On Feb. 19, Horace “Washington” Howard appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 3rd District in the March 2018 primary. Check out his 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. Howard 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: When looking at the budget, we are looking for long-term solutions and not quick fixes for one year. In order to balance the 2018 budget after the beverage tax was repealed, departments were asked to cut their budgets by 10%. We will need more revenue and cutting of expenditures. In 2016, I proposed a task-force to consider increasing cigarette taxes in the large cigar category. In this category, Cigarillos are sold, and then the consumer throws out the tobacco and puts marijuana in the cigar. This tax was not to penalize them, yet to increase taxes to support “Raise the Age” legislation authorized by the state. Now, 17 year olds will be transferred from Cook County Jail to the Juvenile Facility. Doing this will increase the county’s expenditures by $12 million. Additionally, the county had increased investigations in a hotline since businesses were not collecting taxes on the Cigarillos even though there was a high volume of sales. I proposed this at a public hearing July 19, 2016. Additionally, I will set up a task force to consolidate all local government pensions, also consolidate the city county board of elections. I will research an increase in taxes for high level development in the central business district. I would enforce collections for people selling illegal cigarettes by giving them a ticket and them being allowed to pay for the ticket right there before they go to court.
Horace “Washington” Howard
Political/civic background: Access Chicago spokesperson; volunteer/board member Harold Washington Foundation.
Occupation: Activist/Public Servant
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at De Paul University, workshops and seminars in international studies at University of Chicago, Presently pursuing Masters in Political Science at Governor’s State University
Campaign website: https://horacewashingtonhoward.wordpress.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 will propose eliminating Oak Forest Hospital since it is being under-utilized. At Stroger Hospital, I will continue free services for the indigent, yet those who could pay should pay and enforce collections of these payments.
I will also look for health care personal reductions in administration by restructuring expenditures and streamlining the administration. Cook County Health and Hospital Systems is a non-profit and those private insurance companies should have exemptions increased. Interest should be deducted for those firms that purchase bonds to subsidize debt.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: First, Cook County privatization plans need better transparency in selling public assets through holding public hearings and independent privatization review. I will consider continue privatizing maintenance services, print shop operations, waste management services, and fleet services through fair management competition.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: I suggest that the state legislature authorize penalizing the state for late payments based on budget gaps.
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 districts are a valuable development tool for increasing the tax base. I support TIFs to increase economic development in selected areas while maintaining a balance between the central business district, TIFs, and neighborhood TIFs. These funds spent on public work projects or given as subsidizes to encourage private development mixed with affordable housing will create this balance. Community-based revitalization through affordable housing, improve parks, schools and basic infrastructure to increase property value.
This process is not completely transparent and there should be more community input. The definition of a “blighted” area should not be revised.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: Local taxes should be frozen after being identified as landmarks.
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 support merging unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities where the county annexes the unincorporated area with the responsible municipal government.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: I plan on regionalizing workforce development to increase worker participation, and then selecting what skill level is needed according to the businesses in the region, including food processing, metals, and other productivity. Finally, this will make the county more attractive for business activity.
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: I will have to do more research while studying the Forest Preserve budget and the Next Century Conservation Plan. I will also collaborate with Forest Preserve officials.
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: Yes, I support the Forest Preserve District charging for parking at Swallow Cliff Woods.
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 that is independent of the County Board. There are conflicts between preservation and economic development interests. Fixed ratings also support separation of the board. Separation is good for credit as well.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: Yes, Cook County is treated fairly by the state, yet there should be checks and balances and possibly penalization of late payments to the local governments.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Yes, I support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: (non-applicable to this questionnaire)