- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August 9, 2014

Belleville News-Democrat

Whistling in the dark

For decades hospitals X-rayed Halloween candy and parents made their kids throw away apples and popcorn balls for fear that the bogeyman had inserted razor blades or needles.

How upsetting that we had a real bogeyman in our midst, inserting needles in packages of meat at Shop ‘N Save on North Belt West in Belleville. How unfortunate the ripples that those actions are likely to send through our community.

If the 68-year-old Belleville man on oxygen and in a wheelchair is in fact guilty, then we’ll all be looking for an explanation along with justice. Was Ronald Avers a mean old man, a sociopath, a PTSD victim or an animal rights activist?

But having that answer doesn’t do much to reassure a community. Justice will not fix the damaged reputation of our commercial community member. Removing Avers from society for the rest of his life won’t remove the specter.

Maybe our best course is to follow President Ronald Reagan’s advice: Trust, but verify. Don’t stop shopping at Shop ‘N Save: They discovered the culprit and have taken extra precautions. Just check your packaging.

We are our own last, best defense, and we also know the difference between fear, caution and foolhardiness.

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August 8, 2014

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Don’t give up on consolidation plan

Let’s hope this year is the last one in which Illinois voters will elect a comptroller and treasurer to statewide office.

The two offices can and should be combined, which would require voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution.

We suspect they would, if House Speaker Michael Madigan would allow the question on the ballot.

Illinois has a comptroller, whose job is to pay the bills, and a treasurer, whose job is to invest its money. Multiple attempts have been made to combine the two offices. Judy Baar Topinka, the current comptroller, has proposed doing so, as has Republican treasurer candidate Tom Cross and his Democratic opponent, Mike Frerichs.

As The Associated Press reported this week, Democratic comptroller candidate Sheila Simon opposes the idea, saying there are other ways for the state to save money.

Topinka and Treasurer Dan Rutherford estimated in 2011 that combining their offices into one “Comptroller of the Treasury” would save taxpayers about $12 million a year.

We supported the idea then and still do now. There is no reason for the state to have two separate offices with so much overlap. Of the five people either holding or seeking the offices, four agree they could be consolidated.

Madigan does not agree, however, and has used the power of his position to prevent amendment proposals from coming to a vote in the House. Most recently, a proposed constitutional amendment that was approved 55-0 in the state senate in 2011 was denied a vote in the state house.

It is yet another example of the outsized power that Madigan has, and his dedication to maintaining the old order, even when so many agree that change is needed.

The consolidation of the offices has popular support and should not be abandoned. Saving money should be the top priority for Illinois government today, and this is one way to accomplish it.

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August 8, 2014

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Debt continues to be problem for many Americans

Recent reports reveal that credit card balances are at their lowest level in a decade, a good sign that Americans either have more money at the end of the month or are beginning to realize that paying 20 percent interest on yesterday’s purchase isn’t great financial planning.

But the problem with debt is far from over, as a new study from the Urban Institute shows. More than 35 percent of Americans have been reported to credit agencies for unpaid debts, according to the institute. Certainly some of those involve debts that are in dispute, but most are bills that Americans can’t or won’t pay.

The average debt, including home mortgages, for those living in Illinois ($53,353), Missouri ($47,214) and Iowa ($46,626) ranks below the national average of $53,850. The study shows that the percentage of adults with debt in collection in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa ranks near the bottom nationally - generally at 8.1 percent or lower - so the problem isn’t particularly acute here, but it does exist.

The South and West are the biggest trouble spots. Credit is no less available in poorer areas of the country, but it comes with higher interest rates and more penalizing terms. And the problem is a serious one. Being reported to a collection agency can have negative consequences on more than a person’s credit score. It can affect whether someone gets a job or qualifies for housing or student loans.

Many of these debts are tied to medical bills. Older people and even younger people in poor health find themselves with crippling hospital bills that they simply can’t keep up with.

The fact that people are managing their consumer credit better is a positive sign that collection activities could decline over time. That depends, of course, on a strong economy and an improved job market with better wages for poorer Americans.

However, wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five-year recovery since mid-2009 from the Great Recession, according to Labor Department figures. A separate measure by Wells Fargo found that after-tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.

What that leaves us with is that there are no clear answers to this debt problem, but it is paramount that it be addressed.

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August 7, 2014

The (Freeport) Journal Standard

Governor should veto ride-sharing bill

Ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar may never come to cities such as Rockford and Freeport, but that doesn’t mean residents of northern Illinois should ignore what’s going on in Springfield.

Ride-sharing companies have entered Illinois, mainly Chicago, because there’s a demand for their services. House Bill 4075, which is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, would make it more difficult for the ride-sharing companies to do business in Illinois.

We think the governor should veto the bill.

An app on your phone can connect you with the nearest driver. Ride-sharing drivers use their personal vehicles and are not beholden to a cab company. They are available day or night and travel through neighborhoods that historically have been underserved by taxis. Patrons like the convenience the technology offers and the reasonable prices.

It’s an innovative approach and creates entrepreneurs out of folks who may have trouble finding employment elsewhere.

Let the free market decide whether a service is needed. Illinois should not restrict innovation or a service that creates jobs. Illinois’ unemployment rate has been declining but it is still among the highest in the nation.

There should be standards, but this legislation sets the bar too high and will discourage ride-sharing companies from operating here.

Which would be fine for cab companies, but not for consumers.

The legislation has become an issue in the race for governor. Republican Bruce Rauner, who generally thinks there should be less regulation on Illinois businesses, wants Quinn to veto the bill. Quinn has given no hints as to what he will do.

Ride-sharing is just another transportation option and people should have as many options as possible when they’re trying to get from here to there.

Veto the bill, governor, and show that Illinois is open to innovation, new ideas and new business.

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