Karina Villa: Candidate profile, Illinois Senate 25th District
Democrat Karina Villa of West Chicago faces a challenge from Republican Jeanette Ward of West Chicago, a former member of the school board in Elgin Area School District U-46, in the race for Illinois Senate from the 25th District.
The 25th District takes in parts of Aurora, Bartlett, Batavia, Big Rock, Campton Hills, Elburn, Elgin, Geneva, Lily Lake, Montgomery, Naperville, North Aurora, Oswego, Plano, Prestbury, South Elgin, St. Charles, Sugar Grove, Warrenville, Wayne, West Chicago, and Yorkville.
The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their replies.
For complete election coverage, visit dailyherald.com.
Q: How would you rate the governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Does the legislature need to have more input and influence in establishing rules and policies related to stemming the spread of the disease? What you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A: I believe that a critical component of his response was the clear and consistent communication to the public. The daily briefings let the people of Illinois know what the state was doing, what they were expected to do, and how the governor was dealing with the response from the federal government.
As a result, the curve flattened and while there has been an expected uptick with the opening of the state, the death rate numbers have stayed low and the positivity rate is still low. Illinois Department of Employment Security is one area where challenges could have been addressed more effectively.
Additional resources, more transparency and quicker responses would have made a difference in how the public perceived the state government handling of the unemployment issues.
It is essential that our path moving forward continues to respect the "science." We have shown that listening to the medical professionals and following the protocols they recommend works toward controlling this disease.
Q: Regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance, what is the impact of the pandemic on the state's economic outlook and what immediate and long-term actions should be taken to address it? Would you support increasing taxes to pay for COVID-19 response or to make up for lost revenue related to COVID-19?
A: Similar to states across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted state and local government budgets.
If voters approve the Fair Tax Proposal this November, it will serve as a stabilizing measure to our current financial situation.
All members of the General Assembly will have to work together with the governor's office on solutions to further address the shortfall in terms of any budgetary cuts that will likely be required.
Q: The graduated income tax is designed with the intent to reduce taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans. Do you believe that will happen? Why or why not? What assurances can be given to voters?
A: Yes. I believe the voters will support the proposed amendment this fall. I believe the measure would make our tax system more fair for all Illinoisans, allowing higher incomes to be taxed at higher rates and lower incomes to be taxed at lower rates.
This is a kind of system that a majority of the states and the federal government use, but our constitution currently prohibits it. Unless a small-business owner makes more than $250,000 a year in profits their taxes won't increase. This means that the overwhelming majority of small businesses will not see an income tax increase, which is critical especially if they are struggling from the impacts of the coronavirus crisis.
More than $9 out of $10 the state spends is on education, health care, human services and public safety. The money from the fair tax will go toward funding those critical services and 97% of the filers in Kane County will not see an increase because they make under $250,000 a year. Furthermore the rate structures are now law and will go into effect immediately if the Fair Tax is passed.
Q: Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A: No. The burden the current economic situation has placed on our citizens as a result of the pandemic removes from consideration any discussion of taxing retirement incomes. Hopefully the results of the election in November will show that voters accept the Fair Tax proposal.
Q: Should Illinois prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government? Should lawmakers be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after their term in office? For how long?
A: I believe that members of the General Assembly should not be allowed to lobby other levels of government. I also believe that once a lawmaker has left office, there should be a time period where they should not be allowed to register as a lobbyist.
Finally, we have to end the practice of legislators retiring on Friday and lobbying on Monday. There must be clear rules and time frames on a revolving door policy for legislators to ensure that the public interest is protected.
This does, however, point out the need to continue to strengthen lobbying reporting laws. As an example, we should look at trying to prevent and close any loopholes that might allow someone to get hired as a "consultant" but then actually do lobbying work for that firm or company.
I supported and became a co-sponsor in the House for SB1639. One thing the bill does is to require the Secretary of State to create a publicly accessible and searchable database bringing together disclosures by registered lobbyists, contributions by registered lobbyists, and statements of economic interests required to be filed by state officials and employees.
