Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Carrie Austin

Carrie Austin

Candidate for City Council, 34th Ward

Carrie Austin

Candidate for City Council, 34th Ward

Placeholder for Carrie Austin

Education: Waller High School (now Lincoln Park H.S.), Roosevelt University

Occupation: Alderman, 34th Ward

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Candidates running for City Council, 34th Ward


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

Q: Last year, the Chicago Tribune's investigative series "Broken Bonds" reported that, since 2000, Chicago had issued long-term bonds to spend nearly $10 billion, much of it for short-term operating expenses. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to delay bond payments by refinancing old debts, a tactic known as "scoop and toss" that extends payments far into the future. Was this borrowing justified? Going forward, how should City Hall change its finances to pay down existing debts and provide services? Will you argue primarily for cuts in spending or for tax increases? Please be specific.

The City gets itself into a dangerous position using bond funds to pay for short-term operating expenses. As an Alderman of a ward that has been hard hit by this recession, I voted to refinance our debt primarily to take advantage of the lower interest rate and to protect my residents as much as possible from higher taxes. Budgets are about choices and I made a choice to protect my residents during the worst recession in U.S. history. Over the last four years, changes to the City's budget have been focused on strategically applying revenues to relevant expenses. For example, the water and sewer rate increases were dedicated to water and sewer main replacement and restoration. In this year's budget, the parking tax increase was placed in the vehicle tax fund and will be used exclusively for road repair. Going forward, should the 34th Ward residents elect me and should my City Council colleagues re-elect me as Budget Chairman, I will work to balance the 2016 budget in a way that improves the City's bond ratings and protects taxpayers as much as possible. We have many difficult choices ahead and as Chairman, it is my responsibility to consider all expense reductions and revenue enhancements before determining which make the most sense for the 34th Ward and for the City as a whole. On the revenue side, I am more likely to support proposals that do not impose an additional financial burden on our residents, such as the congestion tax and a tax on billboards. I also believe enhanced enforcement of existing laws regarding billboards will generate significant new revenue. I supported increasing fines for billboard violations to $10,000 per day and enhanced enforcement can help provide some of this new revenue.


Q: Chicago will face a substantial increase in contributions to its police and fire pension funds in 2016. Chicago's unfunded pension liability amounts to about $7,000 for each resident of the city. How should the city solve its pension crisis? Please be specific about pension changes, spending cuts or revenue increases you would support.

The Illinois General Assembly determines the structure of the City's pensions, including police and fire. It is up to the City Council to identify ways to pay for it. I believe it is important for the City to meet its pension obligations and continue to provide vital services to residents. The City worked with the Municipal and Laborers pension funds to develop a plan, which will provide for guaranteed payments by the City. This negotiation required all parties, the City, the unions and taxpayers to incur added costs and/or reduced benefits. But it provided a path to pension solvency that City employees and retirees need. I believe that resolution of other pension funds, such as police and fire should follow this same negotiation process to ensure that all City employees and retirees can realize the same pension solvency. As to specific measures, please see the answer to Question 1.


Q: What changes should be made in the city's use of tax increment financing? Would you support expansion or extension of TIF districts in your ward? How should excess TIF funds be spent? Do you support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena? Please explain.

As a member of the TIF Reform Task Force, a number of recommendations were made and implemented over the past few years. These recommendations were to: 1) Establish TIF goals, 2) Allocate Resources, 3) Monitor Performance, 4) Increase Accountability, 5) Take Action and 6) Enhance Oversight and Administration. In keeping with these recommendations, the Mayor has performed an analysis of the City's existing TIF districts and identified surplus funds in certain districts. As a member of the City Council, I have supported returning appropriate surpluses to the taxing districts. I would support making such annual analysis a requirement. Additionally, while much information has been put online, more information should be made available, including M/WBE and city residency compliance. This will allow the public to see who is meeting, exceeding or failing to meet these goals.


Q: The Tribune Editorial Board recently offered "12 ways to heal a city" — the best ideas among more than 1,000 suggestions from readers on how to craft "A new Plan of Chicago." These proposals are available at chicagotribune.com/plan. Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.

I would champion the Schools as Tools suggestion. The recently closed schools could make great community centers for kids after school and on weekends. Mentoring programs for parents, tutoring for children and skills training are all needed in our community and working with non-profits in the neighborhood we could bring about this needed programming.


Q: Should the City Council keep or abolish the office of legislative inspector general? Should the city inspector general be given the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members? Do you have other ideas to improve government ethics in Chicago? Please explain.

When the Office of the Legislative Inspector General was created in 2010, the City Council established the Office's powers and duties, as it does with every city department. It is the obligation of the head of this Office to adhere to the powers and duties set forth by the City Council. The current Legislative Inspector General has not adhered to the powers and duties that the City Council has set forth. Furthermore, since the first full year of the Office, the City Council has increased the department's budget by 254%, yet the Legislative Inspector General has done little in all this time. The powers of the Legislative Inspector General are clearly defined in the City code and I voted for the ordinance creating this office. Expanding this authority to allow the Legislative Inspector General to initiate investigations or to permit anonymous complaints against duly elected Aldermen jeopardizes the rights of voters. Office initiated investigations and anonymous complaints afford too much opportunity for abuses in the Office of the Legislative Inspector General that could result in undoing the will of the voters.


