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Illinois House District 17, 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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Birthdate: 12/13/1966
Occupation: Instructor, Northeastern Illinois University; Clerk, Northfield Township
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Michael

Education:

Glenbrook South High School, 1985
Indiana University, BA Telecommunications/French 1989
Northeastern Illinois University, MA Political Science 1999

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

UPI Local 4100
Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership
League of Women Voters
Glenview Jewish Women
Board of Directors, Links North Shore Youth Health Service
PTA District 34

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

I am the elected Clerk of Northfield Township.
I am employed by Northeastern Illinois University.

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

I have been employed by Northeastern Illinois University for the past 12 years.
I am the Clerk of Northfield Township.

Campaign information
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Campaign headquarters: 1700 Constitution Drive, Glenview
Website:
Campaign manager:
Campaign budget: When the process of putting our budget together gets underway, I would be happy to discuss it with you.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
There was no money collected at the time we filed our last D2. However, in the past few days we have collected $3,000 in checks from 5 individual donors.

What are your top priorities for your district?
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The first priority for my district would be to provide more accessible and successful constituent services. Many people are completely disheartened with what they perceive as unresolved conflicts in Springfield, such as the budget crisis and pension reform. However, through district wide events like town halls, I can provide my constituents with a forum to discuss relevant issues, have questions answered, and share ideas for solutions to the issues facing Illinois.

Another priority concerns jobs and the economy in my district. Many view the northern suburbs as an area where unemployment and hunger are irrelevant concerns. Such a viewpoint is a falsehood. The Northfield Township Food Pantry serves nearly 700 families living in Glenview, Northbrook and Northfield. Many of these clients were at one time donors to the pantry instead of recipients. We need to focus on ways to get residents back to work. We need to coordinate efforts between local businesses and the state to ensure families will no longer struggle to stay in their homes and feed their families.

Yet another priority is our children. We are fortunate to live in a district with high quality schools. We have to make sure our schools are able to sustain their outstanding level of achievement without putting additional pressure on taxpayers.

What is your top priority for the state?
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My top priority for the state is a focus on education. As a teacher and a mother, I understand the importance of a solid education for our children's success. We need to work together to improve education outcomes that do not rely upon significant new tax dollars. There are policy issues that can improve education across the state without dictating a one-size fits all approach. A team effort among students, parents, teachers and administrators can help to keep children in school and provide a sense of pride and achievement in their education.

Another priority is the high cost of insurance and the responsibilities insurance providers have to their customers. We can no longer have corporations dictating the type of health care we receive. We also need to make sure seniors have affordable access to prescription drugs. In addition, there are ways to both improve and streamline health care that can save the state millions of dollars. Both accessible preventative care and proper medical follow up can prevent relapse and save patients and taxpayers money to avoid an overlap of services.

At the same time, we need to focus on bringing integrity back to Springfield. Many Illinois residents are disgusted with unscrupulous politicians and gridlock in state government. Lawmakers need to buckle down and get to work addressing the budget and resolving the pension issue. One of my goals is to find reasonable fiscal solutions to the state's problems. We need to look at long term ways to resolve these issues instead of short term, band aid like fixes that bring the same problems back to the surface in the future. In order to accomplish these goals, we need to bring all parties involved to the table and open the arena to new ideas.

For incumbents, please list your accomplishments. For challengers, what unique strengths would you bring to the job of state lawmaker?
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Many residents feel lawmakers are out of touch with reality; they are trying to resolve problems that they know nothing about. I can properly represent state residents as a result of my life experiences. I grew up in the 17th District, and decided to come back here to raise my family. Prior to 2010, I lived the average suburban life: a mom, a wife and a teacher. That all changed when one morning my husband was driving to work and was hit head-on by a truck. The accident resulted in the loss of a limb. After a month's stay in the hospital, we tried to find a new normal. However, it was a very rocky road. Faced with nearly $500,000 in medical bills, our health insurance company tried to rescind our policy and refused to pay. We were faced with concerns about how to pay these astronomical bills from an accident in which we were not at fault. We considered selling our home, cashing in our kids' college funds and our retirement accounts to pay the bills we thought would be covered by insurance. With the amazing support of our local community and the outreach of local lawmakers, our family made it through this difficult time. After about six months of uncertainty and confusion, and the threat of a lawsuit, the insurance finally paid, and our focus returned to healing. However, this experience has provided me with the life experiences to better represent people who face hard times in Illinois.

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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Illinois' state pension plans are the most poorly funded in the nation. SB 512 raises a number of questions, including the sustainability for the pension systems, the ability of the state to pay its pension commitments, and the provisions in the Illinois Constitution that prohibit a diminishment of pension benefits. It is essential that the state makes its annual contribution to the pension system so it can meet the needs of those who rely upon it. However, a plan must be put in place to create a viable and sustainable system for the future. In order to devise this plan, all the involved parties need to come to the table to work towards a solution. This group must include lawmakers, union leaders and pension experts.

