people will elect a Congress next November that will work to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, as opposed to Republican proposals that would have seen a drastic increase in the price of healthcare, while the rate of those insured diminishes.
As well as being an elected official I plan to be an advocate for my district, and part of being advocate is lobbying to preserve the services and rights of my community. I would lobby our federal legislature to protect and improve the Affordable Care Act. I am no stranger to taking action, and would continue to speak out and rally against any attacks on my constituents. If the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed, I would hope that our State legislature stand up and pass a Medicare for All proposal as was considered in California. I would gladly lobby and speak out concerning the benefits of such a move.
Cook County would continue providing healthcare services for those in need no matter what happens with our federal and state government. I would not recommend any cuts to healthcare in the county in this instance, but would rather have to consider how much more cost would fall upon our shoulders as the uninsured rate increases. We all know that if we fell upon rough times, we would want these services to be available to us, so as proud Cook County residents we would stand together and persevere.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: It has been shown that privatizing services and outsourcings contracts often has a negative impact, such as lowering efficiency and increasing cost. Being passed up for promotions or seeing sectors of coworkers lose their job to outsourced labor is an impediment on employee morale. I do not support privatizing functions and services, but would rather see our county be resourceful and ensure that vital services are maintained.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: I think a big reason for this is that our state did not have a budget for two years. I know our Comptroller is doing her best to manage the state’s fiscal responsibilities after such a tumultuous time. We must push our state government and Governor to pass a budget once more, and after that is accomplished if our payments are not being received in a sufficient manner, than we might have to get the ball moving a little faster.
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: They are a valuable development tool. They allow for investment in areas that tend to have very positive ramifications for that community and the surrounding area. In my district, I believe they can be utilized to a greater extent than under our current Commissioner. If you take a look at the 15th District, far fewer TIF projects have come about in comparison with the rest of the county. I believe that for fixing up areas TIF’s should be utilized because of the economic return. I do however see the view of critics. I believe there should be far more transparency in the process, and I am always in favor of community input. Unlike the current Commissioner, I plan to be very present in my district. As Commissioner, I would regularly host town halls, knock doors, and ensure that there are always open modes of communication with the residents of my district.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I believe our county should do a better job of informing the public concerning exemptions and freezes that are currently available to many Cook County residents, but are not being utilized. For example, many seniors and retirees in my District are unaware that they may apply for the Senior Freeze Exemption or the Senior Citizen Exemption. There are exemptions that include Veterans and Disabled constituents as well. Under Illinois law, applications must be submitted each year, and are due February 8th. I believe more outreach is needed to alert Cook County residents.
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 believe that this is an issue that should be left up to constituents. If my community voiced concern, and overwhelmingly wanted to see unincorporated areas merged to adjoining municipalities, I would fight to see that it is done.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: My plan is to lower the burden on small businesses. Enterprise Zones are used by the county to spur economic development, and lower the burden placed on business owners. Currently there are no Enterprise Zones in the 15th District. In areas that have historically struggled to attract business development and have a heightened unemployed rate, I would like to see the establishment of an Enterprise Zone. This would allow for more jobs and better incomes for the people of the 15th District.
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: One of the greatest assets Cook County currently holds are our incredible Forest Preserve Districts. Cook County holds the first Forest Preserve Districts in the nation. One of my priorities is to protect the environmental integrity of our parks from invasive species. Protecting these native habitats provide many economic benefits to our county, and this plan would seek to restore and improve Forest Preserves across Cook. The restoration of our parks is vital to our economy, and that is why the full implementation of this plan is so important. In teaming up with environmental groups and local businesses around surrounding preserves, the county should be able to raise a significant amount needed for the project without having to place the burden on those already struggling in our community. I am confident that enough people will take interest in this project’s success in order to raise the funds sufficient for its implementation.
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 believe this is a question that should be answered by the constituents of the 17th District. If the plan were to use the funds collected to improve the preserve, county wide improvements, and wasn’t priced so high that it would impede the number of visitors to the park, I could get behind such a proposal.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: At this time, I do not believe the county is in a place that we should be expanding Cook County government. I believe that the current board meets the priorities necessary to maintain our preserves, especially with the Next Century Conservation Plan. As someone who studied environmental science, I would bring my experience and knowledge of environmental issues to the County Board. Whether or not to allow for a separate independent Preservation Board is a discussion for later. As the county currently does not have the revenue to pay off our deficit, we should not be talking about the creation of a new board until a time in which it can be afforded.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: I don’t believe we are treated fairly. The view on Cook County from many residents across the state has been one of resentment. Cook County provides a huge economic boost for the state as a whole. I believe these negative views often push downstate legislatures to propose bills that would be harmful to Cook County residents.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: I believe promised pensions should be protected. We have made our bed, and I believe it is how we move forward and what type of pension programs are offered that will help our county deal with our fiscal obligations.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: My sister, Christina Morrison, is an Assistant State’s Attorney. When it comes to hiring, I believe that the most qualified and best suited should be hired for the job. I am not in favor of hiring of family members.