The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Paul Vallas submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Paul G. Vallas?
His political/civic background:
- Worked for the Illinois Legislature for 12 years serving as primary staff person on the Senate Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, Senate Revenue Committee, and later Executive Director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission
- Former Chicago Revenue and Budget Director
- Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Philadelphia Public
Schools, Bridgeport, CN Public Schools, New Orleans School Recovery District.
- Education and financial consultant who has worked a number of significant projects both nationally and internationally.
His occupation: Education Consultant
His education: Master’s Degree in History, Western Illinois University
His Campaign website: vallasforallchicago.com
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Paul Vallas: While it would be ideal for a “grand compromise” to be reached with labor, state and local governments and the business community to amend the constitution, it is unlikely to happen even if Governor-elect Pritzker had not voiced his opposition to such an amendment. As for changing the benefits for new employees, that has already been done. Employees hired after 2010 became Tier 2 pension participants at far lower benefits. Tier 2 employees contribute much more than what it takes to pay their own benefits and are in fact subsidizing Tier 1 retirees. This in itself could create future legal problems. Its is highly unlikely there would be support for a further diminishing of new employee future pension benefits under a “Tier 3”.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
- A LaSalle Street tax
- A commuter tax
- A property tax increase
- A municipal sales tax increase
- A real estate transfer tax increase
- Video gambling
Paul Vallas: I have presented a very detailed comprehensive plan to enable the city to meet its pension funding obligations, structurally balance the budget, reprioritize the budget to ensure investment in the community and cap annual property tax increases on individual homeowners, landlords and businesses to the rate of inflation or 5% whichever is less. The plan also eliminates the Speed and Red-Light cameras while capping fines to no more than the cost of the fees.
The plan includes supporting a legislative agenda that protects the statutory local government share of any increase in the State Income Tax, restores the illegal diversion of Corporate Personal Property Tax revenues and phases in over ten years full State Funding Equity for Chicago teachers. This agenda alone will cover more than half the funding needed to complete the statutory pension funding ramp up.
I have also identified almost a dozen specific areas where I believe substantial savings can be secured and have articulated what I would do in each area. On the revenue side of my financial plan I support a Casino, video gaming and sports betting and the legalization and taxation marijuana. I oppose the other taxes listed and will cap property taxes and fees as already stated. https://vallasforallchicago.com/issues/#abalancedbudget
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Paul Vallas: See above
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Paul Vallas: The Consent Decree is a foregone conclusion. It is important to note that the vast majority of recommendations included in the Consent Decree are things CPD should have been doing and that rank and file Police Officers welcome. They include more comprehensive and redundant training. The deployment of Tasers and working equipment. The restoring of sufficient supervisory personnel like Sergeants and Training Officers. These things were included in my comprehensive Public Safety Plan that I presented in April, months before the final proposed Consent Decree was presented.
I have stated publicly that my goal would be to take steps to ensure that the Consent Decree does not punish or place an undue burden on the Police, that the Decree is streamline by removing burdensome reporting and procedures that detract valuable policing time and that the Consent Decree not become an expensive cottage industry for lawyers and advocates who would seek to profit from its provisions.
I am confident that my comprehensive Public Safety Plan will provide CPD with the resources and support that they need to be effective and accountable and will put us in a strong position to get the courts to support steps to ensure that the Consent Decree is fair, not an undue burden and short lived.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Paul Vallas: Without serious gun control laws at the Federal and State level little progress will be made through City ordinances and other local legislative actions. We must work closely with Federal and State agencies as well as suburban mayors and surrounding states (Indiana) to coordinate law enforcement efforts to enforce existing gun laws. Unfortunately, effective coordination and cooperation with our neighbors on both the flow of illegal guns and drugs has been the exception, not the rule.
There is also no substitute for the arrest, charging, prosecution and strict sentencing of individuals who violate Gun laws. Ensuring that we have the investigative resources to improve our abysmal clearance rates, pressuring the State’s Attorney to charge and aggressively prosecute gun law violators and ensuring that the judges are imposing stiff sentences on gun violators are critical components of a violent crime reduction. Close cooperation and coordination with the US Attorney Offices to ensure that serious gun offenses are prosecuted under Federal Law will have a significant impact on detouring criminals from using guns.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Paul Vallas: There is no substitute for changing the conditions in the community that contribute to violent crime. Poor education. The lack of employment opportunities. The failure to offer any real opportunities for those previously incarcerated to secure occupational skills and employment opportunities. The destruction of the community based social service infrastructure like the closing of the mental health centers.
I have proposed a comprehensive economic development plan that I refer to as my Marshall Plan for Chicago’s long ignored communities. The plan articulates how Federal Opportunity Zone Program and the Fair Share of TIF revenues can be used to bring massive capital investment to Chicago’s poorest communities. The “Buy Chicago, Hire Chicago” shows how the City can use the $20 billion in resources it annually controls (City, Schools, CTA, CHA, Parks, Enterprise Funds) to expand economic opportunities in our poorer communities.
The plan also talks about how shuttered schools can be repurposed as community business incubators and adult education and occupational training centers to help develop local business startups and provide employment linked training to high school drop outs, chronically unemployed, and those previously incarcerated.
The plan further details how a portion of available Federal, State and Local resources combined with potential proceeds from the taxing of cannabis can be used to rebuild community based social services. These initiatives would have a dramatic long-term effect in restoring communities, reducing crime and growing the City.
These comprehensive economic development plan would be accompanied by an aggressive effort to get violent criminals off the street by restoring Police Beat Integrity and the Detectives Division, hiring hundreds of retired Police Officers with investigatory experience to provide various case support, establishing a Witness Protection Program to keep witnesses and victims safe and work with the States Attorney’s Office and US Attorney’s Office to ensure aggressive prosecution and stiff sentencing of violent offenders.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Paul Vallas: Charter schools are public schools without some of the State and local collective bargaining restrictions that impede their ability to do innovative things that can help improve education services. They are also vehicles to expand school choices for families that do not have the means to secure other options. The problem in Chicago is the way the City has used Charter schools.
