Article updated: 9/21/2012 4:33 PM
Stephanie Kifowit: Candidate Profile
84th District Representative (Democrat)
Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
84th District Representative
I have been married to my husband Steve for fifteen years and we have two children, Sabrina (age 14) and Samuel (age 10). The family is complete with Steve?s daughter, Alexandria and my two step-grandchildren, William (age 5) and Jonathan (age 3).
Substitute teacher, East Aurora District 1
Bachelor of Science in Political Science, Northern Illinois University, 1997 Masters of Public Administration, Northern Illinois University, 2003
I am a member of the American Legion - Aurora Post 84, the United States Marine Corps League, Women Marine League, Veteran's Breakfast Group, the American Society of Public Administrators, Illinois Municipal League, the Illinois City/County Management Association, the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce, Women in Government, Fox Valley Girl Scout Council, the White House Project, and Aurora Crime Stoppers. I currently help coordinate several area events, including the Aurora Independence Day Parade and the Annual Women's Power Lunch.
Elected offices held:
Alderman, City of Aurora, 2003-present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain:
Key Issue 1
My number one priority is to get the state?s economy back on track while creating jobs. We need to make sure Illinois has a business climate that encourages companies of all sizes to grow and expand. We also need to make sure Illinois is taking steps to attract new businesses that will create good-paying jobs for families throughout the state. I support policies that help businesses reinvest in Illinois and create jobs such as extending the state?s research and development tax credit. At the same time, I think we need to stop corporations like Sears from holding the state hostage, being given large tax breaks and then closing stores and eliminating jobs. I will fight for stronger laws that require businesses that eliminate or move jobs out of state to refund the breaks they received.
Key Issue 2
I believe that my first priority of getting the state?s economy back on track is closely related to my other top priority of reforming Illinois? budget. Many businesses and service providers throughout the state are forced to look at closing their doors or laying off employees because of how long it takes the state to pay what it owes them. A bloated state budget full of wasteful spending shortchanges taxpayers, state vendors and those who depend on state services. I will work to make sure Illinois? government starts to live within its means, just like every family has to do when working with their household budget. We need to prioritize state spending in order to pay for truly successful and necessary programs and services and cut any programs that are not efficiently and effectively using the taxpayer funds that have been allocated to them. When we reform the budget, it will not only help pay for job incentive programs, it will also make the state a more attractive place to do business because more companies want to be located in a state that is stable and reliable. Businesses do not want to have to worry about taxes increasing every year, or if they are going to ever get paid by the state for the services or products they provide. More businesses will come to Illinois if our government starts budgeting more responsibly and less recklessly.
Key Issue 3
Another top issue for me is cutting taxes for Illinois residents. As I have been walking door-to-door throughout the district, I have heard one thing from voters over and over again: ?Enough is enough.? They just cannot afford to give the government any more of their money. First the income tax rate increased, then both toll way rates and Metra fares increased, and now local property taxes are increasing as well. The state legislature needs to repeal the income tax increase now. The tax increase was supposed to get the state in a better fiscal condition, but the state?s finances keep getting worse and worse. We cannot just keep throwing taxpayer money at this problem. We need to take back Springfield and get elect independent voices who will stand up for tax relief and budget reform. I am also already working to support legislation that would prohibit property taxes from going up when home values are going down. Skyrocketing property taxes are threatening to force hundreds of seniors and families out of their homes in my area. I have started passing a petition in support of this legislation, and this will be one of the very first issues I tackle when I am in Springfield.
How would you fix the state's pension gap? Should pension costs be shifted to suburban school districts? Why or why not? Should this issue be voted on in a lame-duck session? Why or why not? How can partisan gridlock be eased to solve the crisis?
I support pension reform, but I believe it needs to be done in a way similar to recent education reform efforts. We need to bring all stakeholders together to find a solution that is fair for both taxpayers and workers. We also cannot lose focus on the fact that we need to make sure the pension funds remain solvent so that the state can continue to pay out benefits employees have already earned. An important part of keeping the pension funds solvent is making sure the state puts in its full pension payment every year, which it has not always done in the past. Illinois has a pension payment plan in place, and the General Assembly needs to stick to that plan. The legislature has taken some initial steps to root out abuse and fraud from the system, and I believe we need to continue these efforts to save the state money and reserve benefits for those who have truly earned them. There seems to be a new story every day about former legislators or lobbyists getting sweet pension deals that are worth far more than what they put into the system. This practice needs to stop; it is absolutely unfair to both taxpayers and state workers. I will always make informed votes that are in the best interest of my district, regardless of when we are in session. I am against any pension cost shift to local school districts. I have been walking door-to-door in my district every day, and the top issue I hear is about is skyrocketing property taxes. Shifting pension costs to the local level will only increase the burden on already struggling homeowners. While I believe school districts should be more responsible about end-of-career salary increases that greatly increase pension benefits, especially for highly paid administrators, I do not think shifting pension costs will solve this issue. I believe lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to act like adults, put aside their partisan loyalties, and work together to solve the many issues facing out state. I learned in the Marines that people from all sorts of backgrounds can come together as one and complete missions that seem impossible. The state legislature needs to get serious and start completing the mission of turning the state around.
