On Feb. 20, Gaylon B. Alcaraz appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 4th 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. Alcaraz 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: Let me begin by saying that I am seeking your endorsement because I am a true servant leader and I want change. I am seeking this endorsement to begin replacing Machine politicians with true servants. The current corruption is pervasive across the County government. I will not talk about cost-cutting measures or more revenue until there is a forensic audit on all of County contracts and employees. I do not trust the numbers issued by the politicians that are currently in office. We need to clean house. I would first call on the resignation of Joe Berrios and would like all the Cook County officials especially the incumbent in this race, to join this call. Just with this issue alone in the assessor’s office, we are not only dealing with the grave injustice of racial discrimination in property tax assessments, but the residents of the County are going to have to deal with the lawsuits and costs that come with that. It really is time for this to stop.
I demand that all politicians and journalists read the book: “Chicago is Not Broke”. I demand that the media cover the neighborhood meetings where residents are talking of progressive ideas and budget solutions that elected officials are refusing to take notice of. These ideas will work at the State, County and City levels. I say NO to any more cuts, fees and regressive taxes until we look at every progressive idea out there. By even asking a question of this nature, shows that the media is not helping but asking us to go down the same tired path of thinking. I don’t apologize for not accepting that thinking. We need better leadership in a system that is not corrupt!
You want a change based on the questions that are being asked, then YOU, THE MEDIA, must give voters a call for change by endorsing servant leaders when they step forth.
Gaylon B. Alcaraz
Political/civic background: Social Justice Activist, Professor/Instructor and PhD Candidate
Occupation: Not-for-Profit Consultant
Education: BA and MA from DePaul University. PhD Candidate – National Louis University
Campaign website: www.gaylon2018.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 be a strong advocate for and leading the charge for timely payments from the state and against any repealing of the Affordable Care Act. But I would go further and say there has to be a national call to action. We need to keep the pressure on the Federal and State legislators to do the right thing to ensure that all Americans have access to health care. In terms of billing patients, while there has been discussion around this and why billing patients for services has not been done, I would revisit this conversation. There are ways to collect on services that are patient friendly, even for low-income individuals (an income based tiered system or “pay what you can”), that can add to the hospital revenue stream. For example, Chicago Women’s Health Center has used a “pay what you can” model that has worked for over 35 years. Not only do they meet their budget goals every year, but they have a waiting list for patient services.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: None. I say no to privatization of any services. However, I would advocate for an outside consultant to work on the County interview and hiring systems.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: I would be a strong advocate in working with State government to move County payments forth. I would also work tirelessly to ensure that the Affordable Care Act stays in place because this is a large source of County revenue for health care. However, I would call on the media – the journalists – to keep these injustices in the media by amplifying what is wrong with a system that denies individuals a right to health care by forcing the health care system to reduce services due to budget impasses and Machine type politics.
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: Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was initially designed to spur development in blighted neighborhoods. Thru incentives, developers would invest in neighborhoods that they would have shied away from previously. However, the system has been abused and manipulated to benefit neighborhoods and projects that are neither blighted nor improvised. TIFs can be a valuable development tool if used for their intended purpose. I don’t mind a portion of my property tax going to neighborhood development. But we don’t see our neighborhoods being developed!
When you provide companies and businesses with incentives that they don’t need, you add more corruption to an already unfair system. Since there is no TIF line item on the tax bills of City of Chicago residents, Of course the process is not transparent and there is a cloak of secrecy around the entire process. I believe and support participatory budgeting. I believe communities should not only be educated on the TIF program but should participate in the process of determining where their property taxes go in terms of development and revitalization. The word and term “blighted” means decay and deterioration. The term should not be revised. TIFs were supposes to be for the most marginalized communities, not areas that are already fully resourced and developed – like for example NAVY PIER or the DePaul stadium!
