Kate Monteleone: Candidate profile, Illinois House 50th District

Democrat Kate Monteleone, a nonprofits consultant from unincorporated Fox Mill, is challenging incumbent Republican Keith Wheeler of Oswego in the race for Illinois House from the 50th District, which takes in parts of Aurora, Batavia, Big Rock, Campton Hills, Elburn, Geneva, Lily Lake, Montgomery, North Aurora, Oswego, Plano, Prestbury, St. Charles, Sugar Grove and Yorkville.

The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their replies.

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Q. Should Speaker Madigan resign from his leadership positions? If he does not resign, will you support him for a new term as House speaker?

A. If Michael Madigan is indicted in the ComEd bribery case, he should resign. While unindicted, he has become a distraction to the orderly conduct of state business and lost trust, so the dignified response would be to step aside. I have not accepted money or staff support from the Democratic Party of Illinois controlled by Michael Madigan, so I have no obligation to support him in a new term for Speaker. I support term limits and maintain that after 40 years, it's time to retire. My independence is intact.

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 favor term limits for elected officials in Illinois and in the federal government. New people bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to solve our most pressing problems. Term limits help to curb corruption that arises when elected officials are allowed to remain in office for 20 or 30 years or longer. Gerrymandering is a problem that perpetuates entrenched career politicians by limiting challengers in any election and allows people in power to stay in power. This race for the 50th House District is a perfect example. One party was unopposed in the primary, and the other had a ballot vacancy because no challenger entered the primary. I believe strongly that no candidate for reelection should ever go unchallenged because voters need and deserve a choice. Appointing an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission utilizing population data instead of voting data to determine district boundaries is the right thing to do and is preferred by constituents.

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 would you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.

A. Gov. Pritzker has followed the science and kept a keen focus on the health and safety of all of Illinois. The early closure of schools (March 14) was the right and prudent action to take in the face of a virus about which little was known. Illinois was the first state to meet all criteria for Phase 4 reopening on the federal model on May 29. The governor and IDPH have been clear and consistent in communicating our situation, have taken steps to increase access to testing and, have continuously monitored the core measures of community spread to know when to increase restrictions on gathering size and other precautions. The legislative process is not well suited to crisis management. And, COVID-19 is a public health crisis. The greatest consequence of the governor's handling of the crisis is inconsistency around school reopening. Families and educators are trying to manage online school, hybrid school, working from home or job searching, trying to be parent, provider and teacher with inadequate support to do any of the jobs. My goal would be to follow the science and all safety precautions to safely open schools as soon as possible.

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. We are facing rising expenses and diminishing revenues, a difficult position to be in. The budget areas most impacted by COVID-19 (education, health care, social services, public safety) are funded by income tax. The impact of high unemployment (11.3% in July) and reduced wages combined with a tax increase would inflict suffering on many middle and lower income families. An across-the-board tax increase is not advisable.

Q. What initiatives would you propose or support to lower the property tax burden?

A. Illinois property taxes are high because the state has not fulfilled its constitutional obligation to be the primary source of financing for public education and the burden has fallen to local community resources. The graduated income tax puts Illinois on a path to increase the state's share of school funding over a five- to seven-year time horizon to ease the tax burden on property owners. Other efficiencies could be explored such as consolidating administrations in low enrollment areas.

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. Illinois is one of only eight states with a flat tax, which is very regressive and adversely impacts middle class families who pay a large share of income to the total tax burden. The assurance to voters is that for those with incomes (not assets) below $250K they would pay the same or less, while those above $250K would pay more on a marginal basis. Bear in mind that the current flat tax could be raised during any budget cycle, so for 97% of Illinoisans the risk of an increase is actually diminished by the graduated tax.

Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?

A. No, retirees already struggle to cover high property taxes. I believe a tax on retirement benefits would incentivize additional out-migration.

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. Yes, paid lobbying of other levels of government for private clients should be prohibited by state representatives and state senators, and if not prohibited lobbyist compensation should be disclosed. Lawmakers should be prohibited from becoming lobbyists for three to five years after their term ends.

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. I would advocate for including the Better Government Association recommendations into the Lobbyist Registration Act to improve transparency. 1) Disclosure of lobbyist compensation and who it was paid by 2) Prohibit legislators from lobbying other agencies of government on behalf of private clients 3) Require a timeout (e.g. 3 years) for retired legislators to return as a lobbyist in the General Assembly.

Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?

A. Tier 2 reforms impacting employees hired after 2010 will help to reduce pension liability over time, which includes increased retirement age to receive full benefit, change in the COLA from 3% to half of inflation not compounded, and a cap on pensionable pay will help to mitigate the debt. Accrued debt is the root of the problem, not the pensions, and re-amortization of the debt could help reduce the annual budget impact, a step that should include actuarial review. Any changes implemented need to comply with the Illinois Constitution.

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 believe climate change is caused by human activity. At the state level a focus on reducing reliance on fossil fuels for power generation by establishing a goal to become carbon neutral and moving toward renewable energy production will facilitate transition to clean energy. Currently, 30% of Illinois power generation is from coal, not only a fossil fuel, but also a threat to health. Coal power plants spew over 80 toxins into the air we breathe. Automatic rate hikes awarded to electricity producers serves as a disincentive to move toward a clean energy economy.

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. Disparities in education, health care, housing and community safety all limit access to opportunity. Ensuring that these core components of society are accessible to all people will promote equal opportunity for all people. I do not support defunding police departments. I think better recruitment, screening, and training are essential and that police departments need more support personnel experienced in the fields of social work and psychology to help diffuse difficult situations. More people and more services means more resources, not fewer resources.

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