On Feb. 21, Louis Presta appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 6th 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. Presta 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: It is clear that additional revenue will be required to service existing debt and maintain current services. In government, additional revenue can only come in a few ways, either by increasing the rate of taxes and fees or by broadening the tax base. I reject the former and favor the later approach. Illinois’ tax base is shrinking today in part because of high taxes and inventive user fees that discourage business development and place greater debt on the backs of a shrinking number of taxpayers. One recent report claims that Illinois loses one citizen every 4.3 minutes and has dropped from being the 5th most populace state to 6th place. We have to turn this around by making Cook County attractive to entrepreneurs and global business concerns. I believe in incentivizing development and in forming partnerships with financial, academic and business concerns to develop industrial and commercial enterprises. I also believe that government often stymies technological advance for fear of reducing its workforce. It would be unfair for me to assert at this time exactly where or how we can modernize service delivery but I am committed to examining just what services the county provides and how we may be able to improve delivery of those services at lower cost through the use of modern technology.
Political/civic background: Former Trustee and Current Mayor of Crestwood, Illinois
Occupation: Owner, Cicero News Service (News and Media Distribution) and Mayor of Crestwood, Illinois
Education: Kennedy High School
Campaign website: www.FriendsofLou.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: The idea that the Affordable Care Act will be eliminated or curtailed at the federal level without some alternative healthcare payment system put in place is really unfathomable. Obviously, the entire board would have to exam what is put into place as a replacement for ACA before determining what, if anything, had to be modified at the county healthcare level. That being said, let me state that I unequivocally support the belief that healthcare is a universal right and that as County Commissioner of the 6th District, I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that quality healthcare is available to every individual in our county.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I would not consider privatization solely on the basis of cost. To do so would be a disservice to taxpayers. Keep in mind that the private sector generally services clients who are willingly seeking their services and have the means to pay for those services. This is not always the case in the public sector. The decision to privatize must first be based upon the level of service provided to citizens. A second and important factor is technology. While technology can, in many cases, make providing service more cost effective, government often lags behind the private sector when it comes to technological investment. This means that privatizing solely on the basis of cost could be less efficient and render less economic benefit to taxpayers than investing in modern equipment.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, very little. The State does not pay interest on unpaid bills to the County like they are required to do with private vendors, so the County is not in a position to sell its state receivables without having to pay interest to the purchasing bank or other financial group. The most effective strategy is to keep the public informed and exert pressure in order to ensure essential services are not curtailed because of State delayed payments.
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: I very much favor the use of TIF districting to spur development. They are a valuable and creative development tool and I believe they are underutilized in some areas and, perhaps, overused in others. Development creates jobs and revenues for taxing bodies where there was little or no revenues and jobs before. TIF districting also promotes development in areas adjacent to the district. I am a firm believer in making government as transparent to the public as possible and favor community outreach and feedback before moving forward with TIF zoning – all of which is already proscribed by law. The State of Illinois clarified the definition of “blighted area” in 1999 and I feel that definition is aptly suited for the Statute, keeping in mind that the term must apply reasonably well in all areas of the state.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I am in favor of a freeze on property taxes. We have the second highest property taxes in the country and those high taxes are a reason people are moving out of Illinois.
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 am in favor of “encouraging” such mergers but opposed to forcing them. Merging unincorporated homes and commercial facilities into municipalities will place a significant financial burden on both the property owner and the municipality. Zoning restrictions could force families and businesses out of their property. Encouraging such mergers would include financial incentives given to homeowners and municipalities to assist in the cost of infrastructure improvements such as water and sewage hookup. Cost to the County would be recouped through savings incurred from reduced police patrol and other services provided that the municipality would assume.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: My plan is to work directly with municipal leaders who make up the 6th District to identify areas for potential development, resources where financial assistance may be obtained and bankers and developers who may be interested in undertaking development. I also intend to work with state and federal agencies to identify opportunities for infrastructural improvements.
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: An essential element of the Next Century Plan is mobilizing citizens to become more involved with our forest preserves. I believe we can encourage citizen participation in stewardship of our forest preserves that would include voluntary donations to restoration efforts. I also believe private, state and federal grants can be obtained to assist in putting forth this plan.
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 am not in favor of assessing parking fees in the preserves.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: I see both positive and negative aspects to establishing an independent board for the preserves. At this time, I feel the question merits study and I would support an independent review and evaluation that might site a framework for establishing such a board.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: I think every county in Illinois feels they are not being treated fairly by the state. Our state has a representative government and I believe our county’s state representatives do a very good job in balancing the unique needs of Cook County with the overall needs of every other county in Illinois. Frankly, I believe that the state of Indiana is more unfair to Cook County than is our own state government and I believe shared responsibilities between Indiana and Illinois in the Cook County region can be exploited for the benefit of both states.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: I support any effort that will assure fairness for retirees and current employees and that will help to return our county to responsible fiscal control and management.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: I have no relatives currently employed by Cook County. I do not believe that a relative of any county employee should be barred from employment by the County simply because a relative already works there. I believe that hiring and promotional considerations should be made based solely on merit.