Some priorities for 2015

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)
State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)

By STATE REP. CHRISTIAN MITCHELL (D-26)

Earlier this month, I had the distinct honor of being sworn into my second term as state representative of the 26th District. I ran for office because I believe that the most important guiding principle for our state, as we debate our budget and our plan for the future, is creating opportunity — specifically, ensuring that the circumstance of our birth should determine only where we start, and never where we finish.

We have a new Republican administration that has called for increased spending for education and infrastructure, a balanced budget and good-paying jobs — noble goals, but we’ve yet to hear a plan to achieve them. I have a few suggestions, based on conversations with constituents.

Fairer education funding is one answer. Currently, the state supplies only 30 percent of the education dollars received by local school districts, compared to 50 percent for leading states. This leads to an overreliance on local property taxes, which exacerbates funding disparities between rich and poor districts — such that some wealthier suburban districts receive almost twice as much funding per pupil as Chicago Public Schools.

Education funding reform, which I’ve been fighting for over the past few years, would redirect state funds toward districts that need it the most. This would provide substantial additional resources to children living in concentrated poverty, while getting the most out of our taxpayer dollars. In an era where children and workers often earn what they learn, nothing is more important than a great education. Furthermore, this measure would allow our poorest school districts to expand early childhood education, after school programming and critical wraparound services.

It will also be imperative in this upcoming budget cycle to preserve and expand key protections that the middle class relies on. Several folks from the 26th District have called our office recently, inquiring about the future of our Child Care Assistance Program – a program vital not only in providing a safe space for children, but also allowing thousands of working families across the state to go to work and support their loved ones on a daily basis. These are the sort of line items we ought to fight for.

Finally, there is the question of how we balance our budget. And this has become exceedingly difficult to answer with the recent rollback of the state income tax. If Gov. Bruce Rauner does not take action to create additional revenue, we are looking at budget holes of more than $2 billion this fiscal year, and $5 billion in the next.

Now, while I support continuing to root out waste, fraud and abuse in government, it is spurious to claim that doing so would balance our budget. And in many instances, we’ve already exhausted that route – like Medicaid, which has been sharply cut over the past few years. At some point, we’re no longer cutting fat; we’re cutting the muscle and bone of programs that working families rely on now more than ever before. Further cuts are not only shortsighted, but they go against our values that call us to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

I will continue leading the push for a constitutional amendment that would open the door for a fair income tax. We are long overdue on changing Illinois’ unfair tax code, so that the wealthy and large corporations pay a fair share and we cease having a system where the poorest Illinoisans pay twice as much as a share of their income compared to the top 1 percent.

As for reform, our justice system prioritizes the jailing of non-violent offenders, including pre-trial detention for low-level drug offenses. This strains our court and prison systems, leaving little room for hardened criminals and often ruining the life chances of young men and women, many of them of color. I’ll be working with my North Side colleague, Kelly Cassidy, to ensure that we re-balance our justice system. That means fining or ticketing low-level drug offenders so that our police and prosecutors can focus on the gun violence plaguing our communities.

It is my hope that the Rauner administration will hold true to its promise to focus on fairness, smart crime policy, investment in education, and support for our ailing middle class. But we’ve all been waiting for answers – and it’s also my hope that the upcoming State of the State and budget address will provide them.

I am grateful for your questions, concerns, and support. Please always feel free to stop by my office at 449 E. 35th St. or call us at 773-924-1755.