Chicago Tribune - Questionnaire
1) Would you have voted in favor of the TARP legislation approved by Congress in 2008? Do you think Congress should approve a stimulus package this year? Please assess the competing proposals from the Obama administration and Democrats and Republicans in Congress. What should be the priority in a stimulus package, if you support one?
Tarp: No. TARP has been a failure in its current form. With record home price depreciation and catastrophic job loss, I believe that any version of TARP would have failed. That being said, there are reforms that could improve TARP at this stage.
First, I would have changed the target of the TARP funds. The funds should have been required to put liquidity in the market. Small businesses cannot borrow money to expand and storefronts sit eerily vacant as no money is available for their development. This not only contributes to the number of grayfields around our community, but takes away opportunities for job creation. Expanding credit is an absolute necessity.
Secondly, the complete lack of transparency in the use of TARP fund has, rightly, troubled the American people and caused them to question the ability of their government to spend money wisely. TARP funds have reportedly been used to purchase new flat screen televisions and repaint the headquarters of Citigroup. Explain that to taxpayers who are about to lose their home -- I sure can't. What I can explain is that as County Commissioner I have worked for 10 years to bring transparency and accountability to Cook County Government -- from shining light on outsider influences on the property tax appeal process, to writing the tough new Inspector General Ordinance. I have fought for disclosure and accountability and I will not stop this fight. It is outrageous that taxpayers are losing their homes and the number of food stamp recipients is at a record high -- but companies are trying to use TARP funds to buy new jets. $350 BILLION of our taxpayer dollars has been spent and the Bush administration and Congress did not require that they tell us how.
We must stand up to this abuse of our tax payer dollars. I strongly support President Obama's new plan to publicize the amount of assistance that each corporation receives and to place limits on executive compensation. All of the information must be placed online for public scrutiny.
Competing proposals: The academic debate behind tax cuts versus spending is robust right now and we have little time to waste as the economy is in a tailspin. What informs me most right now is that the American people voted overwhelmingly for the President who made the economy the centerpiece of his campaign. I feel the scale and scope of the package the president proposed is appropriate at around $800 billion and I am willing to compromise with Republicans on some measures because I feel the American people need to see both parties working together.
But make no mistake, we must begin a robust spending plan right away. We have lost more jobs in the last 13 months than anytime since 1939. I support increasing unemployment assistance, COBRA coverage, and food stamps, all measures that have strong stimulus effects. I support spending on infrastructure that will put people back to work. I prefer tax cuts that in turn stimulate the economy. Payroll tax and sales tax holidays all strike me as good ideas.
Local governments are also facing tremendous shortfalls and they should be given grants from the federal government, not loans. Assistance to the states is crucial to help close budget deficits so states do not raise taxes.
Priority of stimulus package: I oppose any solution that involves the government taking on excessive debt that will be paid for by future generations. A debt-driven stimulus package only serves as a long term brake on economic recovery, so it is vitally important that the stimulus package include measure that have a long-term life expectancy. It needs to be more than paving county roads and building new city curbs that will need repair in 2-3 years. The stimulus package needs to focus on larger projects with a long-term life span that will provide value in helping the economy for the next 20-30 years -- most notably, mass transit. We need a safe, affordable, environmentally efficient way for people to travel and from work. Chicago is in desperate need of an infusion of federal funds to continue to upgrade our transit system.
Secondly the stimulus package should work to develop our new green economy. I applaud the President's efforts to provide safeguards for the environment in the stimulus package and it proves the adage that 'going green saves green'. The plan doubles the amount of energy produced from renewable resources within three years ¨C which has the added benefit of increasing our national security by lessening our dependence on foreign oil. It also builds upon our existing infrastructure by making federal buildings more efficient for a savings of $2 billion dollars annually.
There should be a focus on strengthening the safety net for families in crisis. Congress needs to pass the provisions to expand food stamps and unemployment benefits and extend the coverage period for COBRA. Not only do these measures provide support for families out of work, but they have an immediate impact on our economy. For example, economists estimate that each dollar spent on the food stamp program, there is a return of 150% back into the economy.
