- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April 16, 2017

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Leaders need to think twice about budget

If President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal becomes a reality, it could spell real trouble for Southern Illinois.

In particular, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train, which runs out of the Carbondale station and transports SIU students between Carbondale and larger cities upstate, is on the chopping block. That train could go away under the president’s proposal, which calls for a 13 percent reduction in spending to the Department of Transportation.

It would terminate “federal support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses,” as Trump’s “skinny budget” blueprint, released in March, reads.

Inefficient? We wholeheartedly disagree.

Regardless, it’s not good for Carbondale and the rest of the region.

“If you were to drive through our Amtrak parking lot on any given weekend, you’ll notice license plates from Missouri and Kentucky,” Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said in a story this week. “So it’s not just a Carbondale asset, it’s a regional asset. Particularly in an area that is high poverty, it’s a reliable, affordable mode of transportation that people utilize daily.”

He’s right - it’s not just Carbondale. It’s Southern Illinois. And, it would hurt Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which is already suffering enough when it comes to declining enrollment and state budget issues.

Now, none of this certain. Remember, it’s just a proposal from the president. Congress will write the budget, and surely it will be different from what Trump has written.

So we implore our lawmakers - U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and John Shimkus, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth - to keep this in mind when it comes to putting a budget proposal together.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs Amtrak.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs the Capital Investment Grant’s New and Small Starts program, which matches more than $2 billion in local funding for rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects annually.

Keep in mind that Southern Illinois needs Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), a spending program used for surface transportation projects. Remember, last year Carbondale was denied a $14.64 million grant through TIGER that would have funded the city’s revamped multimodal facility, a project that’s in limbo. The project may as well stay in limbo without the program.

All of these programs are vital for our region. All of these programs could be cut under Trump’s proposed budget.

City officials have been working hard at revitalizing downtown Carbondale. The multimodal project is one of those steps. We’d hate to see that hard work and planning go down the drain.

According to Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman, 94 percent of the company’s operating costs come through ticket sales and other revenues in FY2016. But, he said, those services still require federal investments.

It goes beyond Southern Illinois, too. Moorman said Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains, and those comprise the only available services in 23 out of the 46 states the company serves.

It seems the president’s budget proposal is very favorable for those traveling in cars. But, that’s not the only mode of transportation.

It’s unfathomable that the region can go without Amtrak and the rest of these services.

___

April 13, 2017

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

As campaign swallows budget crisis, lawmakers must step up

The 2018 gubernatorial campaign season has begun, which means whatever hope there is of solving Illinois budgetary issues before next year’s election will not likely be coming from the party leadership.

The Democrats will say Gov. Bruce Rauner has failed to do anything substantive in two years. Rauner will make the same claim of the Democratic leaders. The rest of us will be tempted to lapse into despair that the brakes will be stuck on Illinois government for another year and a half.

The only glimmer of light — and it is admittedly faint — lies with legislators, the rank and file who are elected promising to enact change in Springfield, but who too often get absorbed into the herd soon after they are sworn in, scarcely to be heard from again.

The leaders won’t solve this issue. The legislators must.

That state representatives and senators are beginning to recognize this has been evident for a few months. The best example so far is the so-called Grand Bargain, the bipartisan compromise budget bill hammered out by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

There were problems with the Cullerton/Radogno plan and progress on it has stalled, but it’s a starting point for compromise. As there will be problems with every proposal.

Case in point, the so-called “Comeback Agenda,” a five-point plan promoted by a group of House Democrats that did more to lay out a 2018 legislative campaign strategy than provide realistic hope for budget compromise. Other plans have been proposed outside the legislature, and who knows how many others will emerge, as individual Democratic and Republican lawmakers feel the public’s frustration with the wretched politics that have brought us to this point and begin offering their own solutions.

Which will be fine. It will tell party leaders that lawmakers on the floor are as fed up with inaction as the public and are ready to respond to the needs of the state if the leaders won’t.

A proposal that bears the imprint of either party is likely dead on arrival — so heavily will it bear the weight of partisanship. Still, If those partisan proposals eventually make compromise look more palatable by comparison, the time spent on them won’t be entirely in vain.

To Illinois legislators, especially those from the suburbs in both parties, we say: The time is past to sit back and wait for something to vote on.

Defy your leadership. Keep working on the existing bargain or create something new. The stack of unpaid bills in Illinois could hit $15 billion by midsummer, and the human toll is growing by the day. Someone must step up and rise above politics to meet that challenge.

___

April 14, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Ever downward

Failing to decide about how to fix our sorry state is deciding to fail.

The state of Illinois - the city of Aurora and its environs, specifically - got some bad news recently when Caterpillar announced it was closing a machine production facility there and eliminating about 800 jobs.

As bad news goes, it could have been worse.

The company will add about 500 jobs in Decatur and move another 150 jobs to North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Those who will be left jobless will receive severance pay equaling 40 hours of pay for every year at Cat. Further, Cat employees who lose their jobs at Aurora will be able to apply for other jobs within the worldwide company. Finally, Aurora will still be the home of Caterpillar facilities that include 1,200 employees.

Nonetheless, Cat’s announcement is indisputably unwelcome. Coming on the heels of the company’s recent announcement that it’s moving its world headquarters to Chicago instead of expanding its corporate home in downtown Peoria, the trend here is unmistakable.

For all of Cat’s deep ties to Illinois, the tide is turning. It’s looking to other states to invest and expand.

That’s a far cry from the three-shifts-a-day approach Cat oversaw not all that long ago in Peoria. But this company, like other big manufacturers in Illinois, can read the tea leaves.

Illinois’ business climate is inhospitable, and it’s likely to remain unwelcoming to capital investment for some time. So manufacturers who are here are going elsewhere. Those who might have come under better circumstances are doing the same.

That’s why other states are gaining manufacturing jobs while Illinois is losing them.

Since 2012, Illinois has lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs, well-paying positions with generous benefits that provide good livings to middle-class families. During the same time period, Michigan has gained 77,000 manufacturing jobs, Indiana 56,000, Ohio 40,000, Kentucky 35,700, Wisconsin, 16,300, Missouri 2,800 and Iowa 2,800.

All the states that ring Illinois are up, a couple quite substantially, while the Land of Lincoln continues to endure an erosion of its economic base that is reflected by untold economic stress on people who need and want good jobs and a failing, flailing state government that can find hundreds of way to spend money but lacks the revenue to support it.

It is, of course, not entirely the state’s fault that Cat is pursuing a different approach. Every manufacturing company has different needs and different competitive markets.

Caterpillar is different from John Deere, which is different from Kraft. But Illinois’ downward direction is clear. Even in areas where it’s made gains, its growth has been slower than other states.

So why does Illinois continue to embrace failure?

Why has the Legislature gone nearly two years without passing a budget and overseeing changes that would help boost the economy?

The best welfare program ever invented is a good job. So why do our legislators focus more on social welfare programs, while lacking the necessary revenue to fund them, than attracting job creators who would create taxpayers by putting them to work?

Even though it’s effectively bankrupt, the state is not legally eligible to file for bankruptcy. Instead, it’s sinking further into financial oblivion - budget deficits, underfunded public pensions, unpaid bills.

Somehow, people hope, it will all work out in the end. But how long will that take?

Too many people and employers aren’t sticking around to find out.

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