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Illinois Senate District 5, 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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins
Birthdate: 4/28/1962
Occupation: State of Il
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Keith Langston

Education:

see resume

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

see resume

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

yes. see resume

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

Van Pelt Watkins
Birthdate: 11/12/1957
Occupation: Target Area Development Corporation
Marital status: Single
Spouse:

Education:

Fenger High School, Chicago; obtained a GED
Associate Degree in Natural Science, Truman College
Bachelors Degree in Public Administration, Roosevelt University
Masters Degree in Human Services Administration, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
Certificate in Urban Development, Spertus Institute
Accounting courses, DePaul University; achieved a CPA
Doctorate in Management of Non-Profit Agencies, Capella University, School of Public Leadership.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Founder and CEO, Target Area Development Corporation

Founder, Developing Justice Coalition

Co-Founder, Ambassadors of Christ Church

Founding Board Member, Advance Illinois

Founding Member - Grow Your Own Teachers

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

N/A

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

N/A

Campaign information
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

Campaign headquarters: 2413 W Madison
Website:
Campaign manager: Deborah Williams
Campaign budget:
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.

Van Pelt Watkins

Campaign headquarters: 2312 W. Harrison
Website: www.patriciaforillinois.com
Campaign manager: Cheryl Phillips
Campaign budget: $200,000.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Patricia Watkins, $106,000.

Multiple donors have given $5,000.

What are your top priorities for your district?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

My top priority for my district is balancing the state budget and paying off the state's backlog of bills. Until these things are accomplished it will be impossible to get the Illinois economy back on track and to fully fund human and social services and education. These are programs that are important to the residents in my district and I am committed to ensuring our budget is in a state that allows us to fully fund such programs

Van Pelt Watkins

My priorities include improving education, expanding jobs, reducing crime and supporting small businesses. These are all urgent needs for the 5th District.

What is your top priority for the state?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

See prior question

Van Pelt Watkins

I am running for State Senator to ensure that we have a state government that is accessible, accountable and responsive to its people. My candidacy is about rejecting the politics of the few in favor of the prosperity of the many, choosing the politics of inclusion over the politics of exclusion, and a future in which government acts as an agent of expansion, acceptance, and progress for all of the people of Illinois.

For incumbents, please list your accomplishments. For challengers, what unique strengths would you bring to the job of state lawmaker?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I voted for legislation to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families. Additionally I support legislation to assist in foreclosure prevention counseling and reforming pay day loans. I have also been a big proponent of juvenile justice reform and was a co-sponsor of the legislation that abolished the death penalty.

Van Pelt Watkins

For the past 30 years I have been an advocate for strong families and thriving neighborhoods. I have worked to make communities livable by improving the quality of education; creating an environment that promotes public safety; attracting opportunities that generate employment; and assembling resources to support small businesses. I believe in tackling issues directly by engaging residents in building strong accountable coalitions to solve problems and to improve the quality of life for all, and I will approach legislative solutions the same way.

I will bring to the State Senate my experience at founding and building a community development corporation, and my background as a Certified Public Accountant and a PhD in Management. This is exactly the type of experience we should be looking for in a legislator.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I am opposed to reducing pension benefits for current employees.

Van Pelt Watkins

We need to carefully examine all of these options as ways to reduce the cost of the State's pension system, without reducing benefits for existing employees, which is forbidden by the State constitution.

If you don't support a bill like SB512, how would you deal with the state's unfunded pension liability?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

A comprehensive tax reform that would provide additional and dedicated revenue would be the best way to deal with underfunded pension liability.

Van Pelt Watkins

The real problem with the underfunding of the pension is not the ongoing cost of benefits, but that the legislature has repeatedly refused to pay the necessary amounts into the pension system. We are now being stuck with the bill of 20 years of underfunding, and there are no simple answers. We need to set a funding plan and stick to it. The legislature has been kicking this problem down the road for too many years. We need legislators who will stand up and say, enough already!

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I think the extension of the income tax increase is a decision that will need to be made in 2014 taking a variety of factors into account, including the current state of the economy, whether or not the state has a backlog of unpaid bills and if the budget is balanced.

Van Pelt Watkins

The income tax increase was enacted to be temporary. However, the recent financial forecast issued by the governor shows how challenging the State budget will remain in 2014. Any decision about the future of the income tax will have to be made in the context of the political and budgetary realities at that time, and also by looking at the overall tax structure for the State. We need to find ways to make both the personal and corporate tax structures fairer, including looking at both income and sales taxes. I will use my background in accounting and management to ensure that we develop a tax plan that provides the necessary revenues while not unduly burdening the taxpayers.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

Illinois has to remain competitive with surrounding states while at the same time providing the state with adequate resources to fund vital programs. I could support modernization and clarification of our tax code to meet those goals

Van Pelt Watkins

We do need to take a look at how the State's corporate tax is structured. We have a high rate, but then provide so many loopholes and special tax breaks that the tax is not paid evenly across all businesses. The more special tax deals we do, the more we increase the tax burden on the remaining businesses in Illinois.