Q: What are the most important components that should be included in legislative ethics reform? What will you do to help them come to pass?
A: We all should have confidence in our leaders to conduct themselves ethically in all cases. Because that is not always the reality, I supported and became co-sponsor in the Illinois House for the ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639).
When public trust has been damaged by even the perception of impropriety at any level of government it is something that needs to be dealt with seriously.
In addition to any reforms that might be enacted, I believe how we, as legislators, conduct ourselves in the future will be the main evidence that the citizens need to build back that trust in government.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: To create a meaningful, comprehensive, and realistic plan going forward, we must bring all parties to negotiate in good faith. This problem is bigger than any political ideology.
As the Supreme Court has already made it clear we cannot diminish or reduce benefits, we must be thoughtful and explore all avenues to address this crisis. There is no quick and easy solution, and I don't pretend to have all the answers, but we cannot kick the can down the road as has been done in the past.
We need to consider, for example, no more pension holidays, or no more pension sweeteners for Springfield insiders. I know if we buckle down and work together we can reach a solution to save the state of Illinois.
The Fair Tax will be vital to a permanent solution to this issue. We must also recognize that the impact of COVID-19 has created an even greater burden on the state's resources. I sincerely hope that the federal government will recognize that all states will need funding to help offset the financial costs associated with managing the pandemic.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: Yes I do. I will continue to work to protect the environment by promoting the use of renewable resources as well as whatever I can to reduce the effects of global climate change on the people in my district and the state.
We also need to identify and sensibly address existing challenges to the environment. An example: Expansion of fracking without sufficient research, assessment of the risks, and government regulation has resulted in an increase in emissions of methane gas. State governments should be monitoring and regulating well sites more frequently and requiring oil and gas companies to sharply reduce fugitive methane emissions and other volatile organic compounds that escape into the atmosphere during the production of natural gas.
Q: Protesters have massed in the streets in Chicago and other cities across Illinois for greater social justice and changes in the funding and responsibilities for police. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in Illinois? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? What, if any, changes should be made in funding and duties of police?
A: It would be wonderful to say that educational opportunities are the same for all children, that the impact of COVID-19 isn't greater in minority communities, or that the BLM movement was misplaced. Unfortunately we can't. They are examples of the impact of systemic racism.
I have witnessed these first hand as a school social worker. Hopefully events of the past six months will finally be enough to bring a determined effort to find bipartisan solutions. We need effective leaders who can develop, with true community involvement, what communities need to thrive and replace adversarial relationships with cooperative ones.
Sensible police reform is necessary, with input from citizens and law enforcement, including the unions.
Police organizations would benefit from implementing more targeted, consistent training and continuing education requirements. All law enforcement officers should have bodycams and be required to wear them. Remember they are also protection from unsubstantiated claims against officers performing their jobs in a lawful manner.
Mental health support and resources should be available for our officers. Working together is critical to reducing tensions we have seen.
Q: Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness and capacity to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.
A: I co-sponsored HB2495 Reproductive Health Act. I was one of the legislators who helped resurrect the bill. It passed.
When my office began receiving calls regarding the COVID-19 situation affecting my constituents, I used my voice very loudly to reach out to whatever government office would listen.
In my district, there are 350 manufacturing facilities and once the critical nature of the pandemic became obvious, the overwhelming calls were from concerned employees at a number of those facilities who felt their lives were being put in danger. I started working with those businesses to provide safe working conditions for their essential workers.
We succeeded in establishing a system of reporting allegations of unsafe work conditions while also helping to write comprehensive legislation to protect those workers. My office disseminated critical material, including for example, where to access unemployment information, food bank assistance and mental health support.
I secured a COVID-19 testing site in West Chicago. In situations like this you have to be able to act independently and show the leadership that your constituents and the citizens of Illinois deserve.