Lastly, the stimulus package is currently moving in the right direction towards greater accountability and transparency in government. Having Recovery.gov in place to let taxpayers know how the funds are being utilized is a step in the right direction. In addition, the infusion of funds to the Inspectors General offices for each agency plus the establishment of the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board should help ensure that the abuses, TARP will not occur with the stimulus package.
2) President Obama supports increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. Do you support a deeper U.S. involvement there, and toward what goal?
Yes, I believe that we need to increase our involvement in Afghanistan. We need to redirect our forces from Iraq to not only fight the Taliban but to control the drug trade and stabilize the country. We cannot forget that Afghanistan shares a border with Pakistan and terrorists are flowing freely across the border. Pakistan is a nuclear power and we cannot allow rogue groups to have access to weapons and create havoc in the region.
However, we must remember that we are not alone in this fight. Many of our allies in NATO have shirked responsibility by only allowing their forces to patrol in safe zones or by not providing adequate funding for their missions in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration must put pressure on NATO to more meaningfully engage in this effort. For Afghanistan and other areas of conflict across the globe, we need to address foreign policy from a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach.
3) Should Congress expand government-funded health care to cover all citizens? How exactly should a government health care program be structured? Please explain what steps you would take to contain costs.
We need an immediate overhaul of our health insurance system that will provide affordable, accessible health care for all Americans. This can be accomplished by building upon -- not tearing down -- our preexisting healthcare system, while utilizing the doctors, providers and plans already in place. Government needs to step in to provide solutions for those who lack full coverage, while not disrupting care for those who are satisfied with their current plan.
For the uninsured, I support President Obama's initiative to provide a range of affordable private insurance options based on the same benefits as members of Congress.
For the insured, I would introduce legislation to amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) to require that insurance providers allow for full portability of their insurance and to mandate full coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Health care costs are out of control and the fact that Americans are making health care decisions based on their pocketbooks should spur us to take action. There are steps the government can take to lower the overall cost of health care and help provide options for the uninsured. We need to expand preventive care, modernize medical record keeping, and lower prescription drug prices. In addition, we need to increase transparency and accountability in our health care system and put in place safeguards to prevent fraud.
First, we need to expand preventive care. The emergency room has become the only source of care for many Americans ¨C and it is the most expensive way for us to care for patients. We need to expand our preventive care network so that Americans can see doctors on a regular basis to stop problems before they become too severe, and too costly. Ten percent of our chronic diseases account for 90% of our health care costs. Expanding preventive care will help reduce our health care costs by preventing these diseases before they begin.
Secondly, we can lower health care costs by pursuing new health information technology services, and investing in bold new prevention and care coordination initiatives.
This includes full support for modernizing medical record keeping to lower costs while making the entire health care system more efficient.
Lastly, we need to lower prescription drug prices by negotiating the costs of prescription drugs for seniors utilizing the same approach as the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
4) Give us your views on tax policy and entitlement spending. Should marginal tax rates be raised for people who earn more than $200,000 a year? Should the inheritance tax be abolished or extended? What difficult steps would you take to control the costs of Social Security and Medicare?
No taxes should be raised during a recession. The residents of Cook County are already being hurt by the record taxes from Todd Stroger -- the tax hike that I have fought as County Commissioner.
Inheritance tax: This tax should be extended.
Steps to control Social Security and Medicare: The costs of Medicare are out of control. We can reign in these costs by reducing waste and increasing transparency.
From the costs of our medical equipment, subsidies to private insurance, and the prices of pharmaceuticals, there is tremendous waste in Medicare.
First, we need to introduce competition to Medicare doctors and suppliers. Medicare needs to reform how it pays for its goods and services. The fee schedule the government sets for prices for medical equipment far exceeds what similar equipment is priced at in a simple Internet search. However, the open competitive bidding proposals on the table today could present potential health risks as the proposal lacks rigorous safety and quality standards. Once we address such issues, we need to find a way to introduce competition in to the market without sacrificing health care or interrupting care of current beneficiaries.