If you don't support a bill like SB512, how would you deal with the state's unfunded pension liability?
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The state pension systems are extremely underfunded. The pension systems cannot adequately fund benefits owed to current retirees, let alone future benefits owed to current employees. All involved parties (lawmakers, unions and financial experts) need to work together to find a solution to this problem. These groups must examine what options can best deal with the fiscal responsibilities. They must look at options like cutting other areas of state government and/or addressing the costs of pensions going forward and decide what changes need to be made to make the system sustainable in the future. Recently, the legislature has taken steps to rein in pension costs by as much as $80 billion in the long term, and this process of reform needs to continue.

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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When the legislature passed a temporary tax hike, it was promised to voters that the increase would only be temporary and not permanent. The state should keep its word, and the increase should expire as planned. The taxpayers cannot afford any additional tax increases.

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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There is currently a legislative effort underway addressing these topics. I would like to see the outcome of the report on these issues by Representative John Bradley and Senator Toi Hutchinson. They are examining how these tax issues would impact the business climate in Illinois. As such, I reserve my opinion until review of said report.

What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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Despite its ideal location and its hub of transportation, Illinois is still ranked among the worst when it comes to a business friendly environment. To make Illinois a more favorable business climate and promote job growth, we must first look at infrastructure and transportation, especially rail transportation, and invest in improvements. If we put more emphasis on programs like the EDGE program (Economic Development for a Growing Economy Tax Credit Program) we will encourage more businesses to move into the sate instead of deciding to go elsewhere. In addition, we need to focus on investing in Illinois' Green Economy. Not only will these businesses benefit our environment and the economy, but they can also increase our energy independence.

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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In order to pay down the bills the state owes to schools, universities and human service providers, the state needs to find ways to cut waste in all levels of government. Illinois has 7,200 forms of local government. We need to take a close look at these areas of government and do a simple cost/benefit analysis to find out if the costs of these branches exceed the benefits. Money can also be saved through intergovernmental cooperation to allow various forms of government to work together instead of providing overlapping services. The state needs to find ways to be more fiscally responsible to cover the costs of its debts. We are in a time when the state is not generating enough revenue to meet current obligations and, as a result, we need to find ways to either make more cuts or raise additional revenues. In the past year, the General Assembly has refocused its efforts, spending only the money the state has, not the funds the state hopes to have. We need to continue this pattern for years to come, as this is the only way to bring the state out of its difficult fiscal situation.

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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There are fiscal constraints that exist at every level of government. My goal is to support workers' rights while helping the state regain its fiscal footing. I would work to ensure legislation does not weaken collective bargaining rights, or prevent employees from receiving raises. That said, before negotiations begin, union leaders and the legislature should work together to understand the fiscal condition of the state and the revenues the legislature believes will be available after taking all other fiscal demands of the state into consideration.

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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I am not in favor of expanding gambling in Illinois. However, if it were to expand, I feel it should be up to the residents of a community to decide if they want to bring a casino into their neighborhood. A referendum should be placed on local ballots and voters should make the final decision. Voters have the right to have questions answered like how casino gambling would impact the local economy and what, specifically, the money raised would go towards before making their decision.

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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Illinois has taken important steps in tightening up its laws to help prevent ethical misconduct and betrayals of public trust and imposing limits on campaign contributions. Some of these steps include new reforms to prevent play-to-play politics and giving more enforcement powers to the state Ethics Act. This will protect whistleblowers, prevent conflicts of interest, provide greater investigative powers to inspectors general, and require tougher regulation and disclosure requirements of lobbyists. In addition it will increase campaign finance disclosure transparency and frequency. These are significant improvements, but they are steps. I would, therefore, be open to further changes that may be presented.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?
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I would support a progressive income tax system, however, before it could be put in place their needs to be a better public understanding of how the system would work. When most people hear the word ‘tax' they shy away. Through town hall meetings and more accessible public information, residents would learn that this type of system would not hurt the middle class and working families.

Do you have a plan to adequately fund schools and reform the property tax system that results in inequities?
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Due to the state's budget deficit, it will be difficult to have any major impact on state funding for education in the next several fiscal years. As a result, we have to find new ways to improve education outcomes that do not depend on an influx of new dollars. To achieve positive results, a one size fits all approach will not work. Instead, policy initiatives can hopefully improve education overall. To set these goals, all involved parties need to work together to find the best way to benefit students. Teachers cannot do this on their own. Teachers spend limited time every day with students. Parents need to become actively involved in a team like approach in their child's education to ensure dedication to their studies, which will ultimately result in success. Administrators can work with teachers and parents to find out the best way to initiate programs to make this possible.
When the economy improves here in Illinois and across the nation, I would like to see new revenue growth used to support schools, but not at the price of reducing state support for schools in my own district.

What is your view on gay marriage?
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Civil Unions recently passed in Illinois, and this is something I support. I believe that same-sex couples should have the same rights under the law as heterosexual couples when it comes to financial, medical, inheritance and death benefits.

The candidates
Laura Fine
The district
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