Democrat Mary Edly-Allen is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate running in the 51st district of the Illinois House. She faces Republican Helene Miller Walsh in the general election.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Illinois House of Representatives a lit of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois.
Edly-Allen submitted the following answers. She’s running against incumbent Republican Helene Miller Walsh.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Edly-Allen: It is extremely important to me that we negotiate real solutions to the epidemic of school shootings and gun violence. I will work to pass legislation that can actually help us prevent school shootings, like the Lethal Violence Order or Protection Act (HB 2354).
I am also passionate about providing a quality education for our children. To me, this means working to ensure the State of Illinois fully meets its education funding obligation through continuing efforts to reform our school funding process. As someone with experience negotiating school funding solutions at the local level, I believe there is a better way to pay for our children’s education than placing 75% of the school funding burden on Lake County residents’ property tax bills. If we can work to get the State of Illinois to fully meet its funding obligation, we can shift the education funding burden away from property taxes and actually lower taxes Lake County residents.
Mental illness and substance abuse are diseases, not moral failings. We need to invest in cutting-edge, cost-effective early intervention programs which provide a path towards health rather than the prison pipeline. The federal government estimates that a dollar invested in treatment is could save $10 in future costs to taxpayers.
Finally, I am passionate about growing our Lake County economy while simultaneously preserving our environment. Lake County has the infrastructure and the workforce to be a leader in green energy jobs. By investing in renewable energy, we can create high-paying 21st century jobs that will help grow our local economy. Cutting back on fossil fuels and investing in a smarter power grid will save homeowners and businesses money over time.
Who is Mary Edly-Allen?
Her legislative District : House Representative 51
Her political/civic background : PTO President, Co-Founder Foundation 46, Board Member Illinois Science Olympiad, Co-Chair Science Olympiad Regional Competition, Founding Member CCSD46 Diversity Committee
Her occupation: Bilingual Teacher
Her education: BA in Education Northeastern University, Masters in Curriculum National Louis University
Campaign website: www.MaryForIl.com
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
Edly-Allen: As an elementary school teacher, I can tell you firsthand that the State of Illinois places too many unfunded mandates on our local school systems. It puts an undue burden on the school to meet these requirements without any associated funding from the state, and often results in schools needing to expand their budgets and increase the amount of money they ask for in property taxes from local residents. Again, the State of Illinois needs to do a much better job meeting its education funding obligation.
On a related note, property taxes as a whole are a tremendous concern. Taxes across Lake County are too high. While I mentioned above that we need to work towards the State of Illinois meeting its education funding obligation, we must also work towards consolidating some of the 7,000 layers of local government that exist in Illinois. I support consolidation of redundant layers of government – specifically ones that levy taxes – as a way to reduce the property tax burden.
Traffic congestion is a major issue in District 51 and across Lake County. While Route 53 will continue to be debated for years, I believe in the meantime we must focus on other solutions to relieve congestion. We must expand roads that already exist, and work to fund existing projects through IDOT and LCDOT that studies have shown will have a real impact relieving congestion.
Traffic congestion also creates real safety issues for pedestrians in my district – specifically in Libertyville. Recently, a pedestrian was killed trying to cross the intersection of Butterfield and Route 176. Pedestrians have complained for years that it is impossible to cross Route 21 and Route 137 just south of downtown Libertyville. We need better solutions for pedestrians in these areas, be they pedestrian bridges or crosswalks.
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Edly-Allen: I respect anyone who is willing to take the difficult step to run for elected office and represent the people of the State of Illinois. However, elected officials must make difficult choices on important policy issues that could have serious consequences for thousands of individuals. There are some very important issues I believe Mrs. Walsh and I completely disagree on.
First, Mrs. Walsh supports the idea of arming schoolteachers as a way to combat school shootings. As a teacher myself, I could not disagree with her more. Teachers need to focus on educating our students, and introducing firearms into classrooms creates countless risks to the safety of our students and faculty that are simply unacceptable.
Second, I am a strong advocate for women’s issues, and that includes being pro-choice and supporting funding for women’s health issues. Mrs. Walsh is against all abortion access, including in cases of rape and incest. She opposed HB 40 and has even spread conspiracy theories about birth control on Facebook, claiming it makes men less fertile. People can honestly disagree over important issues, but I frankly think these positions are out of touch with those who live in District 51.
Third, Mrs. Walsh has some extreme views regarding minority groups that I believe are too extreme for someone who is seeking, to represent District 51. For example, per posts she has made on Facebook, she believes the Islamic religion encourages rape and Muslims are seeking to control our lawmaking process to restrict what she refers to as “Judea-Christian freedoms” to encumber the masses. These are views I do not support. While I acknowledge there are small fundamentalist groups in every religion that promote extreme views, Islam is a peaceful religion whose faithful only want the freedom to practice their religion within the bounds of the law.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Edly-Allen: Illinois needs to do more to invest in the jobs of the future, such as green energy, and to attract companies to our state. It should start out by restoring funding to state universities and community colleges so that Illinois would have a strong and educated labor pool. Illinois also needs to fully fund public transportation and infrastructure so that businesses have the infrastructure they need to get their employees to work.
Illinois can also offer incentives to companies to locate in the state and provide jobs and continue its investment in incubators to start up companies. With a strong economy, increased investment in education and infrastructure and increased job growth, Illinois will reverse its population losses.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Edly-Allen: I strongly believe we have an obligation to our existing retirees to fully fund our pension program. This is a promise the State of Illinois made to many of its residents and we must keep it.