The same goes for prescription drugs. It is inconceivable to me that we negotiate the prices of prescription drugs for veterans -- but not for seniors.
Reducing the costs of Medicare also involves improving the health of our seniors. By better managing chronic diseases, we can reduce their care costs, their pharmaceutical costs and improve their quality of life.
As we look to reform and fix Social Security, it is crucial to keep in mind that the biggest threat to the Social Security trust fund in recent years has been out-of-control deficit spending. We need to get back to fiscally responsible budgeting.
5) Whom did you support in the 2006 primary and general election for governor? Please explain the reasons for your support.
I voted for Rod Blagojevich in the 2006 primary and general election but did not endorse him--and I did not contribute to his campaign.
After meeting with Edwin Eisendrath, his primary opponent, I did not believe he took his candidacy seriously and was not a viable candidate.
I voted for Blagojevich in the general election; I was wrong.
Hopefully, the removal of Rod Blagojevich from office will give us the chance to move forward and to initiate the real change, reform and ethics in government that the people of Illinois want and deserve.
6) Do you support a constitutional amendment to allow voters to recall public officials? How would you have voted on the recall amendment that was approved in 2008 by the Illinois House? Please explain your thinking.
Yes, I support a constitutional amendment to allow voters to recall public officials and I would have voted on the recall amendment. I wish that the recall amendment went a step further though and allowed for the recall of local officials, as well. If such a recall provision were available to the voters, I do not believe that Todd Stroger would still be the President of the Cook County Board.
7) Do you think the U.S. Senate should have accepted the appointment of Sen. Roland Burris by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate? Should the legislature have called a special election?
Based on the evidence presented by the U.S. Attorney, the process in place was clearly tainted. While the Senate acted within the law, it should have not accepted the appointment from a disgraced Rod Blaogjevich.
Yes, legislature should have called for a special election. The Illinois legislature shirked their responsibilities to call for special elections. They put politics before the good of the State of Illinois.
8) Whom did you support in the 2006 primary and general election for president of the Cook County Board? Please explain your thinking.
After ending my bid for Cook County Board President, I became the Chairman of Forrest Claypool's campaign to unseat John Stroger. It is unfortunate for all of us that he did not win.
In the general election, I went with the choice that best reflected some of the issues that I have fought for during the past 10 years on the County Board, including choice and LGBT rights, and voted for Todd Stroger. I believed that Tony Peraica would take away reproductive health services at Stroger Hospital, which I had fought for years to protect and expand. These services were established by executive order and could be easily repealed.
Since then, I have worked tirelessly to change the policies and the mindset of the Stroger administration and bring an end to the cycle of bloated budgets and burdens on the taxpayers that has become commonplace in Cook County government.
9) Should the 1-percentage-point increase in Cook County's portion of the sales tax be repealed?
Yes. I led the flight with Forrest Claypool against the passage of the tax and I voted for the repeal in July of 2008.
The sales tax never should have passed. Had the Stroger Administration implemented my reform measures that I have introduced since 2001, we would have enough savings to not need the sales tax increase. These measures took aim at the waste, cronyism and corruption that we find in County budgets year after year.
Even more alarming is the fact that, on top of a record sales tax imposed last year, Stroger is now looking at more than $700 million in new borrowing. This will only add to the burden faced by taxpayers, and must be prevented.
10) Tell us: What have you done? What are your specific accomplishments in government or public service? What difference have you made?
I have spent the last 10 years reforming the Cook County board to protect taxpayers' interests and reform the old, machine©\style "politics as usual" that have ruled Cook County for decades. From rooting out fraud to promoting transparency and accountability, I believe that I have made a difference for Cook County Government and for the taxpayers.
A few of my accomplishments include:
Led the fight against the record 1% sales tax increase that makes Cook County one of the most expensive areas in the country to live and raise a family.
Stopped the proposed lease, hotel, restaurant and fuel taxes and stopped them from being imposed on Cook County taxpayers.
Only Democratic Commissioner to vote against the Cook County Parking Tax in 2000.
Authored and issued eight separate, extensive reports on cost©\cutting measures and revenue enhancement. Had the ideas from these reports been implemented, the county would not have needed a sales tax increase or the borrowing it is seeking today.
Worked with the Cook County Assessor to make the County's complex real estate classification, simpler, fairer, more efficient, and more transparent, and to put the system in line with other policy goals like preserving affordable housing and creating jobs.
Named by The Chicago Reader as "the greenest elected official in Chicago." I have sponsored every piece of major environmental legislation adopted by Cook County in the last decade.
I Co-sponsored legislation that committed Cook County to join the Chicago Climate Exchange. Requirements of membership include the reduction of the county's carbon emissions; failure to do so mandates the purchase of carbon offsets.
Authored and passed Cook County's Green Building Ordinance, requiring all new facilities to meet the LEED standards developed by the U.S. Green Buildings Council.
My legislation made Cook County the first county in the nation to adopt green building legislation. In addition I successfully led the effort to use rubberized asphalt on county roads.
Introduced new purchasing guidelines for office products and county vehicles.
Because of my efforts, the County is purchasing hybrid vehicles for many of its departments and the purchase of recycled goods is now a standard practice.
Authored and passed a bottled water ban to not only save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by banning the purchase of wasteful individual water bottles and install more environmentally friendly sources of water for county employees and taxpayers visiting our facilities.
As chair of the Forest Preserve Board Finance Committee, I urged District officials to increase the pace of land acquisition, opposed encroachments and inappropriate uses of District lands, and actively supported careful restoration of District lands to their natural state.
Transparency and Accountability
Authored and passed two successful amendments to the County Code of Ethics that doubled the period during which a former County employee is barred from working for a County contractor from one year to two and required bidders on County contracts to disclose political contributions and any former County employees on their staffs.
Authored and passed package of ethics reforms mandating greater transparency in the property tax appeal process. It required the online posting of all appeal decisions, including property owner name, attorney name, property address, and reasoning for the decision. The process in the past had been widely criticized by the media since the decision makers would significantly lower the assessments of those well-off or well-connected individuals (or their attorneys) who donated to their campaign funds.
Authored and passed amendments to the Inspector General Ordinance granting the County's Inspector General wider authority, greater independence, and increased resources to root out corruption. The ordinance also established a six-year term of office and limited the County Board President's power of appointment by requiring him to select a nominee from three qualified candidates chosen by an outside committee.
Authored and passed a secondhand smoke ban, which prohibited smoking indoors throughout Cook County which lead to the led to a similar state-wide ban.
Worked to provide funds to Access to Care, a primary health care program serving low-income uninsured individuals in suburban Cook County, Illinois and in northwest Chicago.
Strong supporter of women's reproductive rights. I fought for increased access to reproductive health care for all women throughout the county, regardless of their means. I teamed up with health advocates to dramatically increase reproductive health services at county health facilities.
Secured county funding to provide enhanced medical and legal services for rape victims at Stronger Hospital.
Authored and passed through bi-partisan cooperation, a ground-breaking ordinance that created the Cook Country Domestic Partnership Registry and passed legislation granting full benefits to domestic partners of all county employees.
Supported efforts to make income-based discrimination unlawful in Cook County, ensuring residents can find safe, affordable housing near their workplaces, schools, and accessible public transportation.
Worked tirelessly, in conjunction with a coalition of LGBT advocates, to ensure that Cook County does not do business with groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Worked with the County to streamline and expedite the grant disbursement system to help several community-based HIV/AIDS service providers receive grant funding more quickly and efficiently.
Leading advocate on the Cook County Board for a new Domestic Violence Courthouse that would be safe for women and their children. My efforts led to the construction of the new Cook Co