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: Cook County residents have faced some of the highest property and sales taxes across the country. Further, County residents not only go across county lines to shop for basic necessities, but residents are moving out of the county in droves. Since 2015, we have had the highest population drop across the country. I want residents to stay in Cook County, not leave. I believe providing homeowners with property tax relief on their actual bills is a step in the right direction. We pay some of the highest taxes due to the duplicity in local government. There are too many taxing bodies. We can consolidate redundant positions and work on eliminating duplicity in local government.
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: There has been a duplicity in governing, even in small localities, so this fits into how we can stop the duplication of services and governing, by merging and adjoining of unincorporated parts of Cook County into adjoining municipalities. I would initiate beginning conversations with all stakeholders, followed by town hall meetings, to gain insight and feedback from those affected. Further, I would utilize outside consultants to provide a feasibility study along with recommendations. I would then take those recommendations back to stakeholders.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: I will look at forward thinking ideas that county leaders are doing across the country. We have to have more civic imagination. For example, I want to be an advocate for a Public Bank system that will reinvest dividends from County bank deposits back into the County system. This would mean a divestment from Wall Street banks. Then those reinvestments go back into the communities thru low-cost micro loans for small businesses looking to expand and grow. As well, this would encourage entrepreneurs to invest in their ideas by taking their businesses to the next level of growth. This will be another way to encourage economic development.
As well, I would push for a Fair Tax Structure. This is a progressive income tax at the state level that would have a trickle down effect. We know when people have more money they spend more money. So, getting additional income into the hands of residents will be key to pumping more revenue into the County budget. I will be a tireless advocate and educator around this issue.
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: Without a forensic audit of all income and expenses, it would be ignorant to say where this money would come from. First and foremost, we are dealing with major corruption in the County government. We must deal with that issue, as well as waste and mismanagement. These three things will get us closer to the answer – if $40 million is indeed needed.
Now I will say this, there is an untapped market of revenue that the County is not utilizing: marathon, running races, 5k and family friendly health activities that can be a progressive way to add revenue to the County budget using our natural resources. Cook County is underutilizing their resources. We can also utilize the open natural spaces for education purposes, marketed towards schools, educational programs and park districts.
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: No. I do not. If the County is indeed seeking “desperate” revenue, then I would host public meetings with stakeholders – the PUBLIC – to discuss the issues and have the PUBLIC participate and weight in on solutions.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: Although I am fundamentally against layers of government, I also realize that experts are needed to run systems. If the Forest Preserve has its own board of professionals and experts in the field, they can provide insight and realistic budgets for the Forest Preserve.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: I don’t think the question is whether Cook County is treated fairly by the state, as much as is the County operating in a way that is respected. Is the County efficient, effective and creative? Has the County been able to ever balance a budget? However, these are not only questions for the County but the State and the City as well.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Hard-working individuals have done their part contributing to their pension during their working years. They should not be penalized for this level of mismanagement and corruption. However, the pension situation that we are dealing with isn’t really about the everyday blue collar working individuals that have paid into the system. The pension system is a failure for number of reasons: one, there is a system of double dipping that legislators are allowed to take advantage of. Two, the largest beneficiaries of the current systems are downstate teachers and administrators that reap well over $100k in benefits with a 3% cost of living increase a year. And the pension system has been mismanaged by elected officials skimping on what we owed, allowing enormous interest to accrue, borrowing against contributions to fund services which led to unfunded liabilities. This is another layer of corruption. I support efforts to reform the entire county pension system.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: I have no family – at all – employed by Cook County. I don’t believe that elected officials should hire relatives. However, I do not oppose anyone working in the County government, even if you are a relative. What I do advocate for is that you must work in a department that will not have any direct ties to the relative and that you go thru the same recruitment, interviewing and hiring process that ordinary citizens go thru when seeking employment.
Furthermore, the ability for an elected official to employ their entire family, should be banned. Why has the Cook County Assessor been allowed to operate in this manner without an outright call for his resignation? Even with the Shakeman Decree, it has been abused and manipulated. We should have zero tolerance for this level of corruption.