- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 11, 2014

The (Alton) Telegraph

Meanwhile, in Springfield

The next few weeks will tell us a lot about whose interests are being served in Springfield.

Mere days remain in the spring legislative session, but one of the biggest issues facing lawmakers remains - whether Illinois taxpayers will be saddled with a sinful 67 percent increase in state income tax.

The increase was greased through in 2011 with the help of lame-duck legislators and a governor who doesn’t seem to think people will remember when he says one thing - promising to veto any call for a tax increase of more than 33 percent - and does another - championing a wallet-draining 67 percent rise.

The money, it was promised, was going to help back down a mountain of overdue bills that contributed to Illinois having one of the worst credit reputations in the nation.

That didn’t happen. Little if any of the money went for the intended use and as a result the state remains almost as in debt as years ago.

By the time the tax was supposed to be nearing its end, savvy voters had already clued in to the need for quotes around Quinn’s use of the word “temporary.”

Two proposals for changing the tax structure in the state failed to advance because of a lack of support. One, pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, would have created a “millionaire tax” in which those making a million dollars or more in a year would have additional taxes. The other would have switched to a “progressive” tax - another attempt to convince taxpayers they would be paying less that came unraveled because someone did the math. The promise most people would end up paying less in taxes under the plan turned out to be not so true.

Now it’s down to extended the “temporary” tax, and Quinn and Madigan are all in favor of the idea.

Can they get the votes?

Not if lawmakers do what’s best for taxpayers, who on average lose about a week’s pay because of the increase. Many legislators also recognize the political tightrope they would be walking to vote for this in an election year.

There’s some talk around the Capitol that a one-year extension could be floated, which would keep Democratic leadership from having to present a scorched earth budget but be a little more palatable to voters.

We’d rather see a plan that honors the promises made to taxpayers from the beginning.


Joliet Herald-News

May 10, 2014

End the cheating and embrace redistricting reform

A most insidious form of cheating in Illinois is the gerrymandering that takes place during once-in-a-decade redistricting.

Both parties have done it when they got the chance. By redrawing legislative districts the secret, sneaky way, the party in power can gain maximum advantage, while the party out of power suffers the consequences.

Voters will have the opportunity to greatly lessen the influence of politics in the redistricting process on Nov. 4. The Yes for Independent Maps coalition, which includes members from both parties, turned in more than 532,000 signatures May 1 to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reform the redistricting process. That number of signatures is well above the minimum requirement of about 300,000.

The amendment, if approved, would completely change the redistricting system for the Illinois House and Senate. Instead of politicians drawing the maps behind closed doors, a more neutral, 11-person mapmaking commission (four Democrats, four Republicans, and three independents) would be created to do the job. Steps would be taken to block politicians, state employees, lobbyists or state contractors from serving.

The final map would have to be approved by at least seven commissioners, including at least two Democrats and two Republicans.

If that doesn’t work by the deadline, then the top Republican and Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court would appoint a “special commissioner” who would have the power to draw the final map.

The commission should produce better, more representative districts that aren’t skewed by crooked lines and are less likely to elect crooked politicians.

What we need are competitive districts where elected representatives and senators are held accountable for their actions, and where they actively seek to solve the myriad problems of our deadbeat state, not merely to retain their seats through another election cycle.

A great problem with the current districts is that competition is suppressed when districts are drawn for the advantage of one party or the other. Even in a map drawn by Democrats after the 2010 Census, some Republican safe districts were created by packing as many Republican voters into a district as possible. Senate District 45, where state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, hasn’t had a Democratic opponent the past two elections, is an example.

Elsewhere in the state, the remaining Democratic voters were spread out to put more Senate seats into play for their party.

If that’s not cheating, legal though it may be, we don’t know what is.

We commend the Yes for Independent Maps coalition for the very difficult challenge its members undertook to reform Illinois’ redistricting process.

We urge judges to stifle any challenges to placing the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, including the lawsuit filed by a friend of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who opposes redistricting reform.

And we urge voters, come Nov. 4, to embrace the opportunity to fix Illinois’ broken redistricting system.

End the cheating, and let the public win for a change.


May 11, 2014

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Nosedive in traffic deaths a healthy trend

Don’t look now, but Illinois’ highway traffic fatalities have taken a big nosedive since the beginning of the year.

