- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 8, 2017

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Budget votes should be just the start of cooperation at Statehouse

At last.

You could use those words as a sigh of relief now that Illinois finally has a full-year state budget.

It would be accurate. While a budget hasn’t magically removed the numerous issues still plaguing the state, it is the first step toward stability. Businesses, schools, universities, social service agencies and governments need to know what they have to work with if they are to be successful. That’s been lacking for two years. And while it’s unlikely the new budget includes everything these entities would have liked, it provides a foundation on which they can start rebuilding.

But we think that phrase is a more apt description of what we saw from more than a dozen legislators as they cast their votes for the spending and revenue measures that constitute the state’s first budget in two years: They put the people - instead of their political party - first. Whether their constituents agree with their representatives’ vote - and many do not - we had elected representatives go against their leaders to vote for what they thought was best for the people they represent.

In the end, 15 House Republicans voted for the income tax increase, with 10 of them voting to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto. Some House Democrats were reportedly instrumental in making sure the votes were taken. In the Senate, one Republican joined Democrats in approving the hike. Anyone who listened to the proceedings could tell these legislators agonized over their decisions before casting their votes.

In the hyper-partisan environment that dominates today’s politics, this is a rarity. It takes guts to go against leadership. House Speaker Michael Madigan is also the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. In the past, he’s run primary opponents against members who have irked him. Rauner provides the lion’s share of funding for the state Republican Party. If those 10 to 15 representatives plan to run again, they’re going to need support during their next campaign, and have risked their party’s trust.

In our eyes, they traded that for a stronger covenant with the public they represent. We know having to fork over more in income taxes is an unpleasant pill to swallow for us everyday residents, but there should be comfort in knowing there are elected officials who put the needs of the people above the desires of their political party. We’ve consistently said we need bipartisan compromise if Illinois is ever to resolve its issues. That happened this past week, and it needs to continue if lawmakers are serious about changing the trajectory of the state’s future.

Here is where Illinois stands now: The stack of unpaid bills is about $14.7 billion. The unfunded pension liability is at least $130 billion. One bond rating agency, Moody’s, said a downgrade to junk status is still possible for Illinois. An agreement still needs to be reached on how to fund K-12 education for the academic year that starts in about a month. Property taxes are still among the highest in the nation.

A budget did not solve those problems or the many others lurking in the background. It wouldn’t take much for Illinois to continue to decline. The real work is just beginning. Success will be realized if that willingness to work together and across the aisle continues at all times, not only during a time of crisis.

We immediately need to see it on school funding reform, but this group of largely rank-and-file members could also take the lead on issues like pension reform, business overhauls and much-needed property tax relief. It would not take many members in either chamber to form a coalition that could be a forceful agent of change. Veto session is the next scheduled time the legislature meets: Committed working groups could develop some solid ideas in the coming months to be considered in the fall.

We challenge lawmakers: Be known for your ability to cooperate and compromise, instead of always toeing the party line.

___

July 8, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

You will work 28 hours to pay new Illinois tax. How about 14 to change things?

Hacked off at the folks in Springfield after they jacked up your state income taxes without controlling property taxes or their own excesses? Feeling hopeless and helpless?

There are fixes available, but only if enough people are motivated to repair this broken state rather than just taking the easy out to ABI (Anywhere But Illinois). Term limits and an independent legislative redistricting commission would go a long way to ending the Illinois distillery of selfish political power that boiled down the people’s choices to a single party’s decisions and now to a single person’s crass dictates.

Both parties sin when they have the power to draw the maps. Both have played political games in Illinois, moving district lines so that Republican Dave Luechtefeld’s home is just over the line from the bulk of the people he used to represent as state senator and former Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown’s home was also put in another district when she refused to kowtow.

The U.S. Supreme Court may offer a solution this fall, depending on the outcome of a Wisconsin gerrymandering case. Minority protections are written into voting laws, but not party affiliation protections. An analysis by the Associated Press recently found that Republicans have the current advantage - four times as many states have pro-Republican maps for their legislatures, and the 24 biggest states are three times as likely to have House districts skewed toward Republicans.

The justices’ decision could largely take politics out of the process when maps are redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Census. That swift solution would be welcomed here after last year’s hard-fought loss, despite 563,000 petition signatures, for an independent map amendment to the Illinois Constitution. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and his majority on the state high court killed that citizen effort with a tortured ruling on what the words “structure,” ”subject” and “procedure” mean.

So on to term limits, but where to find the power to impose them?

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called upon the legislature to impose the limits, but come on. Really? Expect the leopards to change their spots?

Use the ultimate term limit of voting to put in different leopards? That would be great, except 60 percent of the races in the November election had just one person running.

A citizen petition drive for term limits? Well, only one petition effort has passed muster with the Illinois high court since the 1970 Illinois Constitution supposedly gave the power to the people to change government when it would not change itself. After the experience with the independent map amendment, it would be more than a little difficult to find the will to do it all again, just to have the four Democratic state justices relieve themselves again on the people’s work.

Maybe the answer is all of the above. Maybe pressuring lawmakers, fighting for or becoming a new voice in the statehouse and a petition drive are all needed to create a change.

The average Illinois household will need to work about 28 hours to make the $1,100 extra just taken from them by state lawmakers. Imagine what the state’s 6 million workers could accomplish by devoting just half that time to political activism.

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July 6, 2016

Rockford Register Star

Illinois has a budget, so now what?

It’s better to have a spending plan than not, but after two years without one the question remains: “Is that all there is?”

The Illinois House of Representatives voted 71-42 on Thursday to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a $36 billion spending plan financed with a $5 billion income tax increase.

Of course, nothing in Illinois happens without some drama attached. The session was delayed about two hours after a white powdery substance was thrown at the governor’s office.

The Capitol was not evacuated, but people were not allowed to enter or exit the building. A hazmat team was called to clean things up. A preliminary analysis shows the substance wasn’t hazardous. One woman was arrested.

If only hazmat could clean up the situation in the state.

“We do this, or we go to financial meltdown,” said Rep. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, of the override vote.

For the first time in two years, Illinois has a budget while six other states do not. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin missed their budget deadlines. New Jersey and Maine ended partial government shutdowns just in time for the Fourth of July.

Illinois was expected to raise taxes, and it was no surprise that lawmakers did not deal with the root causes that got the state into the financial hole it is in today.

Pensions? Still a big problem. Bill backlog? $14.7 billion as of Thursday. Credit rating? Not quite junk status. The budget alone does not fix Illinois’ financial problems.

The good news is that there IS a budget and there were quite a few political pundits who thought there would never be one while Rauner was in office.

Schools will open in the fall. Higher education, including community colleges such as Rock Valley College, will get money. Road construction will continue and social service agencies will be paid. All would have been in jeopardy without a budget.

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