- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December 10, 2016

Belleville News Democrat

Illinois’ political games on budget may be wrecking young lives

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and the devil may well be a killer.

Our Illinois neighbors in Chicago are in the midst of the deadliest year in decades - more than 700 homicides were tallied with a month to go. Some have asked whether this record year is tied to the Illinois budget impasse, and the fact that nearly 1 million folks are not getting the state services they would have gotten because two-thirds of mental health, substance abuse and youth services have been cut by agencies that have gone without state money.

And it is hitting closer to home. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said the impasse is destroying the Redeploy Illinois program, which puts troubled teens in school and in job training, rather than in prison.

He said Redeploy Illinois is “20 times less costly than putting a juvenile into the Department of Juvenile Justice. That’s a real number.”

Kids idle on the street rather than in school or in programs can lead to trouble. It can lead to death.

So why doesn’t the guy who lives in the shadow of Midway Airport do something to maybe help those kids? Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan either doesn’t bother to show up or refuses to participate in budget negotiations.

And the list of idle kids may soon grow exponentially as schools run out of money.

The veto session is over, and lawmakers are gone, likely until Jan. 9. The temporary budget expires Dec. 31. Christmas break could get very, very long for some schools that can’t run without their state money.

So will they get down to business on Jan. 9? State Sen. Christine Radogno, the Republican leader, said she thinks Madigan is trying to create wreckage that he thinks will put more Democrats in the legislature and governor’s mansion in 2018.

Well if that is the strategy, doesn’t he think there’s wreckage enough? Does he need more bodies, more wrecked young lives or maybe another billion or two in backlogged bills atop the current $10.7 billion?

No political gain or game is worth having blood on your hands.

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December 8, 2016

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Pulling rank

Legislators are hoping the public doesn’t pay much attention to a lawsuit they filed.

No one will ever mistake most Illinois legislators for principled politicians.

Their elastic stances on the issues of the day are not unlike those enunciated by the late comedian Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”

But a handful of lawmakers recently found something worth fighting for - and it’s not a settlement of the long-standing budget dispute between Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It’s a dispute that involves their own personal budgets - specifically, their paychecks.

Earlier this month a group of Democratic lawmakers filed a post-election lawsuit against the state that seeks a court order requiring the comptroller to give them the highest priority when it comes to paying their overly generous salaries.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the position taken in April by then-Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Republican, and endorsed this week by new Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat.

Munger was willing to issue paychecks to members of the House and Senate, but not willing to move them to the head of the bill-payment line. Facing a backlog that’s now up to $10.4 billion, Munger said she would put legislators’ pay in the same line of bills as everyone else’s and pay them when she had the money.

Because of the state’s effective bankruptcy, legislators haven’t been paid since this past summer, and it’s perfectly understandable if they’re not happy about it. No one in that situation would be.

But it’s not as if they are innocent bystanders to the budget blues that have driven this state into political and governmental despair.

As the policymaking branch of state government, members of the House and Senate could settle the budget battle with Rauner overnight. Unfortunately, they have ceded their collective authority to pass budgets to a handful of legislative leaders and then sat and watched as the state has run off the rails.

So it’s with a disappointing display of entitlement that they now demand to be allowed to cut in line at the comptroller’s office and get their pay while businesses and social-service agencies across the state wait for months to collect the money owed them. People have actually gone out of business while waiting for the state to meet its obligations.

Given the nature of law and politics in Illinois, it would be no great surprise if the legislators who filed this lawsuit think that they have this case wired.

After all, it was only a few years ago, when Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed an appropriation for legislators’ pay, that legislative Democrats persuaded a Cook County judge to issue a ruling that it is unconstitutional for a governor to use his veto authority in the manner that Quinn did. (Never mind that the Legislature had the authority to override Quinn’s veto and settle the matter without judicial intrusion into a executive/legislative power struggle.)

The case was not appealed. So no state appeals court felt compelled to embrace that fallacious legal finding. But it shows just how compliant judges can be when it comes to the pecuniary interests of their fellow power brokers.

In the latest case, the legislators are represented by Michael Kaspar, Speaker Michael Madigan’s main legal man and the lawyer for the state Democratic Party. Unless Mendoza decides otherwise, she’ll be represented by Madigan’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan. How nice and cozy.

The question, of course, is not whether legislators are entitled to be paid, but whether they are entitled to preferential treatment not accorded to thousands of others who are also entitled to be paid and whose claims for payment predate the legislators’ claims.

Does the Illinois Constitution really mandate special treatment for legislators from a state in effective bankruptcy?

The lawsuit doesn’t paint a pretty picture. No wonder Rauner couldn’t resist asking a couple of inflammatory questions.

“Why should legislator pay be put ahead of our human-service funds? Why should legislator pay be put ahead of our school funding?” he asked.

As long as it’s question time, here’s another: Why should legislators be spared from the consequences, including pay complications, of their abject failure to meet their constitutional obligation to manage state finances in a way that spares everyone the budget misery currently on display?

