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Illinois House District 14, Democratic Primary

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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    Cassidy
Basta
Birthdate: 4/13/1956
Occupation: Regional Director of the Northeast Levy Senior Center, City of Chicago
Marital status:
Spouse:

Education:

Received a Master of Divinity (9/1985 to 6/1989) from the McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL.

Received a Bachelor of Science (8/1974 to 4/1978) from the University of Dayton, Dayton, OH.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

• Member of Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Advisory Council
• TPAN (Test Positive Aware Network) - Board Member
• Chicago Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender Aging
• Equality Illinois – Board member – 2002 to 2009
• Advisory Board member - School of Business, Robert Morris College
• Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership – Class of 2010
• 2009 Inductee – City of Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame
• Willye B. White Park Advisory Committee – President
• Inter-Community Housing Corporation – McHugh Senior Apartments - Board member

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

I have never held political office, but I currently work for the City of Chicago as the Regional Director of the Northeast (Levy) Senior Center.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

Cassidy
Birthdate: 11/15/1968
Occupation: State Representative, District 14
Marital status: Partner
Spouse: Kelley Quinn

Education:

Having worked full time in high school to help support my family after my father became disabled, I found myself completely ineligible for financial aid. I went back to full time work, aiming for school and found myself engaged in a rewarding and challenging career in Chicago. I returned to school as a full time working mom attending DePaul, but I have not completed my degree.

During my career, I have gone through the City of Chicago Intergovernmental Executive Development Program in 1997 and most recently was accepted as a National Conference of State Legislatures Early Childhood Learning Fellow. Through the NCSL, I am one of 34 legislators nationwide chosen to participate in a yearlong program examining policies and best practices to improve early childhood education.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

• 49th Ward Organization, Chicago, IL
• 48th Ward Organization, Chicago, IL
• East Andersonville Residents Council
• Temple Sholom, Chicago, IL
• Jargowood Block Club

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

no

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

Kelley Quinn, Director of Communications, Cook County Assessor's Office

Campaign information
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Campaign headquarters: 1442 W Howard Ave
Website: www.paulabasta.org
Campaign manager: Michael Dobrow
Campaign budget: Based on comparable races during uncontested Democratic presidential primaries, we estimate that our final budget will be $250,000.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
1. Nancy Schmidt - $85,000
2. Bob Satawake - $2,500
3. Julia Rahn - $2,500
4. Walter Swift - $1,500
5. James "Wally" Brewster - $1,000

Cassidy

Campaign headquarters: 5539 N Broadway
Website: citizensforcassidy.com
Campaign manager: Lauren Peters
Campaign budget: We are on track to raise what we are budgeting for this campaign. I would be more than happy to discuss this further if necessary.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Congressman Mike Quigley, $5,000
Alderman Tom Tunney -$2,500
Tim Mullen -$5,000
Alicia Mullen -$5,000
Tamara Sheridan -$2,500

What are your top priorities for your district?
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14th District voters want job growth, storefront revitalization, environmental sustainability in state energy policy, along with true accountability in Springfield. My candidacy is centered around practical, liberal policies with an emphasis on participatory democracy and grassroots organizing.

Cassidy

Public Safety - My time in the State's Attorney's office taught me that the traditional forms of law enforcement and sentencing are not always enough. Laws can only work as well as the community that enforces them. Our community needs to be involved to create alternative, holistic solutions to crime and public safety issues. In Springfield, I have been working to make the district safer by serving as the chief sponsor of legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of gang members (HB 3809) and legislation that requires police departments to accept unwanted guns (HB 3845).

Economic Development -Job creation and economic development are important issues facing the 14th District. The quickest way to stimulate job creation is through economic development in our small businesses. I have already sponsored legislation that would grant tax credits to small businesses that move part time workers to full time (HB1536), and I am working closely with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to advance Advantage Illinois – a program designed to stimulate lending to small businesses.

My office serves local businesses by helping them to navigate the bureaucracy in Springfield that can prevent businesses from getting the proper support they need. By working with state agencies and local institutions, we can promote a better business environment for the 14th District.

Seniors -Aging in the State of Illinois is difficult. Many laws, statutes, and ordinances make it difficult for seniors to get proper access to the care they deserve and maintain their independence. By involving seniors in the discussions that will impact their way of life, the 14th district can enable our senior citizens to protect the lifestyle that they deserve.

