Candidates in the 17th and 18th state House districts debated issues of school funding, government efficiency and redistricting during an Oct. 20 forum in Wilmette.
The two districts were among several races featured at the event, which was organized by several north suburban chapters of the League Of Women Voters and conducted at Wilmette Village Hall.
In the 18th District, incumbent Democrat Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston is running against Republican Julie Cho of Wilmette, the owner of a health care consulting business. The 18th House District includes all or portions of Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Northbrook, Northfield, Winnetka and Glencoe.
State Rep. Laura Fine of Glenview is vacating the 17th House District in her attempt to replace Daniel Biss in the state Senate.
Peter Lee of Wilmette, who worked as an engineer before deciding to practice law, ran unopposed in the Republican primary. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview, an immigration attorney, defeated four others in the Democratic primary. The 17th House District includes all or parts of Evanston, Glenview, Golf, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Skokie and Wilmette.
Both Gabel and Cho expressed support for a graduated income tax structure instead of a flat rate.
Gabel said Illinois is one of only a few states that does not have a graduated income tax and government services cannot grow with the economy because a flat tax doesn’t fairly capture revenue from economic growth.
“As you know there is increased income disparity. There is more money at the top, less money at the bottom, we need to tax that money at the higher end at a higher rate,” Gabel said. “The last plan that was put on the table had 98 percent of the people in Illinois paying less tax.”
Cho said she’s OK with “having the rich pay a little more,” but she is opposed to the tax brackets in the most recent proposal, which included a top tier for people earning more than $200,000.
“This is not the kind of tax that is taxing the truly rich,” Cho said. “People making $225,000 are not poor, but I don’t think they should be in the same tax bracket as the J.B.s and Rauners of the world. If we’re taxing the truly rich, there should be a separate bracket for billionaires and millionaires.”
When asked about their preference for public schools or charter schools, both candidates supported public schools and presented funding ideas.
Cho said local districts choose what they want for their children and agree to pay for those services, but poorer districts have fewer options.
“If we’re funding locally then of course New Trier is going to get a lot more funding and of course there’s going to be disparity between New Trier and the South Side of Chicago,” Cho said. “We can collect property tax at the central level, at the state level, and equally distribute it throughout the state. That way all schools have equal funding.”
Gabel said public schools offer everyone a chance at “the American dream” and she supports contributing more state funding as well as using evidence-based funding models.
“By funding these evidence-based programs we’re not just throwing money down the drain but we’re actually funding programs that really work,” Gabel said.
When it came to the topic of redistricting, Cho said “gerrymandering” is her top priority because elected officials who get protected by such practices are inflexible and unaccountable, which often scares away people who might invest in the communities.
“If given the chance, I will be that one state legislator who will challenge anyone who blocks a fair map,” Cho said.
Gabel said she has supported prior fair map efforts, but emphasized that minorities need to have a voice in government. She said areas of growth or change always create challenges in keeping districts balanced in terms of population let alone demographics.
“Last time the districts were redrawn, some districts had 200,000 people in them and some only had 60,000,” Gabel said. “There should be about 106,000 in each.”
When asked about medical issues, Gabel said she wants Illinois to retain certain parts of the Affordable Care Act, namely the required coverage of pre-existing conditions, even if the federal government repeals the law. She also said “checks and balances” need to be created to make sure mental health coverage is as accessible as physical health coverage.
Cho said Illinois’ list of unpaid bills include substantial Medicaid claims and cleaning up financial instability will reduce cost from providers who worry about the outcome of every single claim.
Lee and Gong-Gershowitz had differing views on a graduated income tax structure.
Lee said all proposals he’s seen would hurt the middle class and he’s still upset that former governor Pat Quinn’s temporary income tax of 2011 became permanent as part of a 2017 budget that legislators approved despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto.
“The bottom line is if you give politicians the opportunity to raise taxes and give them the flexibility to do so then they will keep raising taxes,” Lee said.
Gong-Gershowitz said she supports a graduated scale that doesn’t burden the middle class. She said the state’s inability to modernize its tax system has pushed services and costs onto municipalities, which in turn increased property taxes.
“A school teacher right now is paying a higher percentage of their income in tax than someone like J.B. Pritzker or Bruce Rauner,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “That is fundamentally unfair.”
The moderator also asked each candidate about potential “government efficiencies” that could help with the budget.
“We’ve got to move toward privatization, as many things as possible,” Lee said, while claiming that government workers are not as efficient as counterparts in the private sector.
Lee said Illinois has too many forms of government and encouraged consolidation.
Gong-Gershowitz said she supports the elimination of redundant services and modernizing tax structures. However, she expressed caution about privatization.
“In my experience, this has meant government workers are let go and then rehired by private companies to work for significantly less and without the sufficient safe guards,” Gong-Gershowitz said, while also referring to the economic impact of middle class people expendable income. “I don’t think we can slash our way to the top.”
When asked about redistricting, both candidates were cautious.
Gong-Gershowitz said minority-heavy urban neighborhoods were drawn as the result of many generations of racism and using a computer algorithm to equally distribute demographics would jeopardize those people’s voices in government when they have bigger, deeper-rooted needs.
Lee said he supports redistricting efforts and he believes voter influence is unfairly “carved up.” However, Lee said House Speaker Michael Madigan will always prevent redistricting that is truly fair.
On the topic of public education, Gong-Gershowitz said she does not support diverting public money to charter schools. Lee said education is each community’s “common denominator,” but he thinks charter schools are a Chicago issue and not a topic relevant to the suburban district.
When asked about medical issues, Lee said he doesn’t like seeing family’s get financially ruined because of medical situations. He said he supports lowering costs by fostering a more competitive market.
Gong-Gershowitz said health care is a right and not a privilege, and she doesn’t think the free market has done a good job at keeping prices as low as they could be. She said she supports legislation to reduce prescription drug costs and to make mental health coverage more accessible.
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October 23, 2018 at 11:15AM