As of Friday (May 9), according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, 254 people had lost their lives in fatal crashes on all roadways in the state.

That marks a nearly 25 percent reduction compared with the 336 fatalities from the same date a year ago.

With the year more than one-third over, Illinoisans have reason to celebrate such good news.

What could be the cause?

Here are a few possibilities:

. The ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones took effect Jan. 1. With one less distraction behind the wheel, drivers might be having fewer crashes en route to their destinations.

. Drifting snow, slippery ice and bone-chilling cold might have discouraged drivers from making road trips during parts of January, February and March. Fewer people on the road could have led to fewer crashes.

. The increase in the interstate highway speed limit from 65 to 70 mph also could have been a factor, although it sounds counterintuitive. However, supporters of the 70 mph limit argued that highway safety would improve if more vehicles traveled at the same speed.

. With each passing year, more drivers are in cars with advanced safety features than ever before.

Last year, when 992 people lost their lives in Illinois traffic crashes, the death rate was 2.72 a day.

If the current death rate for 2014 of 1.97 a day continues through December, Illinois is on track to experience a more than 270-person reduction in its death toll, to about 720.

How can motorists continue to participate in this beneficial trend?

Keep their hands off cellphones while behind the wheel, and keep their eyes on the road.

Distracted driving, in fact, is one of the “Fatal Four” infractions that State Police continue to target for enforcement, along with speeding, driving under the influence and not wearing seat belts.

The trend for much safer highways in 2014 has been established. Let’s keep it going. We urge people to continue to drive defensively and watch out for the other guy.


May 8, 2014

Rockford Register-Star

It’s past time for James Thompson to leave GOP chairmanship

A week ago on this page, we called for the resignation of James Thompson from his chairmanship of the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee. With a couple of exceptions, the reaction from local Republicans has been … crickets.

As you recall, Thompson sent out a party newsletter in which he included a “joke” that compared President Barack Obama to an animal that is a cross between a zebra and a donkey.

Thompson issued an apology of sorts, saying that if what he wrote had offended anybody, he was sorry. “I regret including this item in the newsletter. In the future, it most certainly won’t happen again.”

Two elected GOP office-holders wrote to us, agreeing that Thompson should quit his post as party leader.

Ald. Jamie Getchius, R-2, said:

“As a Republican elected official, I am personally appalled and embarrassed that a ‘joke’ like Mr. Thompson’s could be sent out under the banner of my party. It runs contrary to everything I have experienced in my first year on the City Council.”

Winnebago County Board member John Guevara, one of the Republican Party’s Hispanic members, was equally direct: “As a Republican elected official, I believe that it is especially important to be aware of how ‘jokes’ can be interpreted; and in this situation I have encouraged Chairman Thompson to resign.

“Personally, whether it’s intended or not, I believe that racism is wrong. It is important for all public officials, Republican or Democrat, to take a firm stance against racial innuendo, even when the connotation is inadvertent or unintended. There should be no excuse.”

But other Republicans we contacted don’t share that view. Although they condemned the “joke,” they didn’t think Thompson should resign because of it.

Winnebago County Board member and Majority Leader John Sweeney, Jr., said:

“A joke about a person’s race or physical appearance does not serve any constructive purpose. It isn’t helpful here in this community, and it isn’t helpful when it is done by members of either party at any level.

“As far as the issue of whether or not Mr. Thompson resigns, I think that can be left up to the Central Committee and those who make those decisions. I also think that the Republican Party would be better served to focus more on individual rights issues that affect us all, but unfortunately affect minorities in a disproportionately negative way; such as the need to reform minimum mandatory sentencing laws for non-violent crimes, and guidelines that determine who can and cannot be a foster parent to children in their own community.”

Thompson’s joke was a “stupid, bone-headed remark,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen. “We’ve done a lot in the county to stress diversity. It wasn’t a good move, but I don’t know whether (Thompson) should resign. He did apologize.”

The Rockford Register Star stands by our original position. The Republican Party must reach out to minorities if it wants to remain viable in a nation that looks nothing like the audience at a Republican fundraising banquet. Thompson should step down from his chairmanship for the good of his party’s future.

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