- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 3, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

Illinois lawmakers’ well-earned vacation after tough session in Springfield

Aaaah, summer vacation. Leave those worries behind in Springfield.

Know that you are in for a well-deserved rest because you worked so darned hard on behalf of your Illinois constituents.

You say you worked to protect the middle class, and your hard work was duly noted by your lenders. The day after you left town, S&P; Global honored you with the lowest rating ever given a state - in history - a click above junk bond status.

You say you passed the $15 minimum wage. It will encourage innovation and automation, especially in the fast food industry where touch-screen ordering systems and phone app integration are long overdue.

You say you wrote so many state checks that there is a $14.5-billion bill backlog. Economic stimulation means you gotta spend money to make money, right?

Well, you worked hard to ensure a healthy job market - in Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Kentucky.

As far as that pesky state budget? Well, isn’t that a dated, overrated concept? Anything that isn’t used for two years certainly isn’t a necessity. Colleges, social service agencies, schools have gotten by for two years, so they’ve got it nailed for year three.

If only that obstructionist Republican, Gov. Bruce Rauner, had come to the table. If only he hadn’t made unreasonable demands that we change what we’ve been doing for more than three decades.

Constitutionally mandated obligation to send a balanced budget to the governor’s desk? What? Where does it say that?

If only everyone could see the beauty in the midst of chaos, kind of like when stars reach the point of supernova. The Illinois supernova: a star that shines so bright because it is exploding, then ejects all its mass and millennials - to be followed by a black hole.

Now for some beach reading. Stephen Hawking is too heavy, so maybe “The Wealth of Nations” or “The Prince” or “The Communist Manifesto?” Or maybe “A Confederacy of Dunces?”

Where did those flip-flops go?

___

June 5, 2017

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services director had to depart for agency to move on

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director George Sheldon’s resignation on Thursday was both necessary and inevitable.

Not simply because of the death of Joliet 1-year-old Sema’j Crosby, but because of the failure of the agency, throughout its many visits to her home, to recognize and act on the issues outlined in a 22-page report released by the agency on May 26.

Many factors led to Sema’j’s death, starting with her home environment. DCFS has limitations, in budget and because it handles nearly 1,600 concurrent cases and has been accused and sued previously for unnecessarily separating families.

That, however, does not excuse the grave problems that regularly occur in reporting cases, as outlined in the Sema’j report.

Case files are destroyed, filed late and given separate case file numbers at the same address, eliminating the possibility of finding a pattern through the 11 reports filed related to Sema’j’s home.

The report also outlined that the home was in severe disrepair. An anonymous caller said that up to 30 people were living in a three-bedroom, 864-square-foot space designated by Section 8 housing rules to only be for Sheri Gordon and her immediate family. Drugs were openly sold at the property and a nearby playground, estimated to be 25 yards from the home, where the young children were often sent at all hours of the day.

Case workers suspected Gordon was being taken advantage of by other family squatting at the home. At some points, the report documents, the young children of those family members were left in charge of Gordon’s children.

Gordon even misrepresented to a case worker which children at the home were her own in one incident.

The sad fact was that case workers also understood that Gordon “appeared to have cognitive limitations that interfered with coordinating the children’s medical appointments and care.”

Gordon and the family also lacked transportation to get the children to appointments and money to pay for prescriptions.

This included Gordon not being able to appropriately understand the care for her 7-year-old son, Sema’j’s brother, who was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts on three separate occasions between September and the final report the day after Sema’j’s death.

He did receive special education while attending a therapeutic day school.

Through all of this, reports were not combined to give the agency and investigators any sort of perspective on the problems at the home, and no real action was taken.

After Sema’j’s death, her brothers were sent to foster care.

Now DCFS will have a new leader, and the agency will need to learn from the recommendations in the 22-page report of Sema’j’s case.

If those changes occur, it won’t make up for the failures in Sema’j’s case, but it could become one positive in a case that has shown nothing but negatives to this point.

___

May 31, 2017

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Session’s over, budget crisis is not

To the surprise of pretty much no one, the scheduled end of the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly came and went without a budget deal in place.

It wasn’t surprising, given the tone of the discussion this week: Scott Harry, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget director, said his boss would veto a budget he deems a bad deal for taxpayers. And the House approved an adjournment resolution that allows for “continuous session,” which is legislative speak for, “We’ll be back this summer.”

So Illinois residents woke up to the record-breaking 702nd day of not having a permanent state budget. And while we hate to sound like a broken record, we must repeat that Illinois is in dire need of a full-year, balanced state budget.

Some might demand lawmakers be locked in the Capitol until a budget deal is reached. We’re advocating instead for a short break. We need bipartisan cooperation on a balanced budget, and that won’t come when the partisanship is as fierce and relentless as it has been in recent days.

Illinois cannot go another year without a permanent spending plan. Pleas for lawmakers to consider working across the aisle on a compromise are no longer suggestions - they are mandatory. The legislature’s work was supposed to be wrapped up by May 31. Now, a three-fifths majority is needed to pass bills, instead of the usual simple majority needed on most votes taken during regular session. The House will need Republican support for a budget: It needs 71 votes to pass legislation, and there are 67 Democrats in that chamber. There is a bit of a cushion in the Senate, where 36 votes are needed to pass and there are 37 Democrats.

Politicians should go home and take some deep breaths. They next must seek out constituents and key stakeholders to discuss the on-the-ground realities of the budget impasse - and what the continuation of the budget impasse will mean going forward.

At least 50 school superintendents were at the Capitol on Wednesday pleading for a budget. They are collectively owed $1.1 billion in categorical payments, which is funding for services like busing, special education, and free and reduced lunch programs. Some districts are going to be looking to place extracurricular activities or possibly athletics on their chopping blocks. A few may have to seriously weigh closing their doors if there isn’t a permanent spending plan.

Higher education has been hit hard by the budget impasse too.

Listen to businesses that can’t expand because of the instability of Illinois. A group of business leaders said Wednesday the spring legislative session was “one of the worst for employers.” Talk to nonprofits and social service agencies that have unpaid bills sitting in the $14.5 billion backlog in the Comptroller’s office about the cuts they’ve had to make. Research what it will mean for Illinois if agencies lower its bond rating - probably to junk status - if July 1 comes without a budget.

Then, return with the mindset that every rank-and-file member is responsible for the ever-sinking financial situation Illinois is in, and also has a role to play in fixing that. We know bipartisanship in this Statehouse is possible: We saw it for much of this year in the Senate with the crafting of the Grand Bargain. Recapture that spirit by demanding of the legislative leaders and governor a compromise on a full-year, permanent budget that is reached before fiscal year 2018 starts.

A stopgap budget isn’t going to cut it again. Neither is providing foundation-level funding for K-12 education but skipping categorical payments. We cannot continue to sink further into the abyss.

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