- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 19, 2014

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

No big deal

The legal fight surrounding Illinois’ new public pension law is just getting off the ground.

A Sangamon County judge last week issued a stay in the enforcement of the state law mandating major changes in public pensions, but those looking for deeper meaning in the judge’s ruling are wasting their time.

The stay of enforcement is not a ruling on the merits of arguments either in opposition to or in support of the law. Further, this case ultimately will be resolved by the seven-member Illinois Supreme Court, preferably sooner rather than later.

Nonetheless, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan can be forgiven for trying to spin the judge’s ruling in favor of the retired and current public employees who are challenging the constitutionality of the new pension law. Carrigan called the stay “an important first step in our efforts to overturn this unfair, unconstitutional law.”

At the same time, supporters of the pension law professed not to be concerned about the judge’s decision. State Rep. Elaine Nekritz said she “would have been shocked had there not been a stay.”

Nekritz is closer to being correct than Carrigan.

The pension reform law, which was passed in fall 2013, was designed to reduce the $100 billion shortfall in the state public pension systems. It mandates a variety of changes that include a higher retirement age, lower employee contributions and reduced benefits.

Five separate lawsuits have been consolidated into a single case that is focused on a provision in the Illinois Constitution that prohibits any diminution in pension benefits. Defenders of the law argued that it passes legal muster because it makes changes only in benefits not yet earned and leaves unchanged pension benefits already earned. But opponents maintain that once a public employee enrolls in a state pension program any change lowering benefits is unconstitutional, no matter whether the benefits have been earned or remain to be earned.

It’s a complicated legal issue, and whatever decision the Illinois Supreme Court makes will have dramatic consequences. In that context, the stay is inconsequential, a housekeeping detail that precedes bigger battles to come.


May 18, 2014

Decatur Herald & Review

Democrats continue to break promises

Democrats in the House this week approved a budget that requires the extension of the “temporary” income tax.

In a long session on Thursday, House members pieced together a $38 billion spending plan that under current law does not have enough revenue to pay for it. That’s because the current law requires the income tax rates to fall back to 2010 levels on Jan. 1. A vote on extending the tax rates could occur as early as next week.

It’s amusing, and sad, to see Democrats twist themselves in knots trying to explain all this.

Take Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, for example. Scherer, who depends on House Speaker Michael Madigan for a good deal of her campaign funds, wasn’t in the General Assembly when the temporary tax hike was approved. But she did co-sponosr legislation to roll back the income tax to pre-2011 levels. On Thursday, she voted in favor of the spending plans.

Scherer said her votes weren’t in favor of a tax increase but a way to ensure that Gov. Pat Quinn spends money on things she believes are important to the district.

Republicans, who are in the minority, could do little but complain.

The entire budget process has been a sham, with the Quinn administration painting doom and gloom scenarios about what will happen if the income tax rate isn’t extended. Those scenarios are so outrageous that no reasonable people outside of the Democratic Party would believe them.

A vote on extending the income tax rate could come as soon as next week. The votes are apparently secured in the Senate, but it’s a closer call in the House.

This budget continues the process that has put Illinois into a financial quagmire - it spends money the state doesn’t have. Democrats promised when the temporary tax hikes were implemented that they would indeed be temporary.

There is still time to correct this huge mistake and adopt a reasonable budget. But it won’t happen until Democrats understand the costs they are imposing on taxpayers and the harm they are doing to the state.


May 17, 2014

Belleville News-Democrat

Too many legislative cooks spoil the bill

We should have known. Illinois lawmakers received the perfect recipe to simplify the lives of home bakers, but now are changing it and complicating things.

Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, had the right idea. He wanted to let small-time bakers like 12-year-old Chloe Stirling, of Troy, sell their goods without government interference.

But no. Now Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, is adding all sorts of cumbersome rules that do nothing to help the public but make work — and money — for local health departments. Figures. Most of them objected to the bill in its original form.

With the changes, bakers would have to label their goods with all the ingredients and allergens and warn people in writing that the item was baked in a home kitchen without a health department inspection. The bakers would have to take a class and pay a yet-to-be-determined fee.

It’s an improvement over the current requirement of a commercial kitchen, but it’s still ludicrous. Home bakers can sell their wares at farmers’ markets in Illinois without government getting involved. Why not let bakers do so out of their home without worrying about running afoul of the law?

Trotter said, “I don’t foresee that we’re going to be raiding lemonade stands or cupcake sales.” He obviously doesn’t understand how government works. That’s exactly what happened to Chloe.

Instead of complicating what should have been a simple bill, lawmakers should put their energy into developing a budget that doesn’t rely on the soon-to-expire temporary tax. They are pretending that the income tax hike will become permanent — even though they don’t have the votes to make it permanent.

No wonder the state is a financial disaster. No wonder people can’t wait to move out of Illinois.


May 14, 2014

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Failing grade for school funding fix

This could be an expensive session of the Illinois General Assembly for suburban taxpayers.

At the same time Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing to make permanent an income tax increase that was to expire at year’s end, legislation that would significantly alter the state’s school funding formula — and no doubt result in property tax increases in the suburbs — is being debated.

We agree that the school funding formula is complicated, potentially unfair and needs to be studied. But we don’t agree that it should be changed on the backs of suburban taxpayers.

“We’re having rich and thoughtful discussions about the haves and have-nots and how money’s being distributed,” state Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch told The Associated Press in a story published in the Daily Herald Monday. “We need this conversation.”

Yes, it’s helpful to have a meaningful conversation to make sure needs of the entire state are met. But that AP story highlights the problem for many of the school districts in the Daily Herald circulation area. Under the proposal put forth by state Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from downstate Bunker Hill, downstate Pana’s school district would receive a 30 percent increase in state funding or about $1.7 million. In contrast, Barrington Unit District 220 would lose $5.3 million a year — about 80 percent of what it currently receives. That’s too much of a hit and would almost assuredly need to be replaced by higher property taxes from District 220 taxpayers.

We urge suburban representatives to fight the current legislation but to continue working on finding a more equitable solution to the school aid formula. It was last changed in 1997. While general state aid for education is based on a formula that factors in poverty levels, grants for special education, transportation and vocational training do not factor in poverty. The money for those programs has increased greater than general state aid has as the state deals with its financial woes.

One offset we liked hearing from Koch was a possibility of removing a requirement that forces school districts to pay for state mandates the state doesn’t fund. More of that kind of thinking is what’s needed if a compromise is to be found.

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