By AARON GETTINGER
The two men likely to soon represent Hyde Park–Kenwood in the Illinois House of Representatives held a town hall meeting at the St. Philip Neri Catholic School, 2132 E. 72nd St., in South Shore Wednesday night, arguing for a progressive, graduated state income tax.
Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) and Curtis Tarver, the Democratic nominee for the 25th District, presented themselves as a united front. Their districts run parallel along the South Side lakefront from Kenwood to South Chicago.
“The work we are going to do for South Shore and for these districts is going to be better, because we’re going to be working together,” said Mitchell, the state party chair.
He called Illinois’ current tax structure regressive: because of state sales and excise taxes, “all of you, unless some of you have a hundred million in your pocket … you are paying twice as much as a share of your income compared to the top one percent of people like [Gov.] Bruce Rauner.”
Tarver was also supportive of a progressive income tax.
“There’s no way out of this — I don’t want to lie to you today; I’m not going to lie to you when I go to Springfield in January — without more than likely a progressive income tax,” he said.
Mitchell evoked the troubling times for state and national Democrats, with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump, and assailed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME limiting public unions’ ability to collect dues from non-members. He noted 18 percent of the membership in such unions are black women and called their jobs a path to the middle class.
He lauded the passed state budget, however, for its increased funding of public education, particularly postsecondary education, noting the exodus from Illinois of college graduates, whom Mitchell said were disproportionately poor or people of color. He said the state funds the Monetary Award Program, which gives grants to income eligible Illinois college students, at “40 to 45 percent of its actual need.”
“This isn’t a question of these kids being on the cusp,” he said, saying the students were accepted but lack money for tuition. “We are currently criminally underfunding that program.”
On top of underfunded social services and institutions is Illinois’ infamous debt, but Mitchell said revenue from a progressive tax, dependent on electing Democrat J.B. Pritzker governor this fall, would help pay it down while also further funding education, social services, infrastructure and Medicare.
“I don’t think either of us would say we should be throwing money into the government so it can grow up willy-nilly,” said Mitchell. “What we would say, and what I would say, is that there’s significantly less waste, fraud, corruption than we think. And there is such a mistrust in government that we have lost the ability to deliver the services that we need to, because people are so reluctant to hand over their money.”
He said he could not promise that a civil engineering catastrophe akin to last the fatal 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis would not happen in Chicago, but he said infrastructural investments would provide for a substantial amount of jobs represented by integrated unions. He also suggested raising the cap on income for state childcare eligibility for working mothers.
Both men harshly attacked mass incarceration in Illinois; Mitchell commented later that jobs would have to be provided in Downstate areas economically reliant on prisons, should they house fewer people, in order to get the General Assembly votes necessary for reform, suggesting infrastructural programs and educational opportunities. Tarver said that “warehousing” fewer inmates would allow for fiscal relief.
Mitchell said disproportionately mild sentences for egregious police misconduct is eroding trust law enforcement. He called Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx “a rock star” who comes from and understands communities like South Shore and spoke favorably of legalizing cannabis. Tarver referenced his legal background to discuss the importance of making informed choices about judicial elections.
When asked about charter schools, Mitchell said the new Illinois school funding formula “either equalized or severely narrowed the funding range difference” between charter and neighborhood funding schools. He said the four charter schools in and around the 26th District graduate between 70 and 100 percent of their low-income black students.
“To me, they are schools, and I’m going to be supportive of the schools in my district,” Mitchell said. He later assailed the tax credit scholarships for private schools championed by Rauner, saying it would starve public schools of funds and urging the audience to support Pritzker, who opposes it.
On charter schools, Tarver said, “My focus is on the children. I want kids to go to good public neighborhood schools. That is absolutely ideal. But I would be derelict if I ignore the fact there are charter schools that are open and operating in my district. So my position is and will always be [that] my focus is on the children; the goal has to be for children to be able to go down the street and go to a safe neighborhood public school.”
Both men advocated for increased teacher pay, Tarver specifically for public preschool teachers.