While some legislators are proposing cuts to benefits for seniors as a solution to our state's financial problems, I have sponsored legislation that would make it easier for seniors to qualify for tax credits (SB19), and legislation that protects social security benefits (HB96). Cuts to agencies and benefits that some seniors rely on are not the answers to our state's budgetary woes.

The number of senior care facilities in the 14th District places us in the top five districts in the state. By working with various state agencies and advancing legislation, we can work together to make sure that seniors in the 14th District are given the services they deserve and have an advocate in Springfield.


LGBT -As a member of the LGBT community, I understand the struggles and hardships that can hinder daily life. I am a firm believer in equal rights for members of the LGBT community. Bullying and discrimination are two issues that plague the LGBT community. I invite to you to join me as we work to promote fairness and equality for all.

I am currently drafting legislation adding gender identity to hate crimes protections. My office has begun work on legislation that would provide extra protections for LGBT students and children of LGBT parents in schools. Bullying is a major problem and this crucial legislation will help protect children.

Environment -The 14th district is bordered by Lake Michigan, one of Illinois' most valuable and most beautiful resources. As a sponsor of Senate Bill 1617, I actively worked to support the Chicago Clean Power Act which aims to close coal plants in Chicago that pollute our air and lead to more than 40 premature deaths a year. I also sponsored SB 1682 which requires higher standards for water in Illinois. I have supported legislation that would ban the use of percloroethylene.

I believe that fixing and growing our economy are crucial to maintaining an environmentally friendly state. Discovering new forms of clean and renewable energy should remain a top priority in innovation and direct investment. Dangerous explorations for energy such as fracking create unsafe environments that can cause major disruptions for our natural resources and our economy.

What is your top priority for the state?
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Protecting services and resources for those most at risk of state budget cuts.

Cassidy

We must get our fiscal house in order while maintaining vital community services. Our state's credit rating was just recently downgraded to the lowest in the country because of our endless borrowing and not paying our bills. We must find hard but needed cuts and also raise more revenue from a progressive tax system.

I voted against giving CME a tax break and will continue to stand up for our citizens who are paying their fair share, while million dollar corporations feel they deserve an easy way out. I will continue to work with residents, local businesses and other electeds who are ready to make the tough choices and do what it takes to get our state back on track.

For incumbents, please list your accomplishments. For challengers, what unique strengths would you bring to the job of state lawmaker?
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I would bring my extensive direct service experience with me to Springfield. I manage the Northeast Levy Senior Center – one of Chicago's busiest senior centers – where I address the needs of more than 4,000 senior citizens who come through the door every month. I also oversee the region's Golden Diner program, which provides 4,200 meals a week to senior citizens. Prior to my work with the Levy Senior Center, I was the Executive Director of HOME – an organization which provided housing assistance to the elderly. I began my career as a social worker at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in Chicago, and I am also the former President of Equality Illinois.

Cassidy

When I became State Representative, my number one priority was to maintain an open door policy and run an effective and efficient legislative office that connects residents with the needed resources and help cut through the red tape. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this are my local town hall meetings. Rather than spend all of my time in the district office waiting for people to come to me, I established satellite office hours in neighborhood locations to give constituents greater opportunities to offer their opinions and seek services. My twice monthly sessions at Centro Romero and the Rogers Park Public Library have been excellent opportunities to meet with residents who might not otherwise come in contact with their Representative. Every week, I host a coffee somewhere in the district where residents can come and chat with me and a member of my staff about any of their concerns and offer them the support and tools they need to thrive and succeed in the 14th district.

From the coffees grew larger meetings that focused on a particular concerns that continued to arise from the smaller meetings. I've started hosting community safety meetings with police to provide the tools neighbors need to make their homes and neighborhoods safer. I'm actively working with local colleges and environmentalists by hosting environmental town hall meetings to connect the community with active projects throughout our state. I am also working closely with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to promote Advantage Illinois – a program designed to stimulate lending to small businesses.

As for legislative accomplishments, I am proud and stand behind my vote against against giving CME and Sears Holdings a tax break while the rest of the state continues to find ways to tighten their budgets. I co-sponsored the Dream Act to help make college accessible to children of immigrants. I sponsored and passed a bill to provide better access to emergency medical services for people who overdose.