First, we must actually pay our pension bills when they come due. Pension holidays and the sweeping of pension funds into the General Fund for budgeting purposes must end. This will require a serious financial commitment from the State of Illinois, and that means taking a hard look at our budgeting process and deciding where we can make cuts or streamline our services to save money. While I do not support making draconian budget cuts in human service programs, I do believe we can take a hard look at state programs and find areas to reduce waste. In addition, we must consider additional revenue generators that won’t place a tremendous burden on the middle class – restructuring our tax code in a way that shifts more of the burden to the wealthy, for example, or legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.
Second, we must consider re-amortizing our pension debt. Thanks to the misguided process that gave us the so-called “pension ramp,” the pay schedule that the State of Illinois is on right now with regards to pensions is completely unrealistic. Re-amortizing our pension debt, in essence “refinancing” the state government’s pension “mortgage,” would give us a more realistic pay schedule.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?
Edly-Allen: Out-migration of students costs Illinois up to $776 million in lifetime tax revenue for the state, and untold lost opportunities when these highly educated and motivated people create new businesses elsewhere.
As mentioned above, the State of Illinois should start out by restoring funding to state universities and community colleges that was cut during the State’s 700-day budget crisis. The budget crisis led to increases in tuition that are frankly unacceptable, and made our in-state colleges less attractive to our own students. We must reverse this trend and move towards creating MORE opportunities for an affordable education here in Illinois, not LESS.
We must also do more to foster direct partnerships between high schools and in-state colleges, as well as community colleges. This could mean additional classes offered at the high school level that could provide in-state college credit, additional scholarships for high school students who go to an in-state school…if we can find ways to incentivize high school students staying in-state while continuing to provide a quality education for those students, we will reverse this trend.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Edly-Allen: I was a strong supporter of the Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act, as well as the ban on bump stocks and increasing the legal age to possess an assault-style rifle. We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illness and domestic abusers, and that is something I will work towards as your State Representative.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Edly-Allen: There is a balance to be struck between the benefits of streamlining and automating difficult processes within a large company, and the effect it has on employee morale and quality of life.
While I would like to sit down with both the retail companies who employ this software and the workers who are affected by it to learn more about the pros and cons of automated scheduling, I do believe it is important that employees receive their schedules far enough in advance to plan their lives and the lives of their families around their employment.
Further, the quality of life of employees and overall employee morale are vital parts of the growth and success of a business, and sacrificing those will eventually become detrimental to a business’ ability to retain and attract quality talent.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Edly-Allen: Yes. I believe recreational marijuana should be legalized and taxed, but it must also be regulated using available best practices.
When Illinois legalized medicinal marijuana it employed some of the strictest licensing standards for growth and distribution of any state in the country. We can learn from the mistakes of other states and consider efforts as strict and cautious as our state’s legalization of medicinal marijuana – strict standards on who can grow it, how it’s grown, what’s in it, who can purchase it, who can sell it and at what age one is allowed to buy it.
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Edly-Allen: In Lake County, Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther started a program which achieved national recognition called A Way Out. It prescribes a policing practice called “deflection,” which essentially steers those suffering from substance abuse disorders into treatment instead of the prison system. It involves a partnership between a municipality and several carefully-chosen service organizations that provide treatment assistance and addiction counseling.
In essence, a person suffering from a substance abuse disorder can walk into a police station, say “I need help,” turn over any narcotics in their possession, and be directed by A Way Out towards services that can help them with their addiction.
I believe this is an excellent step in combating the opioid epidemic in Illinois, and we should be considering legislation to take the program state-wide.
The bottom line is mental illness and substance abuse are diseases, not moral failings. We need to invest in cutting-edge, cost-effective early intervention programs which provide a path towards health rather than the prison pipeline
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?
Edly-Allen: I strongly support an investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and believe it is an important vehicle for job growth in Lake County.
Lake County has the infrastructure and the workforce to be a leader in green energy jobs. By investing in renewable energy, we can create high-paying 21st century jobs that will help grow our local economy. Cutting back on fossil fuels and investing in a smarter power grid will save homeowners and businesses money over time.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?
Edly-Allen:We must continue to fund Medicaid services in the State of Illinois. It must continue to be a budgetary priority and funded to a degree where we can provide basic healthcare and access to services for those who need it, from pre-natal care to preventive and hospice care.
Managed care has been an important tool for reducing Medicaid costs to the State of Illinois, and continues to be a way we can afford to provide Medicaid services in Illinois. While the system is not perfect, until we find an affordable solution to providing services that can fit within our state budget, we will continue to need to use managed care as a way to provide these services to those who need them most.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Edly-Allen: Yes. Our goal as a society must be both crime prevention AND rehabilitation, and providing opportunities for gainful employment or continuing education in prison are necessary to reducing recidivism upon parole. Ultimately, I believe education and opportunity are the keys to reducing crime – especially among those who are socio-economically disadvantaged – so providing these opportunities is important to me.
While steps must be taken to make sure prison communities are meeting whatever standards are mandated by Illinois law, the legislature should consider policies that promote safe and appropriate partnerships with employers and agencies that could provide job skills training, as well as work opportunities that also promote community safety.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Edly-Allen: Yes. It makes more sense to provide nonviolent offenders rehabilitation instead of locking them up. Additionally, the Summer 2018 report from SPAC found Illinois spends an average of $151,662 for one recidivism event. We need to find ways to move our citizens from the prison pipeline to contributing members of society. We all benefit from moving people from prison to parole and into society.
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.