Their answer would be because they’re so special. But that’s not a view likely to be embraced by average citizens unimpressed by the politics-as-usual machinations in Springfield.

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December 7, 2016

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Lawmakers should withdraw their lawsuit over paychecks

The six Democratic state lawmakers who filed a lawsuit last week demanding they be paid on time have a point: They are owed about six months’ worth of pay, and the Illinois constitution appears to be on their side in this matter.

It may be legally correct, but it’s still frustrating for taxpayers to see that legislators may get their checks in a more timely manner.

Former Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Republican, announced in April she would no longer pay lawmakers ahead of other agencies and vendors as the state limped along with no budget in place. She said they would have to wait in line with other overdue bills that were owed.

It’s a long wait: Even with a stopgap budget in place - which expires in 23 days - there was a backlog of more than 131,000 unpaid bills as of Tuesday, with more than $10.6 billion owed for services and work already rendered.

Despite being the ones to create this seemingly never-ending line, legislators think they have the right to cut to the front. The lawsuit filed Friday by Emanuel Welch of Hillside, Kate Cloonen of Kankakee, Lisa Hernandez of Cicero, and Chicago residents Mary Flowers, Sonya Harper and Silvana Tabares argues that Munger’s action violates the state constitution through executive-branch interference with the legislature.

A judge will most likely agree with them - but the lawsuit is a tone-deaf move that implies no one in the Democratic Party thought about the optics such an action would create. It made them look selfish and callous about the suffering happening throughout Illinois.

Even the timing was ridiculous: It was filed the day after the legislature approved a measure that bails out private corporation Exelon by hiking energy rates on the state’s residents and businesses. Lawmakers then adjourned until Jan. 9, hightailing it out of Springfield without a budget in place. Friday also was Munger’s last day in office, and with Democrat Susana Mendoza sworn in Monday, it reeked of a political maneuver instead of a serious concern about legislators who might actually be struggling financially.

Welch said the timing was due to Friday being the day after lawmakers returned from fall veto session and after another payday passed without a check. He also noted there are 2016 tax implications, as well as possible effects on the pensions of legislators retiring next month. There may be some lawmakers who truly depend on their legislative income. They may have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to carefully manage their money for the past six months, maybe forgo a planned vacation or delay the purchase of a new appliance.

We have no sympathy. That is just a small taste of the uncertain reality most human service agencies, schools, universities and other vendors have been subject to for nearly two years, thanks to the inaction of those same lawmakers to craft a spending plan for Illinois. As lawmakers put partisan politics above crafting a permanent budget that funds the state’s needs, nonprofits, universities, social service agencies and others have laid off staff, reduced the number of clients they can see or, in some cases, shut doors.

Some may argue that a budget deal will not happen until legislative leaders and the governor agree on one; given recent talks between them, we’re not hopeful that’s going to happen this year. But do the math: There are 173 people in the legislature who are not a leader or the governor. If they had the guts to demonstrate anything resembling independence from their political party’s respective leaders, we bet a lot more would be accomplished.

It’s inevitable that there will be agony as the state tries to right its fiscal ship. That misery needs to be shared, and state lawmakers must bear their share of it. These six lawmakers should withdraw their lawsuit, and give Illinois residents a shred of hope that someone in Springfield actually gets it.

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December 12, 2016

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Glenn might be last American ‘true national hero’

“We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live.”

-John Glenn, during NASA news conference in 1959 to introduce the Mercury 7 astronauts

John Glenn lived an extraordinary life. He was an outsized hero who epitomized a generation that taught America to dream big, to try things that had never been tried before.

Glenn, who died last week at the age of 95, will forever be remembered as the first American to orbit the Earth. His risky, nearly five-hour flight in the tiny Friendship 7 spaceship on Feb. 20, 1962, was a moment of national pride.

The Soviet Union was ahead in the Cold War space race, and America needed to show it could catch up. By the end of that decade, the United States would realize President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing the first man on the moon.

Moreover, Glenn was a decorated fighter pilot who enlisted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He flew 149 combat missions combined during World War II and the Korean War, often flying low and taking bullets from the enemy.

He later set the transcontinental airspeed record as a U.S. Marines test pilot.

After a successful stint in business, Glenn was a four-term U.S. senator from his native Ohio who became a leading expert on nuclear weaponry, proliferation and technology issues. He was the leading supporter of the B-1 bomber when many in Congress doubted the need for it.

Upon announcing his retirement from the Senate, Glenn defied age and gravity to return to space in 1998 at age 77 on the space shuttle Discovery.

“We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves,” Glenn said at his keynote address at Ohio State University’s commencement in 2009.

Glenn left an indelible mark on history. He was a quintessential American — striving hard, succeeding, suffering setbacks and earning high-flying redemption.

Author Tom Wolfe, who wrote about the original seven astronauts in his book “The Right Stuff,” described Glenn as “the last true national hero America has ever made.”

His life most certainly lived up to the famous send-off that fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter gave to him that day in February 1962, just before takeoff:

“Godspeed, John Glenn.”

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