The Renaissance 2010 program, initiated in 2004, was designed to close almost one hundred neighborhood schools and reopened them as charter schools without guaranteeing that the displaced children could return to their neighborhood schools. Later as CPS enrollment declined the district continued to open new charter schools with no thought to its impact on neighborhood schools or the growing overcapacity of the school district.
While I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, I only opened 15 charter schools. When I left the District after six consecutive years of increased enrollment, we had 558 schools and over 435,000 students. Today the district has one hundred more schools and over seventy thousand fewer students.
At this time, I would not support the opening of new schools of any type until the district has a long-term plan to deal with over capacity. With over 120 charters, I would support existing high performing charters taking over failing existing charter schools with “no displacement of children” and would under certain circumstances support the opening of a new charter to address the needs of displaced students who are currently not being served.
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain.
Paul Vallas: I support a hybrid board of nine members. Four would be appointed by the Mayor, four selected by the community, and a Chairman appointed by the Mayor. The community representatives would be chosen directly by the locally elected Local School Council members. I would also consider Local School Council members in selecting my appointees. This would ensure direct community representation and keep the special intersects at bay, as the selection of members by the public would not entail expensive elections.
The recent local school board election in LA cost millions of dollars as both the charter schools and the unions spent millions in support of their candidates. My hybrid model would ensure that the Mayor has a direct stake in the schools and thus cannot escape accountability while giving the community a powerful voice, independent of special interests other than the best interests of the children, and ensure full transparency.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Paul Vallas: I would restore the financial management practices that brought the system six years of balanced budgets and left the system with almost a billion dollars in cash balances, a 104% funded teachers retirement system, and 12 bond rating upgrades. I have articulated in my education proposal how I would develop a five-year financial plan that would bring financial stability to the district, equitably fund schools, and make the type of investments in neighborhood-based programs that would improve the quality of education and increase enrollment.
Some specific programs would include restoration and the expansion of the Prenatal to the Classroom program that proved to be one of the most effective programs in closing the achievement gap when I was CEO at CPS, the expansion of the instructional day and instructional year using the model that I used at CPS that resulted in 180,000 students in extended day and extended year academic activities, the restructuring of high school course offerings to replace obsolete courses and to give students the option of taking early college and dual enrollment courses, as well as career and technical education and work-study courses, and returning to the strategy of putting magnet-type programs, like the International Baccalaureate Program, in neighborhood schools. For more details, see the link to my education plan. https://vallasforallchicago.com/issues/#schools
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Paul Vallas: I support the “Welcoming City” Ordinance. When I was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, we were a “Welcoming School District” and didn’t need an ordinance to ensure that. This means students and their families were provided the same supports and building access regardless of their immigrant status. I will continue that approach city wide as Mayor. I will however cooperate with outside agencies on issues related to violent criminals and individuals who pose a potential threat to the community. All too often the immigrant community is victimized.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
- Lead poisoning particularly the problem in the drinking water.
- Speeding the transition to renewable energy
- Protecting the City from rising lake levels that threaten Chicago’s shoreline.
In June, I presented my plan to remove lead from the drinking water and create a Neighborhood Environmental Fund to support that and other efforts like to ensure healthy homes like lead paint and mold. I also will employ an “Environmental Justice” standard as part of my comprehensive economic development plan to ensure that we not subsidize the location or expansion of businesses or for that matter relocating City facilities, that pose an environmental risk.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Paul Vallas: I have never had any difficulties building bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines in for twelve years of service in the Mayors cabinet and as CEO of CPS. The same holds true for my years of service as CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, leading New Orleans efforts to rebuild its school system after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and rescuing the Bridgeport Public schools from bankruptcy.
I have been able to build bridges because I have been inclusive in my hiring, I have always hired and promoted from within the community and have always created or strengthened the infrastructure to promote inclusion, access and empowerment through such things as the promotion of Local School Councils, the establishment and empowering of advisory groups representing the Faith Based Community, the Disability Community, etc.
I have also been able to not only build bridges but bring the communities together by designing budgets that were long term financial plans that invested in all communities, providing additional support to those with the greatest needs. Over 80% of my 78 new school buildings were in predominantly poor areas and my minority business and minority hiring programs were the most successful in the nation.
Finally, I have always immersed myself and my administrators in the community, to listen and respond to the communities needs in real time. I have always endeavoring to make the right decisions regardless of the risks.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Paul Vallas: I believe the mayor who did much good for Chicago is sadly one who is very little known – Edward Dunne. In addition to being the only Chicago mayor who later went on to serve as governor of Illinois, Edward Dunne brought an incredible amount of progressive reform to Chicago in his four years as mayor from gaining control over corrupt transit companies to pushing for reforms in juvenile justice and other key social realms. It is a record I would look to emulate.
Harold Washington also had a tremendous impact on Chicago. Though he was limited in what he could get accomplished during his time in office due to the efforts of the “Vrdolyak 29”, he set a template for fairness and inclusion that has guided every subsequent mayor Chicago has had.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Paul Vallas: “Chicago: City of the Century” I think is the book that best shows what a truly amazing role Chicago has played in the history of the world. Chicago was – and still is – a major center of innovation that has produced incalculable good for all of humanity. I think the only thing currently holding us back is a political industrial complex that is heavily dependent on the “pay to play” system and has to put preservation of the status quo ahead of effective City management and the long term planning needed to ensure the City and our children a brighter future.
Also running for mayor: