- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

November 3, 2016

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

President Timothy Killeen has a good idea on how to restore budget certainty to the University of Illinois.

Dorothy felt compelled to warn her dog Toto about the bizarre change in their circumstances when she said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Indeed.

Dorothy and Toto were in Oz, a munchkin land where wicked witches set the stage for a tumultuous effort to get back to reality.

The state of Illinois is not Oz; it’s much stranger.

In that context, someone needs to remind University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen that when he left New York to come here, he entered an alternative universe, one not likely to accept his impending plea for budget certainty.

Killeen told members of the UI’s faculty senate this week that he supports legislation that would provide five years of guaranteed funding in exchange for the UI’s pledge to meet certain educational benchmarks.

Well, good luck with that.

It’s not, of course, that Killeen’s idea isn’t a good one. The problem is that he’s promoting a serious budget plan to a state whose leadership is not as serious about governing as it is about playing politics. Even if state leaders were to decide to take a different approach to their public responsibilities, Illinois is swimming in debt, deficits and public pension liabilities.

The state entered its second year without a budget in July.

In the 2015 fiscal year, the General Assembly passed a deficit budget that Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed. Legislators took no further action to address the spending issue.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the General Assembly didn’t pass a budget at all. When push finally came to shove - legislators feared voter wrath over closed K-12 schools in the fall - Rauner and legislators agreed on a temporary budget that will expire after the election.

How, in a state that hasn’t shown lately that it can pass a single-year budget, does Killeen propose to persuade the Legislature to pass a plan that provides a five-year spending plan for the UI?

These are tough times for the state of Illinois, and that includes the UI.

Killeen estimates the UI has lost