The 15th District Cook County Board commissioner's seat is held by Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, a Republican, who is being challenged by Jim Dasakis, a Democrat, and Laura Ehorn of the Green Party. Here are their responses to the Daily Herald questionnaire.
Q. What is your Number 1 campaign issue?
Dasakis: To balance the Budget. After the commissioners rolled back the 1/2 a penny sales tax, the budget is at a projected 300 to 500 million dollar deficit. That's a huge hole and it's going to require the work of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to close the gap.
Schneider: A key priority for my next term will be a full repeal of the sales tax increase that took effect in 2008. As previously mentioned, a full repeal of the 1% sales tax increase will force the Cook County Board to stop ignoring a structural deficit that is directly related to the costs associated with employing over 23,500 employees. A full repeal of the 1% sales tax increase will force the Cook County Board to make much needed cuts and reduce the size of County government. This year I was proud to introduce a budget amendment that sought to cut $104,770,041 from the County budget while exempting critical services like the Cook County Bureau of Health, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Department of Corrections, Medical Examiner, etc.). A critical ingredient of the Cook County Board of Commissioner's efforts to reform County government rests with the full 1% repeal of the sales tax increase of 2008.
Ehorn: Common sense. There is a lack of it.
Q. What is your Number 2 campaign issue?
Dasakis: Streamlining county government to be more effective at a lower cost to the taxpayer. Technology is the key to moving forward and cutting bloated departments. Upgrading the way Cook County does business with the public will allow it to A. catch up to the 21st century and B. make it easier for you to access county services.
Schneider: In my first term, I have made campaign finance reform a priority, proposing (and passing) and ordinance that lowered the amount of money a county vendor and/or lobbyist can contribute to a candidate in half (from $1,500 to $750) during an election cycle. I also have proposed an ordinance that is currently in committee (pending legal review) that seeks to impose a $100 contribution limit made county employees to candidates for county office. I intend to pursue this measure, as I believe Supreme Court case Nixon vs. Shrink Missouri PAC (2000), which upheld limits on contributions from individuals, sets legal precedence for this ordinance to pass.
Ehorn: Devoting the position to a full-time job. Currently I believe it is being run as a 'part-time' commitment.
Q. What is your Number 3 campaign issue?
Dasakis: Giving the Independent Board the support it needs to run the Health and Hospital System. Right now the Hospital System its costing the county one-third of its budget ($1 billion). The Hospital has made some good improvements and needs to start generating more revenue in order to make services even better. As commissioner I want to offer as much support as I can, to build a process of excellent service and standards.
Schneider: An important goal for my next term will be the establishment of an Independent Board of the Cook County Bureau of Human Resources. While exposing and eliminating patronage has been at the heart of my efforts in reforming Cook County government, I am excited to move forward with plans to create an independent Board of the Cook County Bureau of Human Resources. Run much like the current independent board of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, the idea is to take hiring out of the hands of the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and give it to an independent board who can hire employees based on qualifications and experience, not political clout. The Federal court appointed Shakman Compliance Officer has cited a need for a politically independent Bureau of Human Resources. What better way reform a broken hiring system than to relinquish control to an Independent Board comprised of independent human resource professionals.
Ehorn: Saving money whenever possible, and ultimately lowering the taxes and size of government.
Q. Should the remainder of the 1-percentage-point sales tax increase be repealed? Why or why not? What cuts or other revenue generators would you support to replace that lost income? What effect does the sales tax have on businesses near other counties?
Dasakis: Ideally yes, It's not fair to the businesses who lose customers to other counties, or to the taxpayer who foots the bill. On the other hand, you would have to cut staff, and services would also be at a loss. Come December we will be looking at a 300 million dollar deficit. The last time the county was forced to close that big of a gap, the commissioners couldn't come up with any solid dollar saving ideas and thus the infamous Tax was born but we were one of the few government bodies in the country with a balanced budget. Now, the sales tax was rolled back half a penny and the deficit is back. We need to come together with fresh alternative ideas on how to cut spending and increase revenues with out raising taxes.
Municipalities have contracted out a lot of services to other companies. For example, payroll services, the county already handles payroll for over 22,000 employees, it could easily do payroll for the municipalities at a lower cost and thus generate revenue. Another idea to look at is, increasing technology. With the right software in place the county can streamline services online. Look at what the Treasurers' office has done. They have made it easy to pay your bill online or at different Chase bank locations. The county can do the same with building permits and vehicle stickers. They can all be done online and free department budgets.
