County pol eyes Medicare for All

Brandon Johnson is looking at progressive taxes as well

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Brandon Johnson, the Austin resident and former Chicago Public Schools teacher, pulled off a narrow, seemingly unlikely, victory against incumbent Richard Boykin to win the 1st District Cook County Commissioner seat by running well to the left of his opponent.

Now that he's been sworn-in, the veteran organizer is poised to be the most vocally progressive member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

"There's opportunity for real, bold progressive ideas to come from the county level of government," Johnson said in his first interview with Austin Weekly News since taking office.

The former Chicago Teachers Union organizer said that he's still committed to many of the most ambitious proposals he called for while on the campaign trail — proposals, he said, that he's advocated for years as an organizer and activist.

Top of the list are ways of redistributing revenue that has been hoarded by wealthy individuals and corporations, so that it equitably flows to its highest and best use, he indicated.

"There's a whole host of things the district can benefit from with a progressive revenue stream," Johnson said, adding that the range of likely revenue sources spans a spectrum of political possibilities.

The legalization of marijuana, which given the election of Gov. J.B. Pritzker could happen quickly and lead to an influx of tax revenue, is "well-positioned to become a reality," Johnson said, before adding that he believes the additional revenue has to lead to more opportunities for 1st District residents, particularly those in marginalized communities, to own businesses and have decent jobs.

A more distant possibility is the implementation of a county-wide corporate head tax, something the new commissioner said that he's still exploring. A head tax would require large corporations to pay a tax on each of their employees.

 "The corporate head tax is important," Johnson said. "Corporations continue to get tax breaks, over and over again. Donald Trump continues to release any of these folks from any real responsibility to invest in our communities."

Johnson said that he has some ideas about how the tax can be structured and what the revenue can go toward, adding that he's willing to explore ways to provide companies some relief of the corporate tax if they're willing to hire locally.

One particularly ambitious plan that the county might be able to fund from the additional revenue is Medicare for All, which Johnson adamantly supports.

"It's one thing to offer a decent salary, but that benefit packet is what many families look to now," he said. "The county needs to lead the way in Medicare for All. I believe there are ways we can phase it in, maybe looking at folks who are 55 and older. Access to health care is a human right."

Johnson said that implementing Medicare for All — which means that health care for people who qualify for the program would be funded by the government, as opposed to a patchwork of private insurance providers — could be a boon even to businesses, since it would ease the burden of paying for their employees' health care.

As a whole, Johnson said, his approach to  achieving these policy wins is rooted in the unapologetic progressivism that won him the seat. Far from limiting his radicalism to the relative provincial demands of a county commissioner's role, Johnson said, he intends to expand the office.  

"If anyone believes that I'm going to limit myself as the county commissioner and stay in some imaginary lane, they're wrong," he said. "The people of the first district voted for change. They voted for a bold, progressive, radical approach to how government works."



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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 31st, 2019 9:52 AM

What happened to The Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare? Does Obamacare get revoked,or do we now have two health care systems? Why don't the citizens have access to the health plans that federal elected officials have?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 4:37 PM

Despite claiming to have balanced budgets at the start of every year, Cook County has finished each of the last 5 years, on average, $625 million in the hole. Repeat: over a one-half billion dollar loss every year for 5 years despite a "balanced" budget. How about before expanding services, the county board proves it can manage its resources within the context of the agreed-upon budget?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 3:42 PM

Corporations are going to be lining up to leave the County if this genius does an employee head tax. Certainly an end to any new investment in employees here. Let's see, a tax that can be avoided by simply having employees anywhere but Cook County. If only all the citizens could avoid this guy ruining our local economy as easily.

Nick Polido  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 2:07 PM

It looks like our progressive brethren have elected their very own AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ).

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 10:13 AM

I just love the halo effect with the seal behind his head.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 8:42 AM

Due to a loophole in the pension code, union employees who were previously employed as teachers (such as Mr. Johnson) participate in the taxpayer-funded teacher pension systems TRS and CTPF. Typically, these are the unions' highest paid employees. Over the past 2 years, the Chicago Teachers Union was delinquent in paying their required employer contribution into the severely underfunded pension system. When you can't follow the rules of the road you're on, imaginary lanes should be your last concern. #learningisfun (see:§ion=Article)

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 30th, 2019 1:19 AM

How about boldly identifying all the no work County employees like Alderman Burke's son who are on the payroll, then unapologetically fire them. Because the tax raises have been paying for that and it is getting really old.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 7:31 PM

Nick Binotti, Tell us more. This would be yet another go with property taxes and the coming soon progressive income tax. Who funded Brandon Johnson's campaign?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 7:02 PM

You don't get a refund Daniel. That is precisely the point. But YOU (and I) will get a new tax. You can bet on that.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 5:59 PM

"A bold, progressive, radical approach". Translation: "I'm a committed socialist. I have no body or knowledge, qualifications or experience for any of this, but I'm going to shove my ideas for a leftist government full of unmitigated central state planning down your throats. I have absolutely no clue as to how to design, execute or pay for any of this, but I know enough key neo-Marxist phraseology and, of course, the gullible Cook County voted will keep me in office for life".

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 4:59 PM

QUIZ: In 2017, what Illinois corporation recorded $25 million in cash receipts, held over $6 million in investments, owned 3 office buildings, had 42 vice presidents on staff, yet paid nothing in corporate income taxes? ANSWER: The Illinois Federation of Teachers, parent company of the Chicago Teachers Union. #wouldyouliketoknowmore?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 3:22 PM

FUN FACT: When Chicago had an Employers' Expense Tax (aka corporate head tax), Johnson's "non-profit" Chicago Teachers Union was exempt from paying it. #themoreyouknow

Daniel Finnegan  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 2:58 PM

I've been paying into Medicare with wage payroll tax deductions my entire working career and now it will be free for all. Who do I see for my refund?

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