What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I think that putting an emphasis on balancing the state budget and paying off old bills will go a long way to creating a more favorable business climate in Illinois. Paying off our bills will stimulate the economy and promote job growth by allowing those that do business with the state to stay afloat and pay their workers.

Van Pelt Watkins

Businesses evaluate a number of factors when deciding where to locate. We need to ensure that we are providing a favorable climate across all of those factors. Illinois is attractive to many businesses because of the infrastructure we offer, as well as our quality of life.

Transportation is a key element, and Illinois is a leader in this area. The 5th district in particular sits at the transportation crossroads of Chicago and Illinois. It includes major highways (90/94 and 290), commuter and intercity rail (Ogilvie Center and Union Stations), and public transit (Red, Brown, Purple, Blue, Green, and Pink lines plus many bus routes), as well as Chicago's first protected bike lanes. All of these are a draw for businesses, and we need to continue to invest in this kind of infrastructure.

We have to have an educated and skilled workforce, which is yet another reason why we must invest in education.

As mentioned above, we need to find ways to spread the corporate tax burden more fairly. We also need to examine non-tax costs for doing business in Illinois, such as workers compensation and unemployment, and find ways to reduce the financial burden these place on businesses.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I have supported borrowing in the past, but I did not do such lightly. I may support wise and justifiable borrowing in the future to pay our mountain of back due bills so that Illinois vendors can receive the funds they earned thus allowing them to stay in business and providing vital services to Illinois citizens.

Van Pelt Watkins

I support a plan for short term borrowing to pay down the backlog of bill payments. The current situation is unconscionable. There has been a lot of heated rhetoric that clouds this issue. The State is already borrowing this money by delaying payments - borrowing it from schools, non-profit organizations and small businesses around the State. In many instances it is paying a high rate of interest in the process. In all cases Illinois is burdening its vendors, leading some organizations to delay payroll, layoff staff or even close their doors, further impacting the economic recovery and State tax revenues.

Issuing short term bonds would support State vendors and their employees while actually saving Illinois money by paying a lower interest rate.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I think leaders taking an active role in the negotiation process will give legislators a better understanding of where the unions are coming from which will hopefully lead to solutions that both labor unions and legislative leaders are satisfied with.

Van Pelt Watkins

The governor is the CEO of the State of Illinois and as such should the point person on negotiating these contracts. However, this cannot happen in a vacuum, as the legislature is responsible for appropriating the money for these contracts. Multi-year contracts obviously have implications for future year appropriations. This is especially important now, as the income tax increase includes a cap on spending by the State.

I would be open to considering options for the legislature to provide input and oversight of the contracts, but believe that ultimately this resides within the executive authority of the governor.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I support expanded gambling in Illinois. I am in favor of a Chicago casino because it would provide vital dollars for the state and city. However, ensuring that the casino is structured in such a way that it would prohibit corruption and criminal activity is essential.

Van Pelt Watkins

Any decision to expand gambling in Illinois has pros and cons and must be carefully considered. I support a limited expansion that would include a Chicago casino. A new casino in Chicago would enhance the attraction of Chicago for tourist and conventioneers and put Chicago on par with other top convention destinations. This type of expansion would provide new tax revenues and economic development opportunities.

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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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

No

Van Pelt Watkins

The new campaign finance law that set contribution limits for the first time was an important step in the right direction, and I was a board member of Change Illinois, the coalition that supported that legislation. However, there is more that must be accomplished in this area. The law should be amended to set a consistent level of caps across all campaign committees, including for party leaders.

I also believe that we need to take a close look at public financing for elections. Today, we often elect the candidate who is the best fundraiser, or has the best political connections, rather than the candidate who will do the best job governing.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

yes

Van Pelt Watkins

Yes, a progressive income tax system would be fairer for our taxpayers, and would require a constitution change because such a system is not allowed under the State constitution.

Do you have a plan to adequately fund schools and reform the property tax system that results in inequities?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I am in favor of increasing the state income tax and decreasing the property tax and distributing education funds in a more fair and balanced way to school districts throughout the state.

Van Pelt Watkins

Education has been one my top priorities for many years. The Illinois constitution provides that the State has the primary responsibility for funding education. Not only has this goal not been met, but Illinois ranks 49th in the country for State support of education. There are no magic solutions to this problem other than our political leaders coming to a collective decision that education is a priority. It will be one of my goals as State Senator to help forge such a consensus.

What is your view on gay marriage?
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    ALL
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    Collins
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    Van Pelt Watkins
Collins

I am in favor of gay marriage.

Van Pelt Watkins

I support the civil unions law that went into effect last year.

The race
The candidates
Annazette R. Collins
Patricia Van Pelt Watkins
The district
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