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Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon visited Evanston on Aug. 6, ostensibly to thank the League of Women Voters for their efforts to help create more equitable legislative districts in Illinois. With a receptive audience of about 30 at the Evanston Public Library, however, she expanded her speech to include two of her other projects and to answer questions about politics and government.
In addition to drawing a fair legislative map, Ms. Simon said equalizing funding for education and creating a more transparent financial disclosure statement for legislators are her priorities for her remaining months in office. She will not seek re-election as Lieutenant Governor but instead is running for State Comptroller.
Redrawing the Boundaries
Ms. Simon said she supports redrawing legislative districts so they are competitive. The current system, she said, has “basically single-party districts that move the [election] contest to the Primary Election, where people go to extremes.” Naming districts by their geographical location rather than by their representatives – the 17th legislative district, as an example – she said, can help create the idea of fairness and power to the voters.
The League of Women Voters has been working toward redistricting reform in conjunction with the political group Yes for Independent Maps to amend the section of the Illinois Constitution relating to redistricting. According to the website of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, in late June, Circuit Court Judge Mary L. Mikva found that their redistricting amendment did not meet the requirements of Article IV, §3 of the Illinois Constitution.
The website says, “Judge Mikva wrote that ‘precedent dictates a very narrow provision for allowing the voters to directly enact amendments to the Illinois Constitution of 1970.’ At the same time, however, she wrote that “redistricting appears to be fair game for amendment by [an] Article IV, §3 initiative,” which is indeed encouraging for further attempts to engage another petition effort similar to the LWVIL Fair Map Amendment and the more recent Yes for Independent Maps.”
With that effort, Ms. Simon said, “we really had the opportunity to inject bipartisanship into elections.” She said, “Judge Mikva said [the map amendment] needed fine-tuning. The good news is that there is a member of the House of Representatives who is trying to get it approved.”
Ms. Simon spoke of her North Shore roots. She said her mother had represented Evanston and Wilmette in Springfield when there were three representatives per district, which ensured bipartisanship.
Ms. Simon said she supports education reform and believes that Senate Bill 16 will help achieve that goal, in part because it will give more funding to downstate schools. If passed in its current form, however, the bill would cause School District 65 to lose about $6.5 million in state aid each year. Ms. Simon said school districts could “add to” their funds, but she did not elaborate how.
Public schools are supported principally through property tax revenues, and the state limits how much a district can levy each year by imposing a tax cap equal to the lesser of 5% or the consumer price index. New property added to the tax base is exempt from tax caps during the first year it is on the tax rolls.
The RoundTable sent several emails to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, seeking clarification of her comment about how a public school district could “add to” its funds.
Kenneth Lowe, a spokesperson for Ms. Simon, responded by email but did not answer the RoundTable’s question: “Lt. Governor Simon is working to address the inequitable and inadequate funding of our education system. She supports SB 16, the education bill you referenced, because she strongly believes that a student’s zip code should not dictate the quality of education they receive. That bill realigns the funding formula and allocates to schools based on need. “She has also stated that funding for education is critical investment in our future workforce and supports maintaining or increasing funding to education.
“Voters will get to weigh in on an advisory referendum in November to create a ‘millionaire tax,’ which would increase taxes on those with the very highest income and would be allocated, in part, toward education funding. The Lieutenant Governor supports this measure and is committed to working with the legislature to reform our tax system.”
“After consulting with our staff: nothing on the table affects tax caps.”
Financial Disclosure Statement
Ms. Simon said the current financial disclosure statement elected officials are required to submit is termed a “none” sheet “because it discloses very little. It has not been revised in 40 years.” She would “have an income-threshold,” she said, that would require elected officials to disclose all sources of income of $5,000 or more. “Part of this is the whole idea of trust,” she said.
“I want to have it open who you are financially tied to,” she said. “Conflicts of interest should not keep people from holding offices, but they should keep them [at certain times] from voting.”