- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 28, 2014

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Term limits fever?

Illinois elected officials backing term limits? What’s that about?

There’s no denying the political appeal of term limits for elected officials, the latest evidence coming from a public opinion poll released by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale showing overwhelming popular support for the concept.

So it should be no surprise that some politicians in Illinois are hopping on the bandwagon, or at least pretending they are.

Republican legislative leaders Wednesday introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit statewide officeholders to two four-year terms. The next day, Gov. Pat Quinn embraced the Republicans’ proposal, bragging that he has been a longtime supporter of term limits.

Here’s the problem. There’s a May 4 deadline to put the issue on the fall ballot, meaning that the Democratic Legislature will have to move quickly to pass the plan. Further, putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot by legislative action requires a three-fifths majority vote.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have never been enthusiastic about term limits, and they possess all the authority that’s needed to block a vote on the measure in their respective chambers.

So voters are well-advised not to hold their breaths while they wait for substantive legislative action.

The good news is that term limits for statewide officeholders are not really a problem.

It’s a different story altogether when it comes to the Illinois House and Senate. In those bodies, gerrymandered districts allow most incumbents to stay as long as they like and rarely, if ever, face a serious challenge.

The Yes for Independent Maps organization has collected enough voter signatures to put a plan for a bipartisan legislative map-drawing process on the fall ballot.

There’s another proposed amendment that strikes ever harder at incumbents, this one promoted by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner. His amendment would limit state legislators to eight years in office, slightly modify the size of both the House and Senate and require a two-thirds, rather than three-fifths, vote to override a gubernatorial veto.

Frankly, the term-limits proposal would not be so important if Illinois actually enjoyed competitive elections in legislative races. More than 90 percent of incumbents are re-elected, well over half of them usually without opposition. If Illinoisans are faced with that kind of sclerotic status quo, term limits would be useful in bringing new people and fresh insights to the General Assembly.

Together or by themselves, these citizen initiatives take direct aim at the professional political class that has misruled Illinois for so long. That’s why the insiders will do whatever they can to prevent both issues from coming to a vote, first by challenging the validity of the signatures and, if that fails, by asking the courts to remove them from the ballot.


April 27, 2014

(Decatur) Herald & Review

‘Fair’ tax isn’t the answer

Within the next few days, the Illinois General Assembly will decide whether voters will get a chance to change the state’s income tax policy.

At question is the so-called “fair tax,” being promoted by some Democrats, including Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and Rep. Christian L. Mitchell, D-Chicago. The legislation to put a Constitutional amendment on the ballot basically needs to be approved by May 1, which gives those in favor of a fair tax a handful of session days to get the measure approved by the necessary three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate.

That amendment would simply change the constitution to its current provision for a flat tax - everyone pays the same rate - to a system where rates could be set for various income levels.

Harmon and Mitchell have introduced legislation that, if the amendment is approved by voters in November, would set those rates. There’s no guarantee, however, that higher taxes wouldn’t be enacted by the General Assembly.

Harmon and Mitchell say their proposal is “revenue neutral,” which means that the state will receive roughly the same amount in tax revenue beginning in January as it did the year before. They also claim that their plan is a tax cut for most Illinois residents.

That’s not entirely accurate. The states’ “temporary” income tax increases are set to expire on Jan. 1, so if the General Assembly does nothing the individual rate will fall from 5 to 3.75 percent. The fair tax proponents say their plan will be a decrease from what Illinois residents are currently paying, but will be an increase if the tax rates are allowed to sunset.

Gov. Pat Quinn has said he wants to make the temporary tax cuts permanent, but retain the state’s flat tax, where everyone pays the same rate.

The fair tax supporters say their plan is fair because those people earning more money pay a higher percentage.

That’s true, if rates are the only consideration. Under the flat tax, however, higher wage earners already pay more taxes in actual dollars than lower wage earners.

