Cook County 13th District Candidates Would Cut Budget, But in Different Ways
Republican wants to cut 10 percent across the board, Green favors a tax on stock sales and Democrat wants to streamline county functions.
The Cook County commissioner race to represent the 13th District has attracted two challengers who want to unseat incumbent Democrat Larry Suffredin.
The district includes part of Chicago's North Side and Evanston, New Trier and Niles townships.
All three hopefuls put the economy and county taxes on the top of their lists, as well as continuing the progress that has been made in quelling political hiring. Following, in alphabetical order, are the candidates' views and background.
Linda Thompson LaFianza has been the Evanston Township Republican Committeeman for five years, and is looking to give back to the community while changing what she calls the "business as usual" attitude of Cook County government.
"I think Cook County is suffering from declining livability,'' LaFianza said. "The high cost of taxes for individuals and businesses" thwarts economic growth.
The GOP candidate said that she supports 10 percent spending cuts across all county government budgets as a starting point and that she would push for bringing the county in line with current business practices.
"Everybody in the private sector has had to adjust to doing more with less,'' she said. "The government should have to live by the same realities.''
As counties far from Cook but still within the metropolitan Chicago area develop, she said they are attracting young people and entrepreneurs. She called Cook County a "toxic environment" for those seeking to start a business or stay in business because of its taxing and spending policies.
Regarding county hiring practices, LaFianza said she supports the court-appointed monitor because "there is certainly something to be monitored.'' She echoed Republican candidate for county board president Roger Keats' take on county employment. She explained he had noted that some taxpayers were reluctant to back a reformer because a vote for a reformer meant a vote to lay off a family member.
"People put up with things because a lot of the best jobs around here are county jobs,'' she said.
LaFianza said her first priority would be directing financial and human resource audits of each county department to ensure more professional, best practice operations.
LaFianza is currently the communications coordinator at Zinfandel Partners, a winery based in Oregon. She holds a bachelor's in communications from the University of Illinois at Springfield. She grew up in Evanston and returned to live there in 1985.
Green Party hopeful George Milkowski is a political newcomer, but has spent his career studying the workings of governments as a high school social studies teacher.
"Government as a whole--not just county government--has grown out of touch with ordinary wage-earning people,'' he said.
Milkowski says he seeks the county board seat because he sees that taxpayers are "getting less bang for the buck" and are fed up with the status quo.
The taxation tradition of local government is an area Milkowski sees as ripe for change. He supports eliminating the county sales tax, which he says hits those least able to afford it, and the county property tax, because that is not necessarily linked to ability to pay. The candidate called property taxes entrenched because they were the first type of taxes enacted because land was the most visible asset to levy.
In their places, Milkowski supports a transaction tax on the sales of stocks and bonds. "This is not a radical idea; it has been supported by Larry Summers" who until recently was President Barack Obama's chief economic adviser, the candidate said.
Milkowski said that a financial transaction tax of one-tenth of 1 percent on trades at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange could fund the entire county budget.
Another alternative to the property and sales taxes would be a county income tax, which Milkowski said could be implemented with exemptions starting at $25,000 for individuals. In addition, he would support similar exemptions for small businesses that hire full-time employees to help create jobs.
While Milkowski was certain changes in the tax structure would be challenged, he said he thought the county's home rule powers give it the authority to levy taxes as it sees fit.
"Continuing to rely on the same sources of income is not working," Milkowski said. "This is not a panacea, but a new idea."
Alongside tax reform, Milkowski backs establishing a county bank that would concentrate on lending to new small enterprises that would create jobs. Although that proposal would add to government, Milkowski points out he would like to see the county's Forest Preserve District police absorbed by the sheriff's department to reduce administrative and tactical overlap. He also supports the independent health systems board's drive to restructure county health care.
Milkowski, a lifelong Chicago resident, is a retired public schools teacher with a master's from the University of Illinois in political science with a concentration in public policy.
Larry Suffredin, the Democrat seeking his third term on the county board, said economic issues and consolidation of government services are tops in his mind. He supports repealing the remaining half-cent of the 1 cent sales tax increase that took effect in 2008.
"The county is not in a budget crisis," Suffredin said. "We've been realistic and our revenues are only slightly down from our projected revenues."
Nevertheless, he supports streamlining a variety of county functions or removing them totally from the county's responsibility. Giving local municipalities responsibility for maintenance of all roads in their jurisdictions—and the revenues from the motor fuel tax to pay for the work—could enable the entire county highway department to be phased out.
In a similar vein, Suffredin proposes eliminating unincorporated areas and having the properties annexed by adjacent municipalities. "We have so little land that is patrolled by the county that we can't serve them economically," he said. "The distance between those areas can be enormous, so there is waste in travel and personnel.''
The county budget is another target for Suffredin. He backs cutting 5 percent--or $155 million--by reviewing all expenses and cutting about 2,000 jobs.
However, Suffredin would like to split the Forest Preserve Board from the county board to ensure decisions are environmentally sound. "The forest preserve is a very separate issue, and I don't think the county board is the right fit for making environmental decisions,'' he said.
He said his other proposed consolidations would offset the costs of having a separate executive board.
On the income side, Suffredin said he would like the state to broaden the scope of the sales tax so that it could be applied to professional services. This would allow the county to lower the overall rate and make Cook more competitive with other counties.
Suffredin said he would like to serve again to continue revamping the county health care system and implementing the merit-based hiring system mandated by the federal courts.
"I'm looking forward to working with a new board president who is interested in improving the quality of life for our residents,'' he said, referring to a new leader after Tuesday's elections since lame-duck President Todd Stroger lost in the primary vote.
The candidate is a lawyer with Shefsky and Froelich and lives in Evanston. He has a bachelor's degree from Loyola University and a law degree from Georgetown University.