Q: The Chicago Public Schools system has seen significant improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. CPS has also closed dozens of schools, used fiscal 2016 revenue to balance its 2015 budget and faces a roughly $700 million pension payment in 2016. Please give us your assessment of the academic and financial performance of the city's public schools. What is the key to improving public education in the city? Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? Do you support the longer school day and year? Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? How should CPS close its significant budget gap?

Progress has been made in the academic performance of students in Chicago Public Schools. The district, like the City, is facing serious financial challenges. We must build on the academic performance improvements and the key to this success is to focus resources on every school in the system so that each school is a school of choice. The Illinois General Assembly must identify additional funding so the district has the resources it needs to enhance academic performance. I do not support an elected school board because with such a small number of board members they are less likely to be truly representative of the City, even if elected. I do believe that the board members appointed by the Mayor should be approved by the full City Council. This will give people throughout Chicago a voice in Chicago Public Schools. I support a longer school day and year. I believe Chicago Public Schools should slow down the creation of charter schools until it can assess the academic performance of these schools to ensure they are in fact providing a quality education. To close its budget gap, the Illinois General Assembly must address school funding in such a manner that Chicago Public Schools can meet its obligations. CPS is up against its property tax cap and frankly homeowners can no longer afford to carry the overwhelming majority of the burden. The Illinois General Assembly has debated school funding for longer than I have been Alderman, it is time for them to fulfill their constitutional responsibility and fully fund education now.


Q: How would you attract more employers to your ward? How would you encourage employers to hire local residents? What have you done to promote economic development in your ward?

I am working on bringing additional economic development to the 34th Ward. In particular, a grocery store and a veteran's housing project. I work every day to promote the 34th Ward to potential businesses by identifying available sites and working with Planning and Development to bring businesses to the ward. My efforts to bring economic development are evidenced by construction of the largest urban solar facility in the world. This project resulted in construction jobs for local residents and continues to provide jobs through maintenance of the facility. Development of the 119th & Marshfield shopping center anchored by Target, Inc. has brought retail opportunities and jobs for our residents. To date, my proudest accomplishment is The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. This facility represents the largest single investment ever made by a social service organization in Chicago. It has garnered the sponsorship of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, Kids Golf Foundation and Trevian Soccer Club giving our children a strong foundation in teamwork. The project itself created more than 200 construction jobs, including jobs for local neighborhood residents. If you have not seen this facility, I urge you to come down and check it out. It is making a difference in the lives of 34th Ward residents every day.


Q: Do you support or oppose the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Please explain.

I support and voted for the minimum wage that increase the minimum wage to $13 by 2019 because the Illinois General Assembly failed to act during the veto session to raise wages for workers and I felt workers deserved a wage increase.


Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

Like the John G. Shedd Acquarium, Max Adler's Planetarium and the Marshall Field Museum before it, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be a great addition to the museum campus. It will bring tourists to Chicago. This means additional revenue for the City, which is something that is sorely needed.


Q: How can the city improve public safety? Please address the role and performance of the Chicago Police Department and the role of neighborhood residents in crime prevention. What have you done to improve public safety in your community?

The Chicago Police Department should restore the strike forces to target communities with high crime rates. These strike forces had great success in preventing crime and should never have been dismantled. In the 34th Ward, I promote the CAPS program and encourage residents to participate in the process. I also work closely with my police commanders to identify hot spots so that they can better deploy resources.


Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

I believe that if properly administered, the red light camera program can have a positive effect on driver's behavior. As it is currently run, the camera location do not shift frequently enough to change driver behavior and reduce blown red lights city-wide.


Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

I believe that the number of Aldermen making up the City Council should remain at 50. I've often heard people say the number of Aldermen should be reduced, but rarely do I hear a rational. If the rational is to save money, it might be of interest to note that the cost of current 50-member City Council and its staff is 0.03% of the City budget. This cost seems reasonable when you consider that roughly 55,000 people have direct access to me as their Alderman. Having smaller wards allows residents to know their Alderman, communicate with them and see the outcome of any action they take. How many Chicagoans can name their Congressman, State Senator or State Representative? How many Chicagoans can meet with any of these elected officials on a weekly basis like they can in the 34th Ward? In my ward I service 11,000 streets and 600 alleys today. Reducing the number of Aldermen in the City Council would increase that number significantly and reduce service to the residents. Reducing the number of Aldermen in the City Council will put constituents further away from their Alderman in less accountability, not more.


Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

Promoting more economic development is my highest priority because it will help grow the City's tax base, create jobs for 34th Ward residents and improve the overall value of homes in the ward. My residents most often mention education and crime as their greatest concerns. However, to obtain All of these goals I must find a way to reduce the Crime so that All of these efforts can take place.


Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I grew up on the Near Northside across the street from the first Public Housing Structure.


City Council, 34th Ward