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November 8, 2016 — Illinois General Election
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Illinois State House of RepresentativesCandidate for District 11

Photo of Ann M. Williams

Ann M. Williams

Democratic
Attorney & Elected Official
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Bring fiscal stability to Illinois by ensuring we have adequate revenues to fund budget priorities, spending cuts where appropriate and sound budget making practices moving forward.
  • Ensure adequate and equitable education funding for Chicago Public Schools and all schools in Illinois.
  • Pass the Clean Jobs bill to grow the green economy in Illinois while providing for a cleaner environment for future generations.

Experience

Experience

Profession:Attorney & Elected Official

Questions & Answers

Questions from Chicago Sun-Times (15)

Do you support term limits for legislators? Do you support term limits for legislative leaders? Please explain.
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I do not support legislative term limits; while they politically popular I don’t believe they accomplish what people hope they will. Voters have the opportunity to weigh in on whether an official should be reelected at every election. I have pushed and will continue to push legislation to increase voter access to the ballot, including automatic voter registration, early voting opportunities and same day registration. I have worked in other states with term limits (Missouri and Wisconsin) and found that in those states, the members themselves were not as relevant as the longer-serving staff and the party infrastructure itself. I don’t think this provides adequate accountability to the voters. In Illinois, independent Democrats and Republicans not supported by traditional party elements can and do win. (Examples include myself, Kelly Burke, Will Guzzardi, Peter Breen, etc.) A television ad currently running advocating for term limits states "once a politician gets to Springfield, they never leave." But that's simply not the case. Certainly there are some very visible members who have served for many, many years - including leaders on both sides of the aisle. However, between my first and second terms, there was a turnover of 31 members...that’s an almost 28% turnover in two years. Between my second and third terms, the House saw a loss of 17 additional members…another 14% gone. So, in my first two terms, there was a turnover of 42% of the members of the House. I expect by the time my next term ends in January we will have seen well over 60% turnover in only 5-6 years.  (Note that these numbers only include members less senior than myself, so the actual turnover is higher.)

I’m open to the idea of term limits for leadership, though frankly I don’t believe there will ever be another leader who will serve as long as the Speaker – so this measure is also more of a “feel good” measure and less likely to impact and or improve how government runs in Illinois.

 

Who do you think bears responsibility for the budget stalemate? Do you have your own ideas on how to resolve it?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I strongly disagree with the Governor’s approach of holding up our budget and any discussion of revenue unless and until his political agenda is passed. I believe this is at the heart of the stalemate. While I am open and interested in exploring any and all ideas to move Illinois forward, and in fact do support redistricting reform, for example, we cannot continue down this path. This is simply not  governing.

 As an example, I was extremely disappointed in the Governor’s rhetoric this summer about Chicago schools and his claims that any assistance to Chicago Public schools was a bailout.  Letting the biggest school district in the state languish and punishing the children of Chicago to score political points was disingenuous and not befitting of someone serving as the Governor of Illinois. This divisive, politically-driven approach is detrimental to our state as a whole and I believe at the heart of why we continue to remain without a budget.

However, I’m an optimist. I could not do this job is I wasn’t. Democracy is messy, often ugly and wildly inefficient, especially in a state as diverse as Illinois. It is an incredibly difficult way to operate, and when times are challenging it gets even worse.  So how do we get a collective to operate in a forward-thinking way, whether on the issue of budget or otherwise? I think there has to be a willingness on the part of individual legislators to put aside the traditional political assumptions and operate in a way that is beneficial to the State as a whole.  Good government is good politics.

 I don’t think I’m being naïve here….I’ve seen a slow change in attitudes among my colleagues. For example, many people traditionally consider a vote to raise taxes a “bad” political vote…but how can one not recognize that at some point, if you want government to work in all the ways it needs to, you have to pay for it?  With the rise of social media and the increasing accessibility/accountability of elected officials, I think the voters are beginning to see through some of the talking points and sweeping generalizations of the past – and are looking for and responding better to the “real” answers on these issues. It is my hope that my colleagues will come together and work toward some of those real solutions.

A June 3 New York Times op-ed was headlined “Higher Education in Illinois is Dying” because of significant funding cuts. Do you agree or not with Gov. Bruce Rauner that additional large cuts could be necessary?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

A strong system of higher education and a educated workforce are among our strengths in Illinois.  However, the failure to adequately fund our institutions of higher education and subjecting them to continued cuts jeopardizes this important asset.

 While certainly pursuing one’s education beyond the high school level is beneificial for an individual, resulting in vastly increased income potential and career opportunities, the benefits to our state’s economic health and vitality cannot be overlooked.

