- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dec. 13, 2015

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

‘Piecemeal’ budgeting no way to run a state

The General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner agreed on something last week - spending more money the state doesn’t have.

The House and Senate approved, and Rauner signed, a bill authorizing about $3.1 billion in spending as the state nears the end of its sixth month without a budget.

Actually, a good deal of the spending was necessary. The bill will unleash already collected money that was designated to local governments to maintain roads and 911 call centers. The bill also will allow Illinois Lottery winners of more than $600 to be paid, provides funds for energy assistance to homeowners, provides funds to the secretary of state’s office to keep licensing facilities open and also provides funding for State Police crime labs and other services.

So, while the “piecemeal” budget action was necessary, it’s still a lousy way to run the state.

The problem is Illinois is spending significantly more money than it is collecting. Because of legislation like this and court-mandated funding, the state is scheduled to spend about the same amount as it did during the previous fiscal year.

But there’s a problem: the state’s income tax was rolled back at the beginning of the year. That is causing a $5 billion budget deficit that is being piled on top of the $7 billion in unpaid bills the state already owes. That doesn’t include the $111 billion the state owes in unfunded pension obligations.

Rauner and the legislative leaders did meet last Tuesday for the second time in two weeks and another meeting in scheduled for this week.

The participants said last week’s meeting was cordial and minor progress was made. The political leaders agreed that pension reform needs to be addressed and that it may be possible to come to an agreement on workers’ compensation insurance reforms. Rauner also wants term limits for legislators, a less political approach to drawing the state’s political maps and curbing the rights of labor unions on collectively bargaining.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has said those are “extreme,” non-budget issues and that the budget should be approved first.

However, the reality of the calendar is unaffected by the political aspects of this impasse. The longer the state goes without a budget plan, the deeper the hole. Getting out of the hole will be painful because the state will have to raise taxes and curtail spending. Taxpayers will, in essence, pay more for less because of this impasse.

Piecemeal solutions like the one approved last week may well be necessary. But it’s a poor excuse for a properly-constructed budget.

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Dec. 12, 2015

Belleville News-Democrat

Cops must keep cool or community pays price

When someone loudly and repeatedly calls you foul names, tells you that your wife and daughter will be performing sex acts, challenges your masculinity and your sexual preference, you’d really need to be a professional to ignore it all and continue doing your job.

Former Washington Park Police officer James Boyd was not up to that challenge on April 11. As a result, the village is paying out an undisclosed settlement to Yancy Carden, 35, of Sikeston, Mo.

Carden and his wife on April 11 had a date night at the Club Hollywood strip club. They were faced with a $200 bar bill, their bank cards were not working and they were arrested.

The video from the police station holding area shows Yancy Carden bleeding, asking for medical attention, kicking walls and a metal bench and telling his wife he was going to sue and get paid. Both of his hands were handcuffed to a chain attached to the wall. He kept baiting Boyd and Boyd cracked.

Boyd was not charged and left Washington Park for other work. State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said the evidence standard is different in criminal court than in a civil case, and he cited state law about using force to protect property.

The surveillance video shows the station wall denting as Carden kicks it, but Boyd does not use the Taser until five minutes later when Carden is smacking his foot against a metal bench as he questions Boyd’s manhood. Boyd uses the Taser when Carden stands up.

Retired Washington Park Police Sgt. Kevin McAfee blew the whistle after Boyd showed him the video the next day. Whether Boyd was showing off or asking for his superior’s review of his actions is unclear.

McAfee in a deposition contrasted Boyd’s actions to standards in the Metro East Police District Policy Manual, which raises a good point: Increasing that district’s presence and power is exactly what needs to happen for those communities. The district is intended to establish uniform standards, increase training and give the East St. Louis, Alorton, Brooklyn and Washington Park police departments a modern station with secure evidence vaults. What is really warranted is merging all the departments.

Small municipalities are limited in their ability to attract, train, pay and keep professional police officers, so they are all but doomed to pay out settlements. If the four communities do not view better protection of their communities as reason enough to pursue full consolidation, maybe they will do it to ensure financial survival.

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Dec. 10, 2015

The (Kankakee) Daily Journal

Here’s a message to Madigan on tax hike idea

If you wonder why Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is often considered smug and arrogant, look no further than his performance on Wednesday when he made a rare public appearance by speaking to an audience at the City Club of Chicago.

During the appearance, Madigan suggested “a good place to begin” in solving the state’s massive debt crisis would be to raise the individual tax rate back to 5 percent and the corporate tax rate to 7 percent.

These percentages are where the rates stood after lawmakers put a temporary tax increase in place in 2011. The hike expired at the end of last year, and was lowered to 3.75 percent and 5.25 percent, respectively.

When Illinois workers received their first paychecks following the decrease, there were a few extra bucks there, and it helped countless people who are struggling to make ends meet.

Madigan apparently doesn’t recognize how this has benefited state residents, including those who make up the 22nd House District he represents. Those folks first elected him in 1970 and have returned him to Springfield in every election since, and no, they hardly are among the economic elite. The 22nd District, now mostly Hispanic, surrounds Midway Airport on the working class southwest side of Chicago.

But, then again, geography is perhaps the only thing Madigan shares with his constituents. While he has stubbornly refused to release his tax returns, it’s a given he is a very wealthy man. When he was asked earlier this year if a “millionaire tax” would apply to him, he responded by saying “in a good year, I would be subject to it.”

So a 1.25 percent jump in income taxes would hardly place a burden on him. It wouldn’t mean the difference in choosing between paying for groceries or his electric bill. It wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of him dining out once every so often or taking a vacation. Life would go on as normal for him and the relatively few others who easily could absorb such an increase

But what about the rest of us? Let’s say the decrease put an extra $10 per week in your pocket. That’s $520 per year. For a whole lot of people, that’s a whole lot of money.

What’s more, Madigan makes no mention of pushing reforms to rein in government spending. It’s just more of the same with him, and if a tax-and-spend approach had any advantages, this state would be living on the proverbial easy street rather than choking in debt.

The nonchalant attitude he exhibited, while proposing another tax hike, proves again why Madigan needs to go. The idea of applying term limits to elected officials has plenty of merit, if for no other reason than it would once and all rid the state of this guy.

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Dec. 11, 2016

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Background check policy mere prudence

There’s nothing wrong with conducting criminal background checks for prospective University of Illinois employees.

In the unlikely event university trustees forgot about it, faculty members in the campus senate voted Dec. 7 to express their displeasure with a new background check policy for prospective employees.

Faculty members said they have “no confidence” in the policy, characterizing it as “discriminatory.”

Frankly, that vote makes it difficult to have much confidence in the judgment of members of the senate. What they are urging, in effect, is a policy of willful blindness in this particular aspect of university hiring.

It’s tempting to write off the vote as members of the faculty senate acting like members of the faculty senate. One acknowledged the vote is strictly “symbolic” because the background check policy is being implemented for all employees hired after Oct. 5 per the trustees’ directive.

Members of the senate obviously have the bit in their teeth, and they’ll keep up their unfounded criticism until even they get sick of listening to themselves talk.

One wonders, however, just why it is that a senate majority is determined the UI keep itself in the dark about such a potentially important question.

The policy itself is more than accommodating to prospective employees with prior criminal convictions.

Individuals with convictions on their records can still be hired. A review committee will consider if the individual’s transgressions are related to his work and then make a recommendation to the provost, who, in consultation with deans, makes a final decision. The individual whose employment is under consideration will have the opportunity to be heard during the process. Further, no specific crime - not even murder or rape - will automatically exclude a job candidate.

That approach is so patently fair to a prospective employee, it’s hard to imagine what more members of the senate could reasonably expect.

Aside from flat opposition on theoretical grounds, they suggest that background checks are a pointless exercise that is a waste of time and resources. Further, they defend that assertion by noting that current employees with no prior record could commit a crime, as could students. Hence, the campus is not necessarily safe so why conduct background checks?

Both points are as true as they are irrelevant. Because some current employees without criminal records or students may commit a crime is no reason to pretend that prospective employees with a criminal record might not be a concern that merits some discussion.

Despite all the concerns expressed about discrimination, faculty members’ real concern seems to be that a background check might have alerted top campus officials to the potential ramifications about the hiring of former Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist James Kilgore.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson denied that claim while conceding critics might not believe her.

“You’re just going to have to trust me on that,” she said.

If the proposed policy does have nothing to do with Kilgore, that’s too bad. It should.

Fresh off last week’s mass shootings in San Bernardino, it might be useful to remind people that Kilgore and his fellow members of the SLA were the terror group of their day in the mid-1970s in California. They robbed banks, bombed buildings, tried to kill police officers, shot to death a mother of four and assassinated the superintendent of the Oakland schools.

Before joining the faculty and staff at the UI, Kilgore spent most of his adult life as an active criminal bent on leading a political revolution, a fugitive from justice, a prison inmate and a parolee.

No wonder former UI Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy expressed surprise and disgust that no one informed trustees when Kilgore was hired.

There are, fortunately, not too many Kilgore-types seeking employment at the UI. But many people of many different backgrounds are. The UI is entitled to know what it’s getting.

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