People in general want to save a buck. If it means crossing the street to save a few pennies they will. Continuing to raise the tax to balance the budget doesn't make sense either. We will need to level the playing field so that businesses in Cook County have the same advantage as the business across the street.
Schneider: I wholeheartedly believe the remainder of the 1% sales tax increase should be repealed. Being a commissioner of a district that directly borders DuPage and Kane counties (with McHenry and Lake counties close by), I have seen firsthand the adverse effects of this reckless tax increase. There are businesses that sit on the border with Cook County with signs in their window advertising "No Cook County Sales Taxes." As a result, border businesses have lost significant amounts of business and have unfortunately borne the brunt of this reckless sales tax increase. Not only did I support and vote to repeal the 1/2 percentage point sales tax increase that took effect in 2008, I was proud to sponsor an amendment at the Nov. 17 Special Board meeting that sought to repeal the full 1% sales tax increase. I am also proud to have sponsored or co-sponsored every sales tax repeal resolution since the sales tax increase took effect. I do not support any tax or fee increases, and believe cuts to the budget should focus on a reduction in personnel and consolidation of departments and offices. My focus for my next term (should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected) will be to repeal the remaining half percentage point sales tax increase that took effect in 2008. A full repeal of the sales tax will not only encourage businesses and consumers to return to Cook County to sell and purchase goods and services, it will force this board to make the long overdue cuts it needs to reform a bloated an inefficient government.
Ehorn: Yes. Government needs to learn to cut back. Even when it hurts re-election. I live on a tax border. When taxes are significantly higher in Cook County, I see nothing other than the businesses on this side loosing business.
Q. Do the suburbs get a fair share of Cook County resources? Please explain and give examples. How would you repair any inequities?
Dasakis: Not really, Let's look at the clinics offered to the suburbs. The nearest one we have, is in Palatine. The concentration of clinics are in Chicago and the outlining suburbs. There's talk of having Walgreens offering clinical services for the county but nothing has happened. We need to revamp these old ideas and put them forward.
The forest preserve is a valuable asset to all of us and to the suburbs. We should expand on the idea of Nature and Education Centers for all to enjoy. It's also another way to raise money for the Forest Preserve. More money should also be allocated for the preservation of wild life and trails. We have some of the most beautiful forest preserve areas in the country and we should be proud of the accomplishments and strides made to inform the people of the services offered by the Forest Preserve. I'm looking forward to working with them.
Schneider: For the money suburban residents invest to the coffers of Cook County by way of high sales and property taxes, I do not believe we receive our fair share of resources and/or services. With the exception of the Cook County Forest Preserves, I believe we are short changed (with services and resources concentrated within the city of Chicago) a lot of the time. Cook County boasts a health system that is funded at close to $900 million dollars, and there are no clinics or outpatient centers in my district. With the majority of County roads located in the suburbs, it is unconscionable that over half of the motor vehicle fuel tax money is diverted from road improvement projects to other areas. Many Cook County suburban roads are in disrepair, and those diverted funds should be spent as intended. In short, Cook County government is not exclusively the city of Chicago. During my first term, I have fought tirelessly to ensure that my constituents are receiving an equitable share of County resources. Whether it's ensuring homeowners are being fairly assessed, advocating for community development block grants, or helping bring businesses into Cook County by taking advantage of tax incentives, my priority has always been in the 15th district. With the Cook County Health and Hospital System's new strategic plan (which includes a more equitably dispersed clinic system), I am confident that the suburbs will benefit.
Ehorn: I would say no. Cook county hospitals are a BIG example. How many people from Palatine are going to make a day trip into the city to visit Stroger Hospital, even if it is "free"?
If the Obamacare goes into action, let the feds take care of the county hospitals. The extra tax dollars will be used in areas that are most in need. But that scenario is not likely to happen.
Q. Is the Cook property-tax assessment system equitable? Do you support the new formula for assessing homes at 10 percent of market value and businesses at 25 percent of market value? Why or why not? What changes, if any, do you favor?
Dasakis: No answer given.
Schneider: I do not believe that the Cook County property tax system is equitable. Some progress has been made, but we have a long way to go. I support a more open and transparent system where decisions are not made behind closed doors. The new formula for assessing homes at 10% of market value and businesses at 25% of market value is the very definition of truth in taxation. Previously, a homeowner couldn't look at their assessed value and be confident that it was based on the actual value of their home. With that came a myriad questions as to just how properties were being assessed. The most important question being "am I paying more than my fair share of property taxes"? The 10/25 formula finally lifts the veil on a system that has needed an overhaul for far too long and property owners will finally be able to fairly calculate their market value.