The fair tax could also be more easily manipulated. It’s much easier to pass a tax increase on a few income levels, than push through an increase on every wage earner.

Despite the end of the world scenarios being pushed by the Quinn administration, the state can operate if the tax rates are allowed to roll back. What’s needed is fiscal discipline to spend less money.

Illinois doesn’t need a new tax system, but political leadership that understands living within its means.


April 25, 2014

The (Ottawa) Times

Should schools close for Veterans Day?

The issue goes far beyond Streator, but it came up there and makes a perfect test case, so let’s have at it - should school be in session on Veterans Day?

At a recent Streator Township High School Board meeting, board members reviewed a calendar for the 2014-2015 school year that had school in session on Veterans Day but listed activities the students would take part in as a way to honor veterans.

Board members rejected the calendar on a 5-2 vote and sent it back to the calendar committee. Superintendent Kevin Myers said an updated calendar proposal still could have the students going to school on Veterans Day with an updated and more detailed list of activities or it could have the students off that day.

As we have pointed out before, Veterans Day is for honoring all veterans. This is contrast to Memorial Day, which, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has noted, can be misunderstood.

“Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” the VA website reads. “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime.

There’s another contrast - Memorial Day is fixed on the last Monday of May, and therefore virtually guaranteed to be observed as part of a three-day weekend, much like Labor Day in September. Veterans Day, like Independence Day, is tied to a specific date, and therefore moves throughout the week from year to year.

Students enrolled in summer school can generally expect to have no classes July 4, but of course that’s not the whole student body. Nov. 11 is a different beast. The month already is chopped up with Thanksgiving a few weeks later, and winter holidays and vacations (not to mention all those snow days) will only further slice and dice the academic calendar until spring break concludes.

So it makes sense to keep kids in school. After all, can there be any guarantee students would spend a day off - it’s a Tuesday this year - thinking about or honoring veterans? (And playing World War II shoot ‘em up video games all afternoon doesn’t count.) Better they be in school surrounded by educators with a chance to actually learn about the reason for the observance.

This may not seem as important an issue as many of the recent ongoing debates about funding and program cuts, but some things are bigger than school, and this certainly is one of them. If you feel strongly, please make sure to let your representative know where you stand - it’s the American way.


April 24, 2014

(Peoria) Journal Star

Ignore Mike Madigan - fair maps essential

Mike Madigan opposes the Yes for Independent Maps movement. Duh!

Of course the speaker of the House thinks it’s a bad idea to change the way Illinois draws its political boundaries. The current system has helped make the Chicago Democrat the most powerful politician in the state. The 2011 map helped Democrats achieve veto-proof, three-fifths majorities in both the House and Senate in the 2012 elections.

However, what’s good for Madigan and Democrats is not good for Illinois.

Madigan’s recent jabs at Independent Maps probably are merely a warm-up for the fight that’s about to come. Independent Maps has more than enough signatures to put a referendum question on the November ballot. The group plans to deliver the petitions May 1. Madigan or his allies will surely challenge signatures in an effort to kill the measure.

Recently, Madigan dismissed Independent Maps as “Republican politics,” ignoring the fact that prominent Democrats support the movement. David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, is on board, as is Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.

No one party has a patent on good ideas. Illinois arguably had its best days when there was divided government, with Democrats and Republicans working together for the benefit of Illinoisans.

The Illinois Constitution requires that once every decade, after the decennial census, legislators get together to draw political boundaries that affect House, Senate and congressional districts. The process has been required since the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” decision in 1964. In that landmark case, the court required that legislative districts had to represent equal numbers of people. Every decade, districts were to be redrawn based on the new census figures.

The referendum question that we hope makes it on the November ballot would amend the constitution so a nonpartisan commission could draw political boundaries after the 2020 census.

It will be up to you whether that referendum question turns into law. November is a long way away, and we’re sure you’ll hear Madigan and others who benefit from the current system offer reasons to vote no.

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