Election 2024 Questionnaire: Cohen Barnes, Illinois House District 76

Election 2024
Democratic candidate Cohen Barnes, who is vying for the nomination for the 76th district seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, answers a question Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in a meet the candidates forum at the DeKalb Public Library. Democratic candidates Amy Murri Briel and Carolyn Zasada also spoke at the event organized by DeKalb Stands and co-sponsored by the DeKalb County Democrats.

Cohen Barnes, a Democratic candidate for Illinois House District 76 in the March primary election, answered these questions from the Shaw Local News Network.

Full Name: Cohen Barnes

What office are you seeking? State Representative for the 76th District

What public offices, if any, have you previously held? School Board Member for DeKalb School District CUSD #428

City: DeKalb

Occupation: President of SundogIT and Mayor of the City of DeKalb.

Campaign website: www.voteforbarnes.com

Considering the increasing influx of migrants to Illinois, how do you propose the state should address the challenges?

We need to advocate at the federal level to express the need that we have right now does require federal involvement in the form of dollars to states and local municipalities to support those immigrants the federal government have granted the status of asylum to. Having local cities shoulder this humanitarian crises without federal support is ridiculous. We also need to advocate on the longer term issue of stronger border control and overall immigration reform.

What are the top issues facing your district and what would you like to do to address those issues?

Because this district is geographically so distant, I think there are different needs. But we have many similarities. Economic Development, Quality of Life, and Fiscal Responsibility are key components to bringing good healthcare, public safety, and investment in our infrastructure. These are many of the same things I have focused on with great success as Mayor of the City of DeKalb.

If there was one bill that you could get through the legislature next year, what would it be?

Restoration of LGDF. This is a fund that municipalities benefited from that the state greatly reduced a decade ago which reduced the amount of funds a community had to spend on needs that individual community identified as making the greatest impact. It is another form of the state controlling a local cities ability to address the needs they know are the highest priority.

If there was one recently passed law you could repeal, what would it be?

It really comes down to focusing on unfunded mandates that the state requires local cities and school districts to follow. It is not fair for the state to require local governments to implement additional programs when funding is not provided accordingly. Then to exacerbate the situation, they continue to find ways to cut local government agency funding, reducing the resources required to fund the greatest needs in a community.

Do you support term limits? If yes, why and what would they look like? And if no, why not?

I think we should limit the terms of government officials in leadership positions. That would be an easy first step to making sure no one has the ability to control power over a great period of time.

Taxes are a top concern of Illinois voters. What do you think the underlying issues are and how would you propose addressing them?

As Mayor of the City of DeKalb, we have been able to lower our Property Tax Rate every year I have been in office. And this didn’t just happen. It took bringing all the taxing bodies together for multiple taxing summits to get everyone on the same page of driving our tax rate down. Then, it took multiple meetings with individual board members and then advocating in public meetings before the entire board, plus engaging the community to come out to support this idea for this reduction to happen. I have driven this discussion, the community involvement and the overall outcome of tax reduction. I have proven experience to making this happen.

What are three things the state legislature could do to promote better fiscal responsibility within state government?

The revenue we have is all the money we have to spend. Increasing taxes is not a solution for success. If we want to provide more services to citizens in Illinois, then we need to increase those revenue streams. In the City of DeKalb, we continue to focus on bringing in more industry to DeKalb to increase the amount of dollars each taxing body has to increase the services they provide. An example would be the DeKalb CUSD #428 increased their budget by 9 million dollars this year without having to ask taxpayers to pay one dollar more. This truly is a successful model and is a result of the city bringing in over a billion dollars in economic development which increased and diversified the tax base. So, our focus needs to be on attracting new business which means more jobs and opportunities for Illinois while also increasing the new tax revenue our taxing bodies look for.

Do you support the Illinois gun ban? Why or why not? Please be specific.

As a hunter, I know many law abiding and responsible gun owners. As State Representative, I will advocate tirelessly to ensure public safety measures are in place around gun control. Northern Illinois University here in DeKalb is among the many places nationwide that has been a victim to gun violence on a mass scale. The system we have in place right now is not working. We need to start working and addressing the root cause to these mass shootings in a thoughtful and collaborative approach which I know is possible. But these measures should not be punitive to all the law abiding gun owners we currently have in our great state.

What is your opinion of the role of tax incentives in economic development and business growth? Should tax incentives be offered to corporations to entice them to plant roots in local communities? Why or why not?

In the City of DeKalb, was have leveraged Governor Pritzker’s tax incentive programs like the Enterprise Zone and the Mega Sites Grant to drive continued economic development. These tax incentives allow Illinois to be competitive with our surrounding states in order to attract new business. If not but for these incentives, we would not have seen the unprecedented and historic economic development we have seen in the City of DeKalb. This economic development has resulted in over one billion dollars in investment, created over 1,000 new union construction jobs, and the revenue from these investments has allowed us to reduce our tax rate every year that I have been Mayor of the City of DeKalb. Now, there always needs to be balance for sure, but there are some tax incentive programs, like the ones I referenced above, that lead to new job creation, new tax revenue which results in lower taxes for everyone else!

How would you classify the state of public health in your district? Do you believe access to affordable healthcare is an issue? Why or why not? If you believe it’s an issue, what ideas do you have to remedy it?

Healthcare costs continue to rise putting an unnecessary burden on Illinoisans. Having seen firsthand the impact of healthcare on people I love who in their greatest need experienced their greatest financial hardship, we need to continue working to drive healthcare costs down. But it is also important to focus on accessibility. Cheap healthcare is not helpful if you do not have a hospital or clinics locally to access. As we are the greatest nation in the world, healthcare should be something every citizen has affordable and easy access to.