Ehorn: Property tax should be capped for persons who paid their share of the taxes and then no more. I think there should be a ceiling on the taxes. If you live in your home for 50 years, I think there should be a final cap on the total paid to the county.
Q. As revenues are likely to keep falling in the year ahead, what spending cuts can and should be made in Cook County government? Please be specific.
Dasakis: We have a $3 billion budget, one-third is the hospital, the other one-third is the Sheriff Dept. and the other one-third makes up the rest of the county.
To cut 10% across the board, in every department, would be disastrous. The hospital would have to cut and maybe even close certain clinics. The Sheriff would have to cut officers and safety concerns would arise, and the county and elected officials are already on trimmed staffs from the last time layoffs and cuts were made. But departments still know where they can cut and have to tighten their belts just like each and every other company has in the last few years. The new president and new commissioners are going to make some pretty hard decisions on where to trim and balance the budget.
Schneider: With revenues likely to fall in the year ahead (based on economic conditions and a potential full repeal of the 2008 sales tax increase) the best way to absorb the revenue reduction is through cuts and consolidation. For FY2010, I offered a budget amendment that sought to slash the budget by over $100 million (while retaining much needed programs like the Sheriff's Department for Women's Justice Services, the Office of Adoption Child Custody Advocacy, and Jail Diversion and Crime Prevention). During that budget meeting, I warned that because of Cook County's structural deficit, we were headed toward a fiscal crisis and the only way to get ahead of it is to start paring down the budget to a reasonable level. Unfortunately, the board decided to ignore reality and put off to tomorrow what they should have done that evening. I believe we should do a top to bottom assessment of the number of people Cook County government employs. Much like the performance improvement assessment Navigant Consulting conducted for the Cook County Health and Hospital's system (which is resulting in a reduction in head count), we must execute a similar assessment Countywide. The county's structural deficit is directly tied to personnel costs (which make up approximately 80% of our annual budget), so we must decrease the size of our payroll and force County government to do more with less. By better managing our annual attrition rate of 6%, the county can save over $600 million in the next term alone, and achieve a total countywide head count of fewer than 20,000 employees. I was proud to sponsor an omnibus budget amendment in 2007 that reduced the size of county government through a reduction in head count, and concentrating those cuts on higher grade employees (thus, eliminating middle-management positions and retaining front line employees). I also believe it is a great idea to look to consolidation as a means of reform. A prime example of consolidation is for the County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds offices to merge. The Recorder of Deeds office is notorious for posting negative revenue variances and the simple fact is their work volume has decreased year after year. Merging these offices will streamline the function of recording documents while reducing head count simultaneously.
Ehorn: I would have to spend time looking over the books. Currently I have no idea how to access them for a thorough answer.
Q. Is there more or less corruption in county government than is commonly perceived? What needs to be done to root it out completely?
Dasakis: It depends on what is being perceived as corruption? Is it patronage hiring? Because patronage hiring has been weeded out pretty much all together. Don't look at exempt positions. These positions are allowed by court law to the president to hire his administration. All other hires are being monitored by Shakman Compliance to make sure the process is within the limits of the decree. Also, a new online application system has now been put into place by the Bureau of Human Resources under the direction of Bureau Chief Joseph Sova, to make the hiring process of new positions run even smoother.
Schneider: I believe there is more corruption in county government than is commonly perceived. Public perception is oftentimes shaped by the stories they see, hear, and read in the news (and through their county commissioners). What's important to note is the corruption stories that are uncovered are instances where people are actually caught. How many instances of corruption are occurring that haven't been unearthed yet (or ever will)? An important component that has been put in place (that I was proud to co-sponsor) was the creation of the Office of the Independent Inspector General. This office was created to investigate allegations of corruption and mismanagement, and report documented incidents to state and federal authorities for prosecution. Since its inception, the Independent Inspector General has been very busy and has maintained a rather large caseload. What's important is not only the investigation of corruption, but also holding offenders accountable for their actions. Without proper sanctions, corruption deterrence will be impossible. As a county commissioner, I believe it is my office's responsibility to actively assist the Independent Inspector General and act as a corruption watchdog on behalf of my constituents.
Ehorn: Less corruption is perceived. I believe there is plenty, but have no proof. Once unnecessary programs are totally cut, there are less opportunities for corruption to grow.