My Senate colleague Daniel Biss sums it up nicely in his “Road Back” reform agenda which contains a series of essays outlining his ideas to address some of Illinois’ most significant problems. Biss says, and I agree, that increased educational attainment isn’t only felt by the individual being educated, but across the entire economy. He cites a study which shows that when a region increases its educational attainment by an average of one year per person, GDP per capita is expected to increase by 10.5%, and wages go up by 8.4%. The impact on our economy cannot be overstated, and illustrates just how important investing in higher education is to not only Illinois’ students, but to our State’s overall economic health.

How should the state’s school funding formula be changed to give all children a better chance at a quality education?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I represent some of the strongest neighborhood schools in the City...and work frequently with the dedicated principals, committed teachers and engaged parent communities in my area.  They are truly amazing and inspiring.  However, they struggle just like the rest of the schools in the City as they are forced into what has become a constant cycle of crisis-driven budgeting….and more and more cuts every single year. Many of these families have grown weary of dealing with the stress of the fiscal instability at CPS and the uncertainty about whether their child’s school will open on time and how it will look when it opens. We must address this crisis, and we must start by revamping our school funding formula in a way that relies less on property taxes and doesn’t shortchange low income districts like CPS.

 I strongly supported SB 231, along with a very diverse group of proponents. I have also been hearing more and more about the Rep. Will Davis bill which utilizes and “evidence-based” model for school funding, and am open to learning more about this bill and how it would impact my schools and CPS as a whole.  I think it’s critical that as legislators, we look beyond our individual districts as we address the issue of school funding, and find a formula that works for all the children of Illinois. This is not a partisan issue, but one in which we all believe. I am hopeful that we will be able to find a solution which moves all our schools forward and away from the constant crisis-driven budgeting and uncertainty that has plagued us year after year. The funding formula fix is at the center of making this happen for our schools and our students. 

Without a budget, Illinois is spending much more than it takes in, leading to an ever-growing stack of bills, underfunded services and a growing deficit. What new revenue sources do you support to help fix this problem?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I think it’s important to remember that until the legislature passed the temporary income tax in January of 2011, income taxes in Illinois had not been raised since 1989, primarily for political reasons. When the increase expired in January of 2015, income tax revenues returned to 1989 levels. Anyone who is being realistic about the State’s financial picture recognizes the need to raise revenues.  I think a graduated tax is the best option, the least regressive and in line with the way the majority of states tax.  I am open to the rate structure. The majority of our surrounding states and others have provided for an updated tax structure which relies less of the taxation of goods and more on the taxation of services. I think we should explore ways to update our antiquated tax code to reflect the realities of today’s economy. On the subject of taxing retirement income, again Illinois is in the minority of states – one of only three which don’t tax retirement income.   I’ve spoken with many of my constituents on this topic – including retirees - and I agree with the majority of them that this is a viable option which should be explored.  I would suggest we structure it in a way that ensures that those in the lower income brackets are not adversely impacted, i.e. utilize some sort of graduated structure.

I think it’s important that any revenue changes are graduated to ensure that those who can least afford it are not unfairly burdened, and would be concerned if any revenue increases did not contain some mechanism to reflect this.

A constitutional amendment is on the ballot that would require money raised for transportation not be spent elsewhere. Do you support this concept? Also, transportation planners say more money is needed for roads and bridges, Metra, CTA rail services and the like. Do you agree and, if so, where would you get the funding?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

Yes - I supported and voted for the constitutional amendment which has added Illinois to the growing number of states (now 30) which have constitutionally protected road funds and preclude access to such funds for other purposes. The reality is that over a 12-year period, Illinois has diverted over $6.8B in road funds for other uses; as recently as 2015 Illinois diverted funds dedicated for road improvements to plug our budget hole. I don’t think this is responsible or appropriate, as maintaining and developing a strong infrastructure should be one of government’s primary responsibilities – a role Illinois has neglected as of late. A recent study showed that as a result of the road fund diversions, Illinois has lost the opportunity to create 5000 new jobs and lost over $3B in economic output for our state.

 We simply cannot overlook the importance of maintaining and improving our roads and bridges, public transit and other transportation projects. It is important to note that our motor fuel tax, which is in effect a user fee - has not been raised or adjusted for inflation since 1983. This puts us behind the curve in terms of raising sufficient funds to keep up with our infrastructure obligations.

In the last session, the governor and Legislature turned their attention away from pension reform. What initiatives do you support to reduce the costs of pensions?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

In 2013, I voted in support of the bipartisan bill to address our pension issue, that was overturned by the courts. While the ruling limited our options, we must continue to explore ways to address our outstanding pension liability.  It’s important to focus on finding solutions that work, rather than espousing ideology – I see this often in talking points from both sides of the aisle.  The Court’s ruling was expansive, and does limit our options for scaling back current employee pension obligations.