The state public employee pension system is severely underfunded and paying down the debt threatens to crowd out spending on core state services. Do you support reducing pension benefits not yet earned through a bill like SB512, which offers state workers three options for earning future pension benefits. Should police officers and firefighters be included in a reduced pension system?
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Any pension reform must responsibly protect the financial security of those who have earned it, while broadly reducing Illinois' pension abuses and debt. The State of Illinois must honor its commitments to public employees as it tries to manage its budgeting problems.

Police officers and firefighters should not receive a reduced pension if we adopt a tiered system for future pension recipients.

Cassidy

We need to solve the pension issue in a way that does not penalize current retirees and employees who have made their pension payments without fail. The current proposal does not address the constitutional concerns inherent in a change to current pensioner and employee benefits and could lead to lengthy and costly litigation. Up to this point, the discussions around pension reform have been very one sided. It is critically important that this process be inclusive of all stakeholders. Privatizing the pensions and putting employees who have worked their whole careers in the public sector ineligible for social security benefits into volatile 401k programs will ultimately result in more problems down the road as we face a wave of retirees unable to provide for themselves.

If you don't support a bill like SB512, how would you deal with the state's unfunded pension liability?
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While I have no problem with a tiered pension system for new employees, it is unacceptable for the state to withdraw from or to minimize its debt to public employees who average a modest $23,000 annual pension.

The current pension liability is the direct consequence of lawmakers neglecting to pay pension obligations on time, and it is inconceivable that we would punish current rank-and-file public workers for Springfield's fiscal irresponsibility.

Cassidy

We must continue to make the full pension payment as we did this year and look for ways to find savings and eliminate opportunities for abuse. It is important that as we move forward on this question that the discussions and work around crafting a legislative package aimed at addressing the pension issue be inclusive of all stakeholders.

Do you want the 2 percent point income tax increase to expire in 2014, as planned, or would you like to see the tax increase extended beyond 2014?
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The income tax increase should be extended in order to maintain coverage for the dozens of state programs that rely on the extra revenue afforded by the increase.

Cassidy

The expiration date of the income tax increase is nearly three years away. Although we do not know what our economic conditions will be at that point, the Governor's recently released three-year projections make the expiration seem unlikely. I believe that it is time for the state to give serious consideration to overall tax reform, including a progressive income tax, ensuring that our business tax climate is as fair as it possibly can be and reforming the property tax system as the source of school funding.

Do you support any changes to the corporate income tax rate? Do you support any other changes to the state's business tax structure?
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The current corporate tax rate is unfavorable for smaller businesses, while Sears and the CME receive huge tax breaks from Springfield politicians. The state needs to encourage new, innovative businesses, rather than old-guard corporations that are losing relevance in the modern market. We need to encourage start-ups, family businesses, and other small companies to hire, while requesting that large corporations pay their fair share and reinvest in our communities.

Cassidy

We can not continue to put ourselves in the position of negotiating tax breaks one corporation at a time. At the same time, I would not support a roll back of the corporate tax rate that was not combined with an overall move towards a more progressive tax system. There needs to be more fairness in the corporate tax system, encouraging small business growth in particular and ensuring that small businesses are not unfairly paying more when larger corporations and businesses pay nothing at all.

What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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Illinois must become a more favorable environment for mid-sized and small businesses, which often do not qualify for the major tax incentives that Springfield offers to big businesses and major transnational corporations. Local businesses create local jobs. I believe that local revitalization efforts on Howard and Morse in the 14th District demonstrate the value of fostering local businesses for tangible growth.

Cassidy

We have to do a better job of promoting the resources we currently offer. I hosted a forum with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to help publicize the Advantage Illinois program which helps make funds available to small businesses through partnerships with lenders. Through this forum, of the several dozen businesses who were offered information through the forum, two businesses began the process of seeking support through Advantage Illinois. We need to look to replicate successful efforts such as Andersonville's Buy Local Program through highlighting these successes and encouraging cooperation with other areas. Encouraging local hiring and expansion through incentives such as some of the tax credits that were extended this year is another important way to support business growth.

Lay out your plan for paying the billions the state owes schools, universities, human service providers and others. Would you support borrowing to pay down those bills?
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While it is not a long term solution, borrowing a percentage of the state's liability during a recession is appropriate when consumer demand is low enough and private spending drops. Eventually, Springfield must reassess our state's tax structure, which is burdensome to areas of potential economic growth. The increased revenue and reduced taxpayer burden will help offset the state's unfunded liabilities for the coming decades.

