Cook County Board 6th District Democratic candidate: Donna Miller
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
On Feb. 21, Donna Miller appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 6th District. After winning the March primary, Miller’s uncontested in the November general election.
Here are her responses to our editorial board questionnaire.
The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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.
Miller: I believe in a balanced approach to budgeting that would consist of cost containment, revenue enhancements, cuts and consolidations where possible. Since my district borders Will County and Indiana, we have already seen the detrimental effects of people leaving Cook County for their good and services due to an increase in a tax that adversely affects an area that is already the most unfairly taxed area for property taxes according to recent reports. I also believe that we cannot cut our way to balance a budget – particularly areas where vital services are needed.
The majority of the County budget goes towards healthcare cost, public safety and personnel. The operating revenue has increased year over year by 11.6% with the largest portion being in healthcare expenses. County Care was implemented as local response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help cost shift care in primary settings where the cost is lower than in an emergency department with the goal to reduce the cost of healthcare. When citizens use hospital emergency services as their source of “primary care”, the cost of care is nearly triple than in a primary setting. Regardless of the potential changes on a federal level, I believe technology and the use of smart phones can help reduce the cost to the system by steering residents to the county’s satellite clinics.
Bringing companies and fostering economic growth in my district is the best revenue source that will help the entire county. I do believe that if we grow the economy, jobs and infrastructure – where it has been lacking in my district – would help the entire county budget. The promotion of manufacturing jobs, particularly advanced manufacturing, can restore wealth to the middle class, create jobs, and reduce the national debt in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Similar to the consolidation of the Clerk and the Recorder of Deeds, other areas of the county can be examined on how modern technology can provide cost savings to the County. A strategic analysis of other departments and agencies should be examined for other potential mergers. County programs should be examined to identify mandated operational costs and that relates to service needs and necessary personnel to implement the programs.
Expansion of services under a managed care system (substance abuse/adult dental/mental health for example) will help keep healthcare cost down if they are preformed in primary care settings. Lastly, the county’s healthcare system needs to ensure that it is recouping all matching state and federal programs. This includes capturing funds from all current billable procedures. This is significant since the changing landscape into a managed care system.
Another area to balance the budget that indirectly addresses rightsizing is the elimination and closure of vacant positions and a hiring freeze on other positions. Eliminating these positions, as was recently implemented to help balance the budget, helped saved money and a proposal I would support.
Lastly, Cook County’s judicial system is one of the main contributors to the overall budget. I support efforts that would reduce the cost, by reducing incarceration, on case-by-case bases, on low-level non-violent offences. This reform could potentially provide cost savings. The County could also save money if the Sherriff’s police took over the forest preserves.
Who is Donna Miller?
She’s running for: Democratic nomination for Cook County commissioner in the 6th District
Her political/civic background:
- Planned Parenthood of Illinois – Board Chair 2017 -present, Member 2012- present
- Planned Parenthood Illinois Action – Board Chair 2015-2017, Member 2012 – present
- Co-Chair Congresswoman Robin Kelly Annual Golf Event 2014- 2017
- Congresswoman Robin Kelly 2nd District Healthcare Task Force
- Illinois Clinton Leadership Team – 2015-2016 Hillary Clinton Super Volunteers – 2014-2016
- Democratic National Committee Rules Committee Member – 2016 Convention
- Democratic Women of the South Suburbs – President 2013-2015, Current Member
- Illinois Democratic Women – Vice President
- MIKVA Challenge – Mentor
- Professional Women’s Network – Member
- Healthcare Business Women’s Association – Former Member
- Alliance of Illinois State Dental Society – Former Legislative Liaison
- Christian Community Health Center – Former Board Member
- League of Women Voters – Member
- National Sales Network – Member
- Jobs for Youth – Former Mentor
- Walgreens HIV Task Force
Her occupation: Healthcare Consultant
- Lane Technical High School (1983)
- Bachelor of Business Administration – Howard University (1987)
- Graduate Business Courses – Pepperdine University (1992)
- Various Certifications and Credentials
Campaign website: www.GoDonnaGo.com
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?
Miller: A major item in the County’s budget is healthcare costs. As mentioned in question #1, County Care was implemented to help cost shift patient care in primary settings where the cost is lower than in an emergency department with the goal to reduce overall healthcare costs. Regardless of the potential changes on a federal level, I believe that several steps can be taken to help the County’s Health and Hospital system.
