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Illinois House, Dist. 35: Bill Cunningham


City: Chicago

Marital status: married

Occupation/Firm name: Policy Director, Cook County Sheriff's Office

Campaign HQ address: 3215 W.111th Street, Chicago, 60655

Campaign website: www.friendsofbillcunningham.com

What is your campaign budget- Approximately $70,000

What are your top priorities for your district- The top priority for my district is job creation. As a state legislator, I would support programs like Put Illinois to Work, the federal/state partnership that provides funding to businesses that hire and train new workers. More than 22,000 jobs have been created in Illinois through the program, which is funded primarily federal stimulus money. I also favor extending tax credits to small businesses that hire new employees. The state can also fuel economic growth in my district and the entire region by supporting the construction of a third airport in Peotone and by funding the Illiana Expressway. The business and political leadership of the Chicago region and all of Illinois should recognize the historic role transportation has played in our economy. Chicago was founded and grew into an economic force thanks to its position in the middle of the country and its proximity to transportation sources like the Great Lakes and its tributaries.

The Peotone airport can play a vital role in maintaining the Chicago area as a transportation hub given its proximity to intermodal railroad yards and trucking routes in the south suburbs. For that reason, the best strategy for the third airport is to initially develop it as center for cargo traffic and eventually expand it for passenger airlines. The state must commit to turning the Southland into a major point of convergences of air cargo, railroad freight, and trucking routes. The Illiana Expressway will help accomplish this without overwhelming the existing highway grid.

Given the decline of the manufacturing industry, there are few opportunities for economic growth in our region outside of the transportation sector. State government must recognize this reality and fully commit to developing our transportation infrastructure.

What are your top priorities for the state- The top priority of the state should be to attack political corruption and begin to restore the voters' trust in state government. The people of Illinois have little or no trust in government and political institutions. They do not believe the General Assembly has the ability or judgment to make the right decisions when it comes to cutting the budget, nor do they trust state government enough to go along with a tax increase. As a result, there is paralysis in state government and the budget crisis has worsened. If I am elected to the State House, I will work to get the General Assembly to re-evaluate the proposals put forward last year by the Illinois Reform Commission and enact more changes to state law that will limit the influence of money and lobbyists in the legislative process. One such reform is placing term limits on committee chairmanships and leadership positions in the General Assembly.

I would also support efforts to give voters the right to hold "recall" elections to remove any elected official accused of illegal or unethical conduct from office. In an effort to promote transparency, I would advocate in favor of guidelines requiring all candidates for statewide offices to publicly disclose their income tax returns.

Additionally, the state legislature should enact merit selection of judges. Drawing on nearly two decades of experience as a top administrator in the Cook County Sheriff's Office, I have seen first-hand that the current judicial election system results in too many Cook County judges being selected based on their political connections instead of their legal qualifications. It's time we take politics out of the court system and adopt a process that places experienced, qualified and respected attorneys on the bench. I would also support efforts to end the election of Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges and adopt a federal style appointment process in which the governor appoints justices with the "advice and consent" of the State Senate. A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that $20 million dollars has been spent on Illinois Supreme Court elections in the last decade, which politicizes the judiciary at the highest levels.

Only when these and other similar reforms are enacted will the voters and taxpayers begin to trust their elected representatives.

Lay out your plan to solve the state budget crisis. Be as specific as possible, including any recommended spending cuts. Given a massive deficit, what areas would you prioritize for state spending- What can Illinois do without- There are no easy solutions to the state's budget crisis. Across the board cuts must be made to state spending. However, throughout the budget process priority should be given to maintaining full funding for education. New revenue can be raised by increasing the tobacco tax by one dollar a pack, which could yield up to $300 million in funding for schools. I also support the Civic Federation proposal to roll back General Fund state spending to Fiscal Year 2007 levels (exempting primary and secondary education,) which will save the state in excess of $2 billion.

Additionally, the state should be open to an expansion of gambling. This is not an ideal way to raise revenue, as any expansion of gambling will have some negative societal and economic consequence. However, the parking lots of the casinos in Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan are filled with cars with Illinois plates. There is no reason to let that revenue escape the state.

There are other structural changes to state law and state government that can be made to cut spending. For instance, we should re-evaluate the way the state delivers services to the elderly and disabled and enact a home-based treatment model in order to avoid the high costs of operating "in-patient" facilities. And the state should revamp the criminal code and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders convicted of possessing narcotics. Providing treatment to drug abusers is cheaper than incarceration and reduces recidivism rates.

The state legislature has the authority to consolidate government agencies like the Illinois Treasurer and Comptroller's Offices. Local government agencies can be merged statutorily as well. For instance, the offices of the Cook County Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, and Clerk of the Court should be combined; and the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Cook County Government should be merged under the same authority in order to eliminate duplicative bureaucratic functions. For the same reason, the duties of the Chicago Board of Elections could be assumed by the Cook County Clerk.

Finally, I support a 10 percent pay cut for all elected state officials. This will result in a relatively small cost savings, but will help show the taxpayers that elected officials are willing to share the sacrifices caused by budget cuts.

Do you support or reject increasing the state income tax- What about expanding the sales tax base- What is your view on taxing retirement income- I cannot support an income tax increase at this time. Income tax increases should only be considered as a last resort, and because the General Assembly has not acted to cut the budget in any significant way, they haven't reached the "last resort." Instead, they have underfunded operations and passed the buck to the governor's office. Before the General Assembly approves any new tax increase they not only have to cut the budget, but they should act to restore the voter's trust by approving the reform measures mentioned above.

The state should conduct a review of how sales taxes are collected. Our current system was put in place when Illinois had a manufacturing-based economy. As a result, the products of some businesses, like those in the industrial sector, are over-taxed, while the product of service-based businesses are not taxed at all. If the state fails to address this problem, we will have a permanent structural deficit.

I believe the state should tax retirement income if the retiree's total annual income is in excess of $100,000.

What is your view on state borrowing to pay bills, including to pay pension obligations- Borrowing should always be avoided unless future revenue streams are identified to help pay off the loans. There are some rare exception when borrowing makes sense. For instance, if a pension fund was forced to actually sell its stock holdings in order to meet its monthly pension payouts, borrowing money at a low interest rate might cost less in the long run than selling assets.

Did the General Assembly abdicate its responsibility this year and last year by passing a lump sum budget- Yes. The General Assembly refused to make any tough decisions, which is one of the reasons why they lack the moral authority necessary to raise taxes.

The state last spring created a two-tier pension system. Would you go further by including new police officers and new firefighters and by reducing benefits for current employees- Would you support making retired state employees pay more for their health care- The pension reform package that became law earlier this year was an important cost-savings move. However, more changes clearly need to be made. Not enough has been done to curb the practice of granting pension bonuses to government executives. For instance, the recent report that exposed a Glencoe Park District supervisor whose pension was boosted $2,000 a year because a car he was given as a "bonus" was considered part of his income. This is one of the most shocking examples of pension abuse. These pension "sweeteners" can be eliminate legislatively without violating constitutional prohibitions against pensions being "diminished or impaired."

New police officers and firefighters should not be included in the two-tier system because unlike other government workers, they risk their lives every day on the job and because most will no longer be able to physically perform their duties while in their late 60's.

Retired state employees can (and do,) pay more for their health care by making higher "co-payments" for certain services and prescriptions.

How would you reform the state Medicaid system- Illinois' Medicaid system has been underfunded by the federal government for years. According to the Illinois Hospital Association, Illinois accounts for 4.5 percent of the nation's total Medicaid-funded services, but receives only 3.3 percent of matching federal Medicaid dollars. Illinois' Congressional delegation and the General Assembly, if possible, must force the federal government to address this disparity.

Also, more oversight must be exercised to ensure ineligible participants are not allowed to enroll in Medicaid funded services. Earlier this year, the Auditor General found that the All Kids program (which is funded with state Medicaid dollars,) enrolled ineligible participants.

Should Medicaid continue to be underfunded, cuts will have to be made to services. Priority funding should be provided to programs that assist individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health issues because those services have already been cut. One possible solution to funding shortfalls could be for the state to grant charitable care credits to hospitals that absorb Medicaid funding cuts, which would enable those hospitals to maintain or restore their tax exempt status.

What would you do to facilitate job growth in Illinois- Is the money spent by the state to recruit businesses and offer tax breaks money well spent- My proposal to facilitate job growth is outlined in the "top priorities" question listed above.