The first step? Make our pension payments. Even as we’ve seen the devastating impacts of pension holidays both at the state and city level, proposals to skip payments due to the desperate fiscal situations many of our governments are in are frequently presented in Springfield.  In your household, for example, you may consider refinancing a mortgage or making the minimum payment on your credit card. If you choose to go this route, you know it will cost you more in the long run and therefore, it should be avoided wherever possible. Unfortunately, at the state and city levels, these sorts of short term cash flow solutions were frequently used, and resulted in the long term fiscal challenges we are seeing now.

 There is no quick fix, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.  Its irresponsible to espouse pension “solutions” that are clearly going to be overturned by the courts. Our system of government has three branches, and ignoring the courts and forcing the State into another multi-year battle is a mistake.  We must focus on any way we can to address this issue, no matter how small. First and foremost, we must make our pension payments.

 Additionally, I strongly support the cost shift…moving the cost of teacher pensions to the local school districts. Illinois is one of a minority of states which funds local teacher pensions via the State, which has been one of the main drivers of our huge pension liability. While unpopular for non-Chicago school districts, this structure makes more sense and forces accountability when setting salaries and benefits.  I also support other options for small changes which can have big impacts on our debt service and accumulation on future pension liabilities – including Senator Daniel Biss’ SB 6292, to provide for more transparency as to how pension funds are managed, as well as exploring potential optional buy out programs or opportunities to consolidate our pension systems where possible in order to save money wherever possible.

 

Do you support measures to reduce Illinois’ prison population and divert more money into community-based services?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

Yes, absolutely. This is a critical part of reforming our criminal justice system – something almost everyone agrees must be a priority for Illinois and beyond.  First and foremost, we must continue our ongoing assessment as to which crimes should lead to prison time, and which crimes are more appropriately subject to the alternative sentencing options.  To do this, we need to explore needs-based and data driven risk assessments for offenders…once a novel approach but now recognized to be state of the art approach to improving recidivism outcomes.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has also identified other areas which result in the unfair and inappropriate incarceration of individuals – which is not only a waste of taxpayer money but is simply not how we should be treating people.  First, we must address the issue of those in poverty who cannot raise even a nominal amount of funds to make bail for non-violent property crimes, for example. These individuals remain in Cook County custody even though they present no real danger to the community simply because they can’t afford to make bail. There has to be a better way. Additionally, the inefficiency of the court system as a whole continues to result in people remaining in Cook County custody often longer than the time they would be required to serve even under the maximum sentence for their particular crime.

 While Sheriff Dart has made tremendous strides in this area, we need to work on a wholesale revamp of how we process individuals charged with crimes in Illinois and move toward options which make the most sense both fiscally and in human terms.

Finally, the issue of mental health is one which we cannot ignore. A shockingly high percentage of those incarcerated suffer from serious mental illness, and the impact of this on outcomes after release is an important one to consider when evaluating the investment in mental heath and substance abuse treatment for those who are incarcerated.

 Our goal should be to ensure that our criminal justice dollars are used in the most resourceful and efficient way that ensures public safety while providing humane and appropriate treatment for offenders who, with appropriate resources and investment, can lead healthy and productive lives.

There are calls to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system, which allows police and prosecutors to seize and take – permanently – property from someone who has not been convicted of a crime? What is your view?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I agree we need to take a look at the civil asset forfeiture statutes in Illinois and evaluate existing process and procedure to ensure adequate and appropriate due process for property owners. As the Vice Chair of the House Judiciary committee, I look forward to exploring this issue in the coming months. We must take a hard look at the current system of civil forfeiture to ensure that there is fair and adequate notice, and opportunity for a meaningful hearing each and every time this issue comes into play. Every citizen deserves the right to make a case and receive a fair hearing when faced with a civil forfeiture action, and we should evaluate to what extent the constitutional safeguards afforded to criminal defendants should also be applicable to those whose assets are subject to forfeiture.

Do you support allowing transgender persons born in Illinois to change the gender marker on their birth certificate without undergoing surgery first?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

Yes. I am a cosponsor of HB 6073, which would update Illinois law to join a growing number of states (there are now twelve) regarding the issuance of birth certificates to transgender persons.  Note that the federal government does not require surgery to correct the gender marker for passports, green cards, social security records and other such documents. This legislation simply makes sense.  Whether someone has or has not undergone surgery is considered an outdated and inappropriate standard for determining one’s gender identity, and the law should not require a person to take extraordinary and unnecessary steps simply to live their life authentically. I am happy to support and work for the passage of this important bill.

What is your view on so-called “death with dignity” — physician-assisted suicide — which has become a contentious issue in other states? California’s End of Life Option Act took effect on June 9.
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

While I strongly support every patient’s right to die with dignity and have access to all the resources available toward that end, at this point I have not taken a position on this issue. Not only is this issue extraordinarily controversial, the consequences are very extreme – we are literally talking about life or death. As a policy maker, I take my job of representing my community very seriously and quite frankly, I think the gravity of this issue demands an extraordinary and extremely robust due diligence effort prior to taking any legislative action on the matter. I look forward to learning more about the complexities of the issue and soliciting the opinions of my constituents, healthcare professionals and patients on the topic over the coming months.

