- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 27, 2014

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Future of state’s income tax

When state lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday, they are expected to take up the future of the state’s income tax.

The right thing to do is to keep their word to the public and allow the increase to roll back beginning in 2015.

The history of the tax increase is dubious in and of itself: It was passed in January 2011 with the help of lame-duck lawmakers, some of whom went on to find gainful employment working for the state of Illinois.

The increase hiked the tax on personal income from 3 to 5 percent for individuals, and on corporate income from 7.3 to 9.5 percent.

While this unpopular increase was negotiated, lawmakers decided that it should be temporary, and that by 2015, rates should decline to 3.75 percent for personal income and 7.75 for corporate income.

The argument against allowing the tax to roll back is that it will create budget deficits: Gov. Pat Quinn’s office of management and budget projects the state budget deficit would grow to $1.9 billion in 2015 and $4.1 billion in 2016 if legislators keep their word to taxpayers. But that seems more like an argument for the state to adjust its spending priorities, something that is long overdue. Illinoisans haven’t been paying the full price of the government they have, which is evident from the $100 billion in unfunded pension obligations and backlog of unpaid bills the state has accrued.

The chief benefit of the income tax increase has been to enable the state to continue spending beyond its means. Despite all-time highs in collected revenue, the unpaid bills remain, as does the pension chasm and the state’s lowest-in-the-nation credit rating.

Rather than focusing on retaining a “temporary” tax increase, legislators instead should spend the time before the tax increase rollback to create a government we can afford. We also need to find revenue streams beyond the old standbys of “sin taxes” on tobacco, booze, and gambling, gambling and more gambling.

One sure-fire way to generate more revenue without hiking taxes is to grow the economy and attract new jobs. To do that, Illinois needs a tax policy that makes it more attractive to outside investment, not less. High taxes on people and companies are not a selling point.

Lawmakers included a sunset clause in the tax increase legislation for a reason. Now is the time for them to make the tough decisions they did not make in 2011.

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January 26, 2014

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

The lengthy winter of our discontent

There are, we understand, people who cozy up to winter, who regale like children in the drifting snow, come alive at the icy bite of a freezing wind, find beauty in the stark jagged lines the tree branches trace across the graying sky, enjoy the dim of the dark and early nights. They are, we believe, carefree people who dress in sweaters and savor hot chocolate and marvel endlessly among themselves at the simple poetic virtue of a single snowflake, how each - can you imagine? - is different from any other.

Yes, we understand there are people like that in this frigid world. Some of them, we’re told, even live in the frigid suburbs. But rest assured, this month, none of them sits on our Editorial Board.

Don’t get us wrong. We do not have any philosophical problem with winter. A little white Christmas is nice. And we enjoy the change of seasons as much as the next fellow.

Well, for a day or two, or maybe even for a week. Yes, we’re hardy Midwesterners to be sure.

However, there are limits.

We don’t know whether to blame this tiresome winter on Springfield, an easy target to blame for most of the suburbs’ problems, or on Obamacare, which seems to get the blame for everything else.

But our patience has grown thin. It’s time that the wintry weather stop. Unfortunately, despite our editorial position on the matter, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The forecast for this week calls for more dangerous subzero weather, and the long-range forecast doesn’t portend much better throughout February.

That being the case, let us all remember the safety lessons the Polar Vortex has reinforced. If you need to use a space heater, exercise proper caution, and unless it’s absolutely essential don’t go to sleep with it running. When you need to shovel snow, don’t overdo it; take breaks and know your limitations. On snow-covered streets, set aside extra time, drive defensively and try to avoid sudden stops and turns. Check in on older friends, relatives and neighbors. Use common sense in dressing for the weather; wear scarves, caps and mittens, and make sure kids and teenagers don’t slip out of the house without them,

Mainly, let’s all look out for each other.

Stay safe. Stay warm. And c’mon, Spring!

___

January 26, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

The bottom line: global warming bad for business

Guilt, cajoling and hard science don’t appear to do the trick.

Perhaps an unbalanced balance sheet will.

At the annual four-day World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the threat of global warming took center stage, with a focus on the ways in which a warming planet is bad for business.

And it’s a very long list indeed, Jeffrey Seabright, Coca-Cola’s vice president for environment and water resources, told the New York Times: “Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years.” Seabright said these changes disrupt Coke’s supply of sugar cane, sugar beets and citrus for its fruit juices.

“When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats,” he said.

A big enough threat, we hope, to finally kick start a meaningful worldwide effort to curb carbon emissions. Irrefutable science showing that global warming is real, and that human activity is the cause, does not seem to be enough.

Global warming hurts the bottom line by disrupting business - threatening water supplies, raising food costs and interrupting supply chains. And top business leaders, including Coke and Nike, are taking notice, changing their practices and lobbying for policy changes, the New York Times reported.

It’s a start, and a hugely important one. Until the folks that make economies move feel threatened by global warming, nothing will change. They can alter their practices and put great pressure on governments to act.

The world economy is at risk, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said, if governments from around the world fail to reach a deal on lowering carbon emissions at the next major round of climate talks in Paris in late 2015.

Here’s hoping pressure from business finally does the trick.

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January 25, 2014

The (Alton) Telegraph

God and graduation an uneasy mix for schools

One doesn’t need a calendar anymore to know the end of another school year is approaching.

Instead, look for the flurry of letters threatening school officials with legal action should someone so much as mention God during the graduation ceremony.

A four-month warning has already been given to administrators of Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School in southern Illinois. The American Humanist Association is threatening a lawsuit if the school doesn’t stop prayers from being offered during graduation ceremonies.

It’s the first time Principal Matt Vollmann said there has been any complaint about the student-led prayer. It has been a part of graduation for as long as most people can remember.

The American Humanist Association maintains the prayer forces students to take part in a religious activity.

So once again there is a clash between amendments. The question becomes which should win: Freedom of speech or separation of church and state?

Here in the nation of the aggrieved, it is no longer acceptable to find a middle ground. There has to be a winner and there has to be a loser in the game, and the winning side does not necessarily reflect the will of the majority.

No, it wouldn’t be fair to tell someone who disagreed with prayer at graduation to simply not attend the ceremony. This is a momentous event that should welcome those of all beliefs and all backgrounds.

It is just as unfair to prohibit students - free from the intrusion of school officials - from giving thanks and praise to those they consider instrumental in their four-year journey: Parents, educators and, yes, God.

It is what the courts have referred to as private speech versus government speech. The Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional to invite clergy for the purpose of prayer, but has sent mixed messages about student-led prayers in other instances.

The high court’s 1992 ruling made it clear schools cannot be the sponsors of graduation prayers because of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. But it has said students can express themselves during such ceremonies and that expression might include prayer.

A moment of silence or separate baccalaureate ceremonies not sponsored by the schools are generally considered safe.

Some schools have gone to the extreme of cancelling graduation exercises entirely to avoid the issue. That is a misguided approach to take as well.

What usually ends up driving schools’ decisions, then, is not tradition or majority desires but fear of litigation.

It’s a shame the last lessons many high school seniors have to learn are constitutional and case law.

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