How, specifically, would you cut the budget? What does Illinois need to do to fix its status as a "deadbeat state?" How will you vote on future gambling bills? What is your view of slots at racetracks? Casino expansion?
The first thing we need to do to get the state on the path to fiscal responsibility is to adopt zero-based budgeting. The state can simply no longer afford to spend money it does not have. We need to focus on making sure we fund the core essential services that state government provides. Every year the General Assembly should review all programs and expenditures to make sure every penny of taxpayer money is spent wisely. Cuts will have to be made during this process. Here is a short list of where we can start making cuts: 1. We should cut lawmakers pay by 10 percent. It is time for elected officials throughout the state to share in the sacrifice and do what they can to reduce state spending. 2. The state should drastically reduce the number of vehicles in its fleet. A recent audit found that a quarter of the vehicles the state owns are not driven enough to be cost effective, and many of these vehicles were only used by employees to go to and from work. 3. The state should reduce its air fleet to only include planes and helicopters used for emergency services. State officials do not need to fly around the state in a private plane like overpaid private CEOs. This is a luxury the state simply cannot afford. 4. Combine the state Treasurer?s and Comptroller?s offices to reduce duplicative services, and look at other ways the state can consolidate. 5. Reform pensions in a way that is fair for workers and taxpayers, and work to find and eliminate fraud and abuse within the pension system. 6. There are a great number of state boards and commissions, many of which provide compensation to their members. I believe we should eliminate this pay and make sure those who are appointed to these boards are doing so because they want to provide a service to the state, not because they want to line their pockets. During my time as Alderman, Aurora became one of only ten Illinois Cities to earn an excellent bond rating because of its strong financial performance and management, which allows the city to receive better interest rates, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. I have stood up against wasteful spending at the local level. I have worked as a financial advisor and really understand the complexities of the budget-making process. I will bring this dedication to fiscal responsibility to Springfield and work with both sides of the aisle to find common-sense solutions. Recent figures released have shown that more established casinos are losing out in revenue to newer facilities. I am against expanding the number of casinos and putting slots at the tracks because I do not believe it will lead to more revenue for the state and will only hurt the economy of the Aurora region.
What can you do specifically to help the economy in your district? How can you help create jobs in your district and statewide? What is your view of the tax breaks granted to companies like Motorola Mobility, Navistar and Sears?
In light of all of the tax breaks that have been awarded to larger corporations, I think the state needs to refocus its attention on how it can help small businesses. The 84th District contains a large number of small businesses, many of which are struggling through the recession. We need to do more to help small businesses, because those jobs are just as valuable as the jobs that larger corporations provide. I believe the state should provide tax cuts specifically targeted at small businesses that allows them to expand and create additional jobs. While I am in favor of tax incentives that help keep vital jobs in our area, I think we need to stop corporations like Sears from being given large tax breaks and then closing stores and eliminating jobs. I will fight for stronger laws that require businesses that eliminate or move jobs out of state to refund the tax breaks they received. Also, when we talk about tax relief we cannot forget about the working families of our area. Many families have to make do with a reduced income or job loss and cannot afford to keep paying more in taxes. I think middle class families deserve a break in order to help them make ends meet, and we can give them a break by repealing the state income tax increase.
Do you favor limiting how much money party leaders can give candidates during an election? If elected, do you plan to vote for the current leader of your caucus? Why or why not? Do you support or oppose campaign contribution limits? Please explain.
Illinois has made big strides when it comes to campaign finance reform with recently adopted legislation limiting campaign contributions from parties and leaders during primaries. I not only support current contribution limits but believe they should be expanded. We need to do more to take money out of politics and continue to increase transparency for voters. My focus is on the issues that voters bring up to me every day at the door, especially tax relief, job creation and fixing the state budget. I am working on solutions to these problems, including a grass-roots petition signature collection effort in support of legislation prohibiting property taxes from increasing when property values go down.
Should gay marriage be legalized in Illinois? Should it be voted on in a lame-duck session as civil unions were? Should Illinois define life as beginning at conception? How would you vote on a concealed carry plan? Should the death penalty return?
Everyone should enjoy the same civil rights and no one should face discrimination because of their sexual orientation. I believe it is up to each woman, in consultation with her family and personal support structure, to define when life begins. As a Marine Corp Veteran I am a supporter of our Second Amendment rights, but most voters in the 84th District have moderate views on gun control and are uncomfortable with allowing concealed weapons to be carried in public places like schools, parksv I am open to reinstating the death penalty, but only if strict safeguards involving the use of DNA evidence are put in place to ensure only those truly guilty of the most heinous crimes would be eligible.
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