What measures do you support to reduce levels of gun violence?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I have been involved in the fight against gun violence since before I was elected, as a member of the Honorary Board of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. Gun violence prevention is a priority for me and those in the community I represent. When Illinois passed the concealed carry legislation, I was one of the legislators who worked closely with the gun prevention advocates to ensure the final product incorporated common sense restrictions on the carrying of concealed, loaded weapons in dense urban areas, such as on crowded trains, street fairs and festivals, etc. I think it’s critical to maintain these restrictions and I continue to work toward that end.  Even people with a great deal of expertise in the handling of firearms would have difficulty discharging a weapon safely in such environments.

 Additionally, I continue to champion legislation to restrict the carrying of concealed, loaded weapons in places where alcohol is served, and have cosponsored bipartisan legislation with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin which would prohibit loaded guns in restaurants which serve alcohol. These common sense gun laws, which balance the rights of individuals with public safety concerns, are strongly supported in my community and I will continue to push for these measures. Additionally, I support legislation to restrict civilian access to assault weapons and high capacity magazines, license gun dealers (HB 1016) and provide for a lethal violence order of protection (HB 3160) – a measure which would empower immediate family members to petition the court to if they think a loved one with access to firearms presents a danger to themselves or others. I also continue to work for and support putting more teeth in our background check laws and providing for universal background checks.

A number of states and local jurisdictions (including Chicago) have recently increased the minimum wage. Do you support or oppose a statewide increase in the minimum wage? If so, what should the new minimum be, and by when? Should local jurisdictions be prohibited from passing their own minimum wage laws?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I support an increase in the minimum wage, but believe we should implement a statewide standard. Allowing individual communities to set their own rates does not make sense – why should a business in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago be subject to one rate while a competing business in Des Plaines be subject to another? I am open to the amount of the rate, but believe a gradual implementation of any increase is critical to ensure that small businesses especially are able to efficiently integrate such changes. The community I represent has a large number of small businesses – bars and restaurants, boutiques, etc. – and I have spoken to many business owners about this issue. The majority have been open to an increase, and most of those I spoke to actually pay over the minimum wage. But I think these small employers must be a part of the discussion, as we work to improve the lives of workers while ensuring the vibrancy of Illinois’ small business community.

In the past couple of legislative sessions, there has been a proposal to add a 1 cent tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages sold in Illinois. Do you support or oppose such a measure, and why?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

I do have concerns about this proposal, as it provides a more regressive approach to raising revenues than other methods. However, I recognize that there are public health benefits to incentivize the reduction of sugar in popular beverages. I am undecided about this proposal, but generally don’t believe taxing certain products or behaviors – especially those that are safe in moderation – is the best approach to tax policy. An exception would be cigarettes; I’ve consistently supported legislation to discourage the usage of cigarettes. There is no safe level at which to smoke cigarettes, the tobacco industry has misled consumers about the dangers of cigarettes for years and the public health impacts of smoking as well as second hand smoking are incredibly significant at any level.

In recent years, there has been a growing push to increase the development and use of renewable energy sources. Do you support or oppose these preferences?
Answer from Ann M. Williams:

As Chair of Illinois Green Caucus and Chair of the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainability committee, I am deeply committed to and strongly support legislative initiatives that encourage the creation, development and use of renewable energy.

There are few areas in Illinois' economy where government can directly intersect with private industry to spur jobs and economic development. The state is required to set and update utility standards to ensure our regulated utilities can best achieve the public interest of providing safe, affordable, and reliable services. 

Illinois adopted renewable energy and energy efficiency laws in 2007. Each of the two policies delivered early success upon adoption, but we have not updated either of these critical programs since that time -  despite the fact that our electricity market has changed dramatically. As a result, several states have now eclipsed Illinois' early success in promoting clean energy. I, however, remain committed to putting Illinois back on the map as a national leader for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Smart, forward-thinking energy policy can lower utility rates for customers and result in a healthier planet.  And significantly, clean energy also spurs job creation and economic development for all areas of the state via the construction and development of new infrastructure. Thus, developing policies which increase the use of renewable energy sources creates a unique and important “win win” for Illinois taxpayers. This is why I continue to work for the passage of the bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs legislation (HB 2607) – which will increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency standards and contribute to what I hope will become a robust low carbon energy economy for the State of Illinois.

Videos (1)

— October 3, 2016 Chicago Sun-Times

Rep. Ann Williams tells why she should remain the representative from the 11th district.

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