Cassidy

We can not continue to borrow to pay our bills, but at the same time, we are essentially borrowing from small agencies who can not afford to operate without certainty on payments owed to them by the state. Any new revenues realized through savings, surplus or unexpected revenue growth must be funneled into paying down the backlog of bills before expanding spending.

State legislative leaders are trying to give the General Assembly a role in negotiating contracts with state labor unions. What is your opinion of that?
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I believe that the General Assembly has a responsibility to protect labor unions' bargaining rights with reasonable legislation. But the House of Representatives should not directly negotiate contracts with state labor unions because of the undeniable potential for conflicts of interest.

Cassidy

I am troubled by HJR45's apparent reach into the executive branch's power. That said, there is simple logic to the idea that the negotiations need to be conducted with a mindfulness of the amount of funding available for personnel costs.

The legislature has tried repeatedly to expand gambling in Illinois. Do you support expanded gambling in Illinois? In what form? Do you support a Chicago casino?
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It seems clear that gambling is going to expand one way or another. The question is how can we make the expansion of gambling work for our communities? How can we make sure that portions of casino profits go back into local communities, schools and infrastructure? These considerations will ultimately determine the effectiveness of any further casino legislation in the state.

Cassidy

I voted for the gaming bill this year. I support a Chicago based casino, primarily because of the vast numbers of people leaving the Chicago area to gamble in Indiana and Wisconsin. I am mindful of concerns that the bill in its current form could over-saturate the market and am hopeful that a compromise can be achieved that will satisfy the needs of all stakeholders and allow the Chicago casino to move forward. The jobs and revenue this development will bring are critically necessary to the recovery of the local economy.

Would you seek any changes to the state ethics and campaign finance laws? Would you support capping what state party leaders can donate during a general election?
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Recent campaign finance reform, though much needed, is geared to allow the Democratic Machine to protect incumbents and provide limitless funds to campaigns it supports. This top-down method of campaign finance does a disservice to constituents and does not benefit the people of Illinois in the long term.

Cassidy

I support capping the amounts party leaders can contribute during a general election. In addition, I would be supportive of exploring other forms of campaign finance reform including limits on corporate donors, limiting campaign expenditures to a defined time period prior to elections, and piloting public financing of campaigns as a means of depoliticizing judicial races.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?
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I fully back transitioning to a progressive tax system in Illinois with graduated rates.

Cassidy

yes

Do you have a plan to adequately fund schools and reform the property tax system that results in inequities?
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We need to ask several questions before assenting to property tax based funding of our school systems. Where have cuts been made to the central office bureaucracy? What have we done to consolidate under-enrolled schools? And, most importantly, what have we done to improve the care, attention, and experience of the students? Schools in Illinois require adequate funding, but they also need to better handle their own escalating expenses and sprawl.

Cassidy

The two largest funding sources for our public schools are property taxes and payments from the state based on the foundation formula. Changes made to the foundation formula often force local communities to increase their property taxes to maintain and increase current funding levels. This exacerbates the inequities from community to community, leaving those districts with the great needs, the furthest behind. We must work to ensure that these unintended consequences are minimised through thoughtful evaluation of the foundation formula criteria and distribution methods.

In addition, in order to address the inequities of the currently property tax system and adequately fund our schools we must address our tax system as a whole. Property tax reform must be viewed as part of a larger review of the overall tax system that addresses the concerns and loopholes in both the corporate and personal tax rates. Seniors and long time residents are being priced out of their homes and overall property tax reform needs to address these issues as well.

Another area of influence that state law makers posses is the approval and review of Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs). TIFs are a valuable tool to promote economic development in blighted areas but are too often left in place long after their need has passed. By reviewing TIFs and transferring excess funds back to the general revenue fund for use statewide, we can better address the inequities in property taxes and school funding.

First to the funding of schools, while I wasn't State Representative when the general assembly voted for the income tax increase, I would have preferred to see more money go to schools as we anticipated it would. If we continue to have this income tax increase, more money has to be a component to fund education.

What is your view on gay marriage?
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As an LGBT activist and the former President of Equality Illinois, I unequivocally support full marriage equality.

Cassidy

As one of three openly gay members of the General Assembly, I am pleased that our state has implemented Civil Unions. That said, I believe that ultimately all relationships should carry the same rights and responsibilities and will advocate for full marriage equality.

The race
The candidates
Paula A. Basta
Kelly M. Cassidy
The district
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