Mary Ellen “Mari” Brown
Running for: 11th District State Senate
Political party affiliation: Democracy in America
Political/civic background: President for the Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce, Founding Member for the Gateway to Midway project
Occupation: Small Business owner
Education: MBA, focus in accounting
Campaign website: www.maryellenforsenate.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees 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. Mary Ellen “Mari” Brown 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.
The shortfall keeps getting pushed onto the next administration. A hard look at admin costs should be reviewed for cuts, stop pay increases for all politicians and top salary income. Income can be produced from opening casinos. Tax payers are sick of being squeezed and they should not be one of the first go to resources for generating income.
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?
F, Pritzker was quick to help stop the spread of Covid-19 by shutting down all businesses he deemed un-essential, but did nothing to stop the hiking property tax bills that were received, specifically in Cook County, he should have put moratoriums on property tax hikes, instead of businesses being hit with 30%+ increases. He should have better equipped our first responders and offered PPE for those working in essential jobs. The State should have helped to subsidize the essential employees with a pay premium during the most critical months.
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?
Police procedures and community policing opportunities should be reviewed. We need more unity in our communities and it needs to start at the community level. I’d like to see requirements for police to spend time “playing” in the community they service, getting to know those they are there to help and allowing the community to realize police are just peace officers, we all need to understand respect for one another.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes, the safety of the officers and those they serve would benefit from body camera footage and accountability.
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?
ComEd and the legislative members involved should be held accountable. Term limits on committees needs to be reviewed to help deter corruption. Voters should have the right to vote on this to determine if they would prefer to see term limits.
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.
As president for the local chamber of commerce, I have been able to bring community events to the area – back to school giveaways, pet parades, community expo, resources for new and existing businesses, honoring of teachers and first responders. All of these events and projects help to improve quality of life in our communities and offers ways for our business community to connect with those they serve.
I am also a founding member for the Gateway to Midway project to make improvements to Cicero Ave from I55 to Midway airport and bringing overall resources to Southwest Chicago. This area is in need of economic development, which helps to create jobs, increase taxable income, improve quality of life and overall health of our communities. I have always been very active in my children’s school community as a girl scout leader, volleyball coach, etc.
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.
- Cicero Ave is a major state road that serves not only the millions of visitors in and out of Midway Airport but also the residents of the communities, they deserve a better representation of their area than what is currently there. The area has been sadly overlooked by both the State and City.
- The Railroads that operate in the community should be required to maintain their bridges and create youth community clean-up/art opportunities to paint the bridges with beautiful artwork that represents the community.
- Small business relief, education and resources needs to be available and accessible in communities. Small business regulations can be excessive and difficult to understand, simplification of processes and cut the red tape, and business development funding. Businesses that can thrive and not just survive offer more good paying jobs, pay higher taxes and create a better quality of life.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Women’s right to alternative birthing options should be available everywhere, birthing centers outside of a hospital setting. Immigration reform, pathways to citizenship that are simplified and obtainable. Healthcare reform that offers options for every person and also includes mental health and prescription drugs. As opioid abuse continues to increase more resources need to be available. Legislation for repeat offenders, violent crimes and crimes against Seniors, peace officers and Disabled persons should be stricter and enforced. As a mother of an adult child with Autism, I would like to see more services available in communities, parks that are accessible and safe for disabled and autistic persons.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I am against the current suggested graduated system, I do not believe it benefits the overall system. A better system can be implemented that is fair to all parties.
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?
Pensions are a very important part of legislature reform that is needed. Review of admin costs and putting limits on these costs can help. Offering a 401k option, combining pension groups, incentivizing admins only after certain metrics are achieved. A volunteer program to offer tax breaks can be worked out to offer more opportunities to higher education.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No, we already taxed them every step of the way earning that money. We have the highest property and sales taxes in the Country. We are losing retirees to other states because of tax concerns. We have to stop pushing the wealthy residents around and find better ways to create income for the State.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
I believe that improvements to education needs to start in the home, it needs to be a priority and a family commitment. This can be difficult for working parents, so community resources should be used in underserved areas to help bridge the gap from what is learned at school and what cannot e done in the home. Work with corporate sponsors and community leaders to implement programs. An expanded Career Day program that gives students a week long “mentor” opportunity for career options. STEM programs and other programs that bring in specialized career mentors, such as: designers, engineers, architects, police, etc. that can really help open the eyes for our youth to see the opportunities that are available and how the things you learn in school are really applicable in life. Work with Unions to offer apprenticeship programs to our high schools to foster options for students not prepared to go straight to college.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Gun legislature needs to be reviewed, most guns used in crimes are not purchased through the legalized gun structure. Crimes used with guns illegally obtained should have additional penalties included, and enforced.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Yes, I am in favor of term limits on committees. Fresh blood is needed to bring in fresh ideas and to help prevent corruption. However high turnover is not always effective, so there is an opportunity for mentor programs within the legislature.
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?
Redistricting should be done to help prevent gerrymandering. Most residents do not understand why the districts are positioned the way they are, it would make more sense for the average person to simplify the districts.
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?
It is very important to have legislature that protects voters from lobbyist attempting to unfairly influence the system. A watchdog attitude and reporting is a good step towards transparency.
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?
There should be legislation to protect consumers and their information. When consumers make a purchase they should be asked in a very obvious way if they give permission to share their information or advise that their purchase will not keep their personal information safe. If companies fail to keep consumer information safe after they opted out, the companies should be fined.
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?
I would love to see Illinois provide free higher education, even if it is only an online system to start. If we could incentivize high school students with higher GPA’s a vastly reduced tuition or if we can incentivize internships to help with tuition costs, I think we could attract more local talented youths to stay here. Higher education is not always the plan for all students, I would also like to see programs that offer apprenticeships to high school students to start a career path.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Legislation offering tax incentives to companies and residents that can implement and develop new green initiatives. Including manufacturing processes that offer a green option, packaging options that can implement less waste – we all can do better to preserve the planet and environment for future generations.
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.
Jane Addams, she was a progressive female that really cared about social injustice and did a lot of very effective work to help bring resources to help the most blighted areas. She hired the first black female doctor, she was ahead of her time, and understood that everyone deserves a better quality of life and worked hard to help working mothers and immigrants.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Friends is one of my favorites. I would watch it when it first came out and be on the phone with several girlfriends at the same time enjoying the show. Now my daughters are watching the show for the first time. It’s important for our mental health to just take a deep breath and find something that makes us laugh out loud!