On Feb. 13, Richard Boykin appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 1st District in the March 2018 primary:
Hi, I’m Richard Boykin and I am the Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District. Over the last three years, we’ve compiled a record of raising the minimum wage, providing for paid sick leave and being a leader in terms of dealing with this horrific gun violence that we see throughout our county.
We actually repealed the beverage tax, and I voted against the sales tax. We’ve been a very progressive member of the Cook County Board and I’m proud of the work that we’ve done there. We have a lot, lot more to do. My top priorities are to continue to reduce the gun violence that we see plaguing too many of our families, too many of our streets. Make sure that we have a fair property tax assessment system and of course continue to fight to reform Cook County government and protect the pocket books of the taxpayers of Cook County.
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 state of Illinois. Richard Boykin 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QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget.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: Following the successful repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax, the County Board’s 2018 budget process provided us with a blueprint of what a successful fiscal reform strategy for Cook County can look like going forward. However, going forward we will need to be prepared to face future budgets where costs outpace revenues. In these situations, it is simply not an acceptable solution to reach into taxpayers’ pockets to attempt to close the gap.
Instead, we should scour the County’s $5.2 billion dollar budget for savings and look to right-size County government to the point where the County can perform its essential public safety and public health functions without unnecessary bloat and waste.
I would look to achieve savings by reducing the size of the County payroll through the elimination of certain vacant and middle management positions before raising taxes. Working families in Cook County have had to contend with the ever-increasing cost of living, while simultaneously having to face rising fees and taxes, particularly in the City of Chicago. It is neither right nor just for Cook County- the governmental entity that exists to alleviate the burdens of the poor- to add to those burdens through additional taxation.
Further savings can be achieved through criminal justice reform. We should continue to look for opportunities to reduce the size of the population at Cook County Jail and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The diversion of individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse issues will significantly reduce the cost of operating the jail.
Political/civic background: I have been proud to serve as Cook County Commissioner of the 1st District since 2014. Prior to holding an elected office myself, I worked in Washington, D.C. as Chief of Staff to Congressman Danny K. Davis for 10 years.
Education: Central State University. B.A, 1990; University of Dayton School of Law, J.D., 1994
Campaign website: richardrboykin.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 have long advocated for closer scrutiny of the Cook County Health and Hospital System’s finances and I believe that the Health and Hospital System could be doing a much better job in leveraging its existing assets, right-sizing its operations, achieving efficiencies in service delivery and collecting on its accounts receivable.
I have said publicly that those insurance companies and individuals who can afford to pay must be billed by our Health and Hospital System. Our Health and Hospital System is owed more than $400 million in accounts receivable.
I also believe that we could reduce the cost of operating our Health and Hospital System significantly by reducing the level of gun violence in Cook County, which is extraordinarily expensive to treat on a per patient basis.
If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, the County should explore a merger with the University of Illinois, with the state assuming responsibility for health care for the indigent.
Finally, we can and must do more to promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention in low income communities. This is not just beneficial from a social and community perspective, but also would have the effect of reducing the burden on our Health and Hospital System.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: I am more interested in partnerships with the private sector than complete privatization of government services. I believe innovative partnerships with the private sector can work to make County government more cost-effective, especially in the areas of technology, information and data management. I believe the current manner in which the County procures its software systems is outdated and too expensive. I believe that this process might be managed less expensively and more efficiently by outsourcing it to industry experts.
Additionally, as noted in my previous answer, collections of accounts receivable for the Health and Hospital System should be handled by a private firm that specializes in collecting hospital debt.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: Sadly, the dysfunction in Springfield has caused the State of Illinois to fall behind on its financial obligations. This has actively harmed the County in its ability to finance its operations and project financial outcomes for budgeting purposes. Cook County must aggressively pursue those funds owed to it by the State of Illinois. The County must insist, via whatever means available, including legal means, that the State of Illinois meet its obligations. It is most certainly in the State’s interest that its largest County be able to operate with a minimum of uncertainty.
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: While tax-increment financing districts can be a valuable economic development tool, they must be utilized with increased transparency and community input. Care must also be taken to ensure that TIF resources don’t harm the very communities they are intended to help by siphoning off school funds to benefit select and well connected interests. TIF supported projects are only worthwhile if they provide a widespread community benefit that leaves a neighborhood healthier and more socioeconomically vibrant than it was before the project took place.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I oppose increasing property taxes and believe that the property assessment system as a whole must be reformed to ensure greater equity. Currently, those with lower incomes bear a disproportionate share of the property tax burden in Cook County than the wealthy and the well connected. This has been extensively documented, and the correction of this inequity must be the number one priority when it comes to the issue of property taxes.
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: To the extent that it frees additional County resources for public health and public safety, I would not be opposed to considering efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of Cook County into adjoining municipalities. However, such an initiative would have to originate in the municipality itself.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: An important first step to making Cook County more economically competitive is for the County to get out of its own way. Regressive taxes like Sweetened Beverage Tax, which I was proud to have led the successful effort to repeal, drive consumers and small businesses to other adjoining Counties.
I am also an outspoken proponent of tax incentives to attract business to areas of the County that have lacked focus and investment for too long. I am proud to have secured $18 million in Economic Development funds through a combination of tax incentives and grants to support 1st District business and bring jobs to 1st District Neighborhoods.
We need to increase strategic partnerships with the business community to train and hire Cook County residents. I am particularly passionate about providing businesses with incentives to hire ex-offenders.
I have also called for and will continue to advocate for a Countywide transportation and infrastructure plan. This would serve the dual purpose of replacing aging infrastructure and putting people to 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 believe that the Forest Preserve District is a treasure that should be utilized by County residents from all neighborhoods and from all economic backgrounds. I certainly would not support raising Forest Preserve-related fees in order to fund the Next Century Conservation Plan. I would, however, support reviewing the availability of resources for the Next Century Conservation Plan on an ongoing basis and, if necessary, advocate for revising aspects of the plan in order to achieve its goals in the most cost-effective manner possible.
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: As noted above, I am not in favor of raising fees of any kind in connection with the Forest Preserve, as I believe this is regressive and discourages low income residents from visiting the Forest Preserve. I would note that the Forest Preserve currently already charges for parking at Miller Meadows across from Loyola Hospital, where people currently park to avoid paying for parking on the hospital property.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: I believe that the current Board of Commissioners does a good job at administering the affairs and budget of the Forest Preserve responsibly and independently.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: As noted above, I believe the State of Illinois must come current on its financial obligations to the County. I am also disappointed in Governor Rauner’s approach to budgeting. The failure by the State of Illinois to timely enact budgets has had an adverse impact on the County for almost my entire time in office. Finally, I am deeply disappointed that the Governor has not approached the issue of gun violence with anything like the level of urgency that this crisis requires. I have asked him to declare a State of Emergency to obtain additional resources to reduce the shootings. He has declined to do so. This has harmed the County, burdened its Health and Hospitals System, and devastated entire neighborhoods in the County. The State’s inaction on this issue is simply inexcusable.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: I support reforming the county’s pension system as long as health care benefits are guaranteed for county workers when they retire.
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 who currently work for Cook County and I believe that elected officials should not hire their relatives.