I believe that demonstrating the cost savings, as well as quality of care, is the best way advocate for the continuation of funding for the County Health and Hospital system benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Expansion of the number of people and services under a managed care system should continue. The increase in patient pool decreases the overall health risk cost and allows the county to be in a better negotiation position to reduce costs. This includes pharmaceuticals medications and medical services. Capturing funds from all current billable procedures and ensure that it is recouping all eligible matching state and federal dollars. The “hospital tax” implemented a few years ago is an example of a better federal match for money back to Illinois. Technology advances in medicine and steering residents to the county’s satellite clinics will help reduce costs.
“Pay for performance” of health outcomes and block grant funding have been discussed nationally as some of the changes regarding payment that will impact Cook Count’s health system if implemented. The County should proactively address these potential changes to comprehensive “to make its case” for adequate funding.
Legislation passed this year has enabled coverage for preexisting Illinois will be maintained regardless of changes in the ACA. My relationships with the federal congressional delegation and state elected officials, becomes invaluable to advocate negating any harmful impact.
What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
Miller: Public health, safety and courts are required functions of County government. As technology integrates further into our lives, rightsizing positions should be examined to provide greater efficiencies in government. I would consider contracting services only if it meets safeguards that are in the best interest of the county. These would include services that are not assigned to essential functions of government, provide greater efficiency or provide cost savings to the county. All options need to be explored.
I do not believe that contracting of services should be a blanket substitution for strictly balancing the budget or awarding contracts based on political connections. Privatization of any service should be based on qualifications and not to undermined the current workforce, salaries or benefits. Clear standards, cost analysis and benchmark of performance should be spelled out prior to any contact awarded. Under these circumstances, I would demand full transparency of these contracts to ensure that they are fairly and ethically awarded.
The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
Miller: The State of Illinois went over 2 years without a state budget – the worse in in the nation. As the 2 rd largest county in the country, the impact of this unprecedented budget stalemate had a detrimental affect on frontline providers, community organizations and healthcare providers. The County should work with State officials to determine which payments can go towards the most critical services. As more payments are starting to be issued, I believe that those front line providers should be put on a normalized and predictable payment schedule. I also believe that the public should be aware of these delay in payments impact their lives.
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?
Miller: My district includes some of the most economically challenged communities in Cook County. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was originally designed to attract business to help economically disadvage communities. Although taking away tax dollars from other needed service, the net affect was to improve these communities through business growth. Unfortunately, I believe that TIFs have not spurred the promise of growth in these communities as originally intended. In addition, TIFs have been used in non “blighted” communities – clearly not the original intent – and believe that the definition of “blighted” should be revised.
By law all municipalities are required to report TIF activities. TIFs allow a municipality to reinvest all new property tax dollars in the neighborhood from which they came for a 23-year period without a recap of benefits/losses that has occurred. I want to ensure that citizens are getting the very best deal for the taxpayers’ money and assure that TIF dollars are being spent appropriately. Greater oversight is needed. This is best achieved by providing the citizens of Illinois with an easily accessible database – in plain language – so they can understand how TIF dollars are being allocated and their impact on local communities. The County Clerk’s office web site has helped, but a public input needs to be greater and the benefit/loss to a community needs to be demonstrated. TIFs are often re-approved without proof of beneficial analysis of impact. I would like to see more transparency and oversight of TIFs to determine if job growth has occurred esteeming from the tax incentive.
Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
Miller: County taxes that help provide valuable services should also be a fair taxation and distribution of revenue system. Increased businesses and working families will come to my area if they feel there is a “level playing field” through a fairer tax system. There have been recent reports that the evaluation process has not been fair, particularly in the Southland, and a closed-door “insider” process. Due to shifting population and the changing business climate over the past 20 years, the same taxation system needs to be overhauled to today’s environment.
Proposals to increase property taxes should not be looked upon to solely fix budget shortfalls. Freezing property tax would also freeze an unfair tax rate to my community. I will fight against an increase in property taxes and fight for a fairer system. I believe we should overhaul the system to lessen the tax burden particularly in my region. The people of Cook County deserve transparency as it relates to property taxes. Every area should be accessed in a consumer friendly manner that is easy to understand. I believe that greater transparency will enable residents to understand a complex tax formula and empowered to be more engaged into the process. Working along with the local chamber of commence, government officials and advocacy organizations, I wish to outline a process to make our property tax formula fairer. This would help both businesses and families.
Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
Miller: Although a smaller portion of the overall budget, I would support examining transferring the unincorporated areas of Cook County to local municipalities. There are several of these areas located within the 6th district and could potentially provide additional cost savings to the County. Cost saving could arise from transferring the Sherriff police duties to the local municipality.
Residents would need to be brought into this conversation since they may not understand the potential savings and past analysis has shown they are not in favor of these mergers. Roads that fall under the highway department can be looked at to determine cost efficiencies of transferring jurisdiction to local municipalities. This could also potentially provide additional cost savings.
What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
Miller: I believe that the role of county government can have a positive impact to encourage economic business development.
My district includes communities some of the most economically challenged communities in Cook County. One important issue facing business owners in the Southland communities is high rate of property taxes. Collectively the region pays some of the highest rates in property taxes in Cook County. Although the over reliance of property taxes to fund education is a statewide problem, it is magnified in the Southland. In addition, Indiana and Will County border my district and both have a lower tax base. Therefore, it is very difficult to attract businesses to these communities. Lower property taxes and incentive programs would help encourage business development. Tax incentives that bring businesses to my district can be offered for economic development.
These incentive packages can consist of a streamlined payment process and greater access to data to state opportunities. Similar to enterprise zones but evaluated to determine if benefits are realized. I support tax relief to keep major employers in Illinois, however want to ensure that when tax incentives are offered the economic benefits are realized to our state and not to executives.
Job creation to new startup companies and existing small businesses need access to capital. State deposits can help leverage capital for business expansion and job creation. Illinois must invest into emerging business sectors and start-up companies in Illinois. Programs to provide incentives to small businesses relocating to Illinois or to expand into economically challenged areas that depend on state payments will also spur business growth. These incentive packages can consist of a streamlined payment process and greater access to data to state opportunities. Opening up the procurement process will also help business growth for venders doing business with the state.
Businesses locate where there is good transportation and education systems. The County needs to continue to support the infrastructure and transit that makes business and personal commuting attractive. These projects will all have tremendous benefits for our region to attract business.
Investments in education are also investments in job creation. Employers move to areas where they can recruit a highly educated, highly skilled workforce. Illinois is home to some of the finest higher education institutions and community college system. These institutions can create customized job training programs for businesses and employees as an investment to them. We need to continue improving these institutions so that people are ready to compete in the global economy.
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?
Miller: The Next Century Conversation Plan has formed a charitable foundation that directly correlates with the overall vision for the 25 year plan. At this point, the plan has requested funding from private, philanthropic and individual sources. This should continue. At a cost of an annual $40 million per year to fully fund the plan, it would be difficult for the county to allocate funding due to the budget shortfall and money owed from the state. I would be in favor of seeing what possible aspects of the plan that can be implemented with realistic lesser amounts. I would be open to establishing a dedicated public-private partnership funding source. Tax increases or using property tax to fund this plan would put too much of an extra burden on taxpayers. I would want any sole public funding to be approved through referendum.
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?
Miller: No. I believe that the Forest Preserve should be open access to the general public in Cook County without charge for parking. Extra fees could be charged to business/organizations that need permits for large events to have parking included in the use of the space.
Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
Miller: I do think that the County Board has been taking continuous measures to look into the feasibility of creating a separate board for the Forest Preserves based on analyzing true costs and whether or not specific expertise is needed for this board. I would like to have these answers before committing to an answer on a separate board. If there were additional costs for a separate Board, I would not be in favor it.
Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
Miller: Illinois is a very diverse state where Cook County is the largest county. Clearly, all 102 counties in Illinois have suffered due to the budget stalemate in Springfield. However, Cook is an economic engine for the state with its businesses, recreational and high population of residents. I would like to work with State Legislators to come up with a plan that not only fairly represents Cook County but specifically the 6th district. As mentioned, the 6th district has its own set of unique circumstances of inequity.
Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
Miller: The Illinois Constitution prohibits reduction of benefits for employees and retirees currently in the system. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that “changing the rules” for current employees’ benefits is unconstitutional. However, the pension systems in Illinois have been woefully underfunded for decades, several steps can be taken that will help.
Full pension payments as required should be made and placed in a lockbox for pension reduction. Early retirement buyout lump sum pension payouts may be an attractive option for some retirees that can help reduce some of the deficit. This may be an option as long as realistic analysis is calculated, and the program’s true potential savings thoroughly and conservatively examined.
Elimination of career-ending salary increases will force local units to scrutinize whether these increases are necessary. We need to make actuarially sound pension payments every year in addition to exploring collective bargaining methods to improving the health of our pension systems.
Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
Miller: Judge Moria Johnson, Judge Terry MacCarthy, Judge Aicha MacCarthy – Circuit Court of Cook County.
My view is that elected officials should not hire relatives. I strongly believe it is unethical and not in the best interest of my constituents.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.