On Feb. 20, Marcel Bright appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 4th District in the March 2018 primary. Please check out his response in the video below.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for Cook County commissioner in the 4th District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Bright submitted the following responses 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: For the current fiscal year (2018) I believe the county has reached a preliminary balance. But, more revenue and/or cost cutting will be needed next year and beyond.
However, Cook County’s budget shortfall is not merely a product of the repealed sweetened beverage tax without revenue to replace it. The county has an ongoing structural deficit with 43 percent of the county’s revenues coming from sources that are growing slower than inflation.
Additionally, cook county has not increased its base property tax levy since 1996—even to adjust it for inflation. As a result, the real value of Cook County’s base property tax levy has declined 36 percent over the last 20 years.
So, the county must look at some type of increase in the property tax levy and an increase in the county gas tax, which has brought in approximately the same amount every year since 2000. The county should also look at creating a consumer services tax on things like pet grooming, haircuts, country club membership and health clubs.
The first budget cut should come from a two-year hiring freeze for all non- essential positions. The county should also consider a one percent personnel reduction across the board in all departments for each of those two years. The average salary of Cook County workers – the total payroll divided by the number of active workers – has increased 57 percent since 2001, to $75,361 from $48,041, according to an analysis by Illinois Policy. This equates to an annual average growth of 3 percent. No where in the private sector have salaries grown at that rate.
Pension reform must also be addressed to get county finances under control.
Finally, there needs to be a comprehensive independent audit of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System to root out the waste and corruption that has plagued the system for years.
Taxpayers have been asked to pay more to help bail out inefficient government. The least government can do is tighten its belt and find real savings by cutting the patronage that still exists in Cook County.
Marcel M. Bright
Running for: Democratic nomination for Cook County commissioner in the 4th District.
Political/civic background: Citizen, voter, community volunteer (See resume)
Occupation: Media/Public Relations Professional
Education: B.A. Journalism, Eastern Illinois University. M.A. Public Affairs Reporting, University of Illinois – Springfield
Campaign website: Pending
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: Other than a dramatic increase in revenue, I currently don’t have an answer on what the county could do if ACA were completely eliminated. But if there is only a curtailment of funding then a more modest increase in revenue could suffice.
A question I need answered by the health system is why it purchased 160,000 insurance members from the Family Health Network in November when there is so much uncertainty concerning the future of the ACA?
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I would have to see a cost-benefit analysis completed before determining if any type of privatization of county functions or services would be the right thing for county taxpayers.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: The General Assembly is controlled by Chicago and Cook County democrats, the answer lies with them. Taking the issue to the court system may be the only viable solution if those democrats continue to do so little.
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: Currently, I oppose any new TIFs. I believe a review of the effectiveness of current TIFs is needed. In Chicago, I advocate the elimination of all TIFs, because of the abuses by former mayor Richard Daley and current mayor Rahm Emmanuel. TIF’s can be a development tool when used properly. No, I don’t think they are underutilized. No, it is not sufficiently transparent. Yes, there should be more community input. Yes, the definition of a “blighted” area should be revised.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I disagree with that measure. In times of uncertainty, government bodies should have the means to react to financial issues when needed. Cook County has not increased its tax levy in 20 years. If its citizens disagree then, that’s why we have elections.
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 support efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities. Under Illinois law there are several ways for annexation to occur: 1. Voluntary annexation by the property owners and voters in the proposed area; 2. Court-supervised annexation where there is not unanimous support; and, 3. Involuntary annexation proactively sought by a neighboring municipality. Obviously, the first method would be preferred, but everything should be on the table if annexation provides budgetary relief for Cook County.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: Joining with other government entities and community partners to invest in infrastructure improvements would be the first step. Improved access via roads and bridges as well as access to sewer and water attracts development. Businesses and industries come to an area or expand to create jobs that help the tax base. Jobs are also created to do the infrastructure work.
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 oppose this measure at this time because of the current state of county finances. However, I would support the measure if the budget allowed for it.
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, if rates are reasonable.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: I would support a separate independent elected board for the Forest Preserve District, as long as there were no additional costs for the County. A separate board would eliminate the conflicts of interest inherent when the county board must choose between economic development and conservation.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
QUESTION: Do you 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: None. I oppose elected officials hiring relatives.