Running for: IL State Senate District 25
Political party affiliation: Democratic
Political/civic background: IL State Representative District 49, former vice president of West Chicago District 33 Board of Education
Occupation: State Representative (2018 to Present)
Education: Master Social Work, Aurora University
Campaign website: karinavilla.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Illinois Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Karina Villa submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
Similar to states across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted state and local government budgets. If voters approve the Fair Tax Proposal this November, it will serve as a stabilizing measure to our current financial situation. All members of the General Assembly will have to work together with the Governor’s office on solutions to further address the shortfall in terms of any budgetary cuts that will likely be required.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
Overall I would have to give Gov. Pritzker a “B” rating. I believe that a critical component of his response was the clear and consistent communication to the public. The daily briefings let the people of Illinois know what the state was doing, what they were expected to do, and how the governor was dealing with the response from the federal government.
IDES is one area where challenges could have been addressed more effectively. Additional resources, more transparency and quicker responses would have made a difference in how the public perceived the state government handling of the unemployment issues. Reopening of schools is another area where we potentially need more guidance and direction from the state. Local school district control is obviously critical but a clearer rollout plan is vital at this point.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
I believe that sensible police reform is necessary. If handled properly, with input from citizens and the law enforcement community, including the unions, we should be able to make improvements that benefit everyone. As an example, I would hope we could agree that any and all police organizations would benefit from implementing more targeted, consistent training and continuing education requirements. Providing mental health support and resources for our officers is also an area that should be addressed. The stress of the job has claimed more lives than should ever be realized. Acknowledging the need for improvements, being open to ideas and proposals and working together is important to reducing the tensions we have seen, particularly over the past few months.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes – While guidelines have been put in place for the departments that have them, we should be working to ensure that all law enforcement officers are required to wear them. It will be incumbent upon the state to help those departments who don’t have cameras, to get them. The $5 fee on traffic and criminal offenses is a start but a more comprehensive plan should be put in place. We must remember that body cameras are protection from unsubstantiated claims against police officers that perform their jobs in a lawful manner.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
We all should have confidence in our leaders to conduct themselves ethically in all cases. Because that is not always the reality, I supported and became co-sponsor in the Illinois House for the ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639).
When public trust has been damaged by even the perception of impropriety at any level of government it is something that needs to be dealt with seriously. In addition to any reforms that might be enacted, I believe how we, as legislators, conduct ourselves in the future will be the main evidence that the citizens need to build back that trust in government.
At this point, especially with no indictment in place, I believe in innocent until proven guilty. We need to let the process work.
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
In Springfield, until the coronavirus pandemic, I concentrated on sponsoring legislation focused on taxes, healthcare, education, small business and the environment. These are all areas that have a direct impact on my district. I established advisory committees in these areas to engage the community to ensure I am working on issues that were important to my constituents.
In my district there are 350 manufacturing facilities and once the critical nature of the pandemic became obvious, my office started receiving calls from concerned employees at a number of those facilities that they felt their lives were being put in danger. I started working with those businesses to provide safe working conditions for their essential workers. We succeeded in establishing a system of reporting allegations of unsafe work conditions while also helping to write comprehensive legislation to protect those workers. In addition, I secured a COVID-19 testing site in West Chicago.
I also took advantage of social media to disseminate critical material, including for example, where to access unemployment information, food bank assistance and mental health support. My legislative team sends out and posts on my website (https://staterepresentativekarinavilla.com/newsletter%2Fpress-releases) a weekly newsletter in both English and Spanish to let my constituents know what is happening in the district and other current information of interest. For example, the latest issue included school district updates and info on rental/mortgage assistance.
Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
The primary issues in my house district when I first ran were property taxes, education funding and a balanced budget. From a baseline perspective, that hasn’t changed but the economic reality of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has forced unanticipated priority adjustments. My work with the manufacturing facilities in my district regarding essential worker safety is an example of an unexpected adjustment. It is also imperative that we must work diligently to protect our students, teachers and staff as we reopen schools, and do what we can to support our small businesses. The 2020 census success will be critical in obtaining the federal funding we will need to support these efforts.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
I will continue to work to protect the environment by promoting the use of renewable resources as well as exploring other ways to reduce the effects of global climate change in our communities. We also need more work on mental health initiatives including reducing the stigma of seeking help for opioid addictions, and dealing with stress related issues for both adults and children particularly related to this coronavirus pandemic. I will continue to work to provide real property tax relief and on pension consolidation for police and fire. I am especially proud TO HAVE been able to work on bi-partisan basis to pass legislation AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support the proposed graduated income tax. I believe the measure would make our tax system more fair for all Illinoisans, allowing higher incomes to be taxed at higher rates and lower incomes to be taxed at lower rates. The majority of states and the federal government use this system, but our constitution currently prohibits it. Unless a small business owner makes more than $250,000 a year in profits their taxes won’t increase. This means that the overwhelming majority of small businesses will not see an income tax increase, which is critical especially if they are struggling from the impacts of the coronavirus crisis.
More than $9 out of $10 the state spends is on education, healthcare, human services and public safety. The money from the fair tax will go toward funding those critical services and 97% of the filers in Kane County will not see an increase because they make under $250,000 a year.
Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
To create a meaningful, comprehensive, and realistic plan going forward, we must bring all parties to negotiate in good faith. This problem is bigger than any political ideology. As the Supreme Court has already made it clear we cannot diminish or reduce benefits, we must be thoughtful and explore all avenues to address this crisis. There is no quick and easy solution, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we cannot kick the can down the road as has been done in the past. I know if we buckle down and work together we can reach a solution to save the state of Illinois. The Fair Tax will be vital to a permanent solution to this issue.
We must also recognize that the impact of COVID-19 has created an even greater burden on the state’s resources. I sincerely hope that the federal government will recognize that all states will need funding to help offset the financial costs associated with managing the pandemic.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
The burden the current economic situation has placed on our citizens as a result of the pandemic, removes from consideration any discussion of taxing retirement incomes. Hopefully the results of the election in November will show that voters accept the Fair Tax proposal.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
The most critical concern at the moment, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is ensuring that our students, teachers, and staff have a healthy and safe environment this coming school year. This needs to include not only providing the education itself, but also to provide support for the emotional and mental health challenges that they are experiencing due to our current situation. Access to the most current methods of instruction is important including, as we have learned, the options available and requirements for effective online instruction.
We should be promoting programs that talk to students about post high school options and addressing training required for those options. While college should be available to all who are qualified, not all students want to pursue a higher academic education. These students should be able to explore options involving, for example, training in mechanical or construction trades. Manufacturing facilities often find that they cannot find qualified candidates for very well paying jobs because of the lack of encouragement for students to pursue training in these fields. I would definitely support legislation to increase apprenticeship programs. THIS IS A CRITICAL STEP TO BUILDING a skilled workforce and a high-wage economy.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I believe the Illinois legislature should pass common-sense gun control reforms that respect the rights of law abiding gun owners. I would support banning the sale of military-style assault rifles and strengthening background checks. I am proud that the IL House passed a legislative package (SB 1966) of new reforms to give law enforcement the tools needed to effectively enforce current gun laws and modernize the application and renewal process for a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card. We now need to build on this progress by having the appropriate action taken in the IL Senate to save lives and prevent any future tragedies.
As a former educator, I also completely oppose arming teachers. Schools are not war zones and increasing the presence of firearms in schools will have an adverse effect on the quality of education we can provide.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I support term limits on legislative leadership like the IL Senate has put in place under President Cullerton.
15. Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
This is a difficult question. Everybody should have the opportunity to have representation that fairly matches the makeup of their community. However, it is a challenge for the issues important, for example, to an Hispanic community to be heard if that community is divided between two districts where they are not a majority in either of those districts. That being said, the situations that some states have where the population of one party is higher than the other, but the representation, due to gerrymandering, is in the control of the opposing party is very wrong.
One additional thing that needs to be done is for the US Senate to pass and for the President to sign the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
I supported and became a co-sponsor in the House for SB1639. As I stated in response to one of the other questions above, we must continue to work on restoring the public trust that has been damaged by having to conduct investigations into possible corruption by state and local officials. I believe how we, as legislators, conduct ourselves in the future will be the evidence that the citizens need to build back that trust in government.
When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
I support the legislature passing data privacy laws as our lives become more intertwined with technology to protect our rights to privacy. I recognize that the issue is complicated with one bill under consideration being supported by consumer groups and the other one being supported by internet groups. I believe that consumers have the right to be educated on this issue, that there be transparency when a company sells their information to other companies, and have the right to decline from having their information sold.
The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
As an educator, I am very concerned that we are losing the best and brightest students in Illinois to other states. Not only are parents having their children move far from home, but the fiscal impact this has on Illinois is significant, and in the long run will be devastating. We must find ways to reduce tuition so that all students have access to affordable higher education in our state. We must also work to create a stable environment in Illinois which would be critical to making our state universities more attractive.
Education funding and funding for financial aid in Illinois is critical. I co-sponsored HB2691, the Illinois Students and Equity Act which makes it easier for Illinois students to get access to scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, stipends and more. This bill prioritizes and invests in our students here at home.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
As a member of our beautiful community, it is my job to ensure that our environment is safe for our children to grow up in. Transparency is very important to me and with that I initiated the Clean Energy Town Hall. I emphasized the importance of the Clean Energy Jobs Act and how our community can benefit from sustainable energy resources for the future! As a social worker, I want to make sure that my efforts will impact our future generations in a positive way and I hope to host more environmental town halls in the future.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
This was an easy question to answer. Having gone to school to become and having worked as a school social worker, I have long admired Jane Adams. She was born in Cedarville, IL in 1860, was an activist, established the Hull House in Chicago, essentially founded the profession of social work, and became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She was also a co-founder of the ACLU and was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. Her many accomplishments should be an inspiration to every woman.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
This is another easy question. My favorite show is Stranger Things. I was introduced to this series by my teenage niece who loves the show and talked me into watching it with her. What I value most is the time spent with her. There are so many topics to discuss considering the theme of the show itself but the interaction has allowed us to engage and communicate and have our relationship grow on many different levels.