The Illinois Constitution says the state has the "primary responsibility" for funding education. How would you make the state live up to that obligation- The state has failed to live up to its funding obligations related to education and shifted the burden to local property tax payers. I support instituting a graduated income tax in Illinois, which would create extra revenue that could be funneled directly to school districts. The school districts would in turn, have to lower their property tax levees.

How would you improve the campaign finance law passed in 2009- Would you support capping donations from party leaders during general elections- The General Assembly leadership should have to follow the same donation limits the new law has imposed on everyone else. Additionally, business and other entities that hire registered lobbyists should be required to disclose how much they pay their lobbyists.

Do state Legislative leaders have too much power- As the Illinois Reform Commission pointed out, legislative leaders in Illinois traditionally have too much influence in the legislative process -- and much of that power is derived from their control of campaign finance dollars. That is why I support putting term limits on the amount of time legislators can serve in leadership positions or as committee chairmen. I also support the creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission to draw legislative maps.

Should the state play an active role in reducing global warming- If so, how- The state can play a role in reducing global warming by converting the state government's vehicle fleet to hybrid cars and bio-diesel trucks. Tax breaks can be given to utilities that use alternative energy sources and the state can make land-grants to companies that need space to develop wind and solar farms.

What is your view on gay marriage and civil unions- I am opposed to same sex marriage, but I can support instituting some form of civil unions.

List your educational backgroundMount Carmel High School

University of Illinois-Chicago, B.A. Political Science

Please list civic, professional, fraternal or other organizations to which you belongMember of the Sutherland Local School Council, 2004-2008

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government- Cook County Sheriff's Office, 1990 - 2010

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with governmentMy sister is a Chicago Public School Teacher

Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed-Citizens for Michael F. Sheahan, $5,000

-Friends of Dart, $5,000

-Chicago Federation of Labor, $2,500

-Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, $2,500

-West Suburban Teacher's Union, $2,000

-Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, $2,000

Please paste a brief biography hereBill Cunningham, 43, is the Democratic candidate for State Representative in

the 35th District. A life-long resident of the community, Cunningham has

made promoting public safety and reforming Illinois' corrupt political culture

the centerpiece of his campaign.

Cunningham has spent the past twenty years working for the Cook County

Sheriff's Office, serving as Director of Communications to Sheriff Mike

Sheahan and as Chief of Staff to Sheriff Tom Dart.

In each of these positions, Bill obtained vast experience managing nearly

7,000 Sheriff's Office employees and by forming policies for one of the largest

law enforcement agencies in the nation.

As a top advisor to Sheriff Sheahan, he assisted in the development the

state's first online sex offender registration website and coordinated efforts to

improve monitoring of registered sex offenders. He also helped establish the

Sheriff's Senior Law Enforcement Academy, a community policing program

that provides senior citizens with crime prevention tips and free cell phone for

emergency use.

Most recently, Bill managed Sheriff Dart's efforts to fight banks and lenders

that attempted to wrongfully evict victims of the mortgage foreclosure crisis

and worked with the legislature to impose longer prison terms on inmates

who attempt to harm the staff at Cook County Jail.

As a husband and father, Cunningham has been active in his community,

coaching a youth soccer team and volunteering for charitable causes. He

has also worked to improve educational institutions in his neighborhood

by serving as a parent representative on the Sutherland Local School

Council, where he worked to identify new revenue sources when faced

with budget shortfalls and supported new procedures to crack down on

fraudulent enrollment.

If elected to the General Assembly, Bill will fight for the rights of working

men and women in Illinois, make strides to improve public education, and

continue to promote public safety for all the residents of the 35th District.

He will also advocate a reform agenda to help bring accountability and

transparency to state government. Cunningham will support legislation to

establish recall elections to remove corrupt officials from office and require

candidates for statewide elections to disclose the sources of their income

to ensure they have no conflicts of interest. Cunningham will also work to

take politics out of the criminal justice system by supporting the merit

selection of judges.

Bill is a graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount

Carmel High School (1985), and the University of Illinois at Chicago

(1990). Bill and his wife Juliana have two daughters, Madeline (12) and

Olivia (9), and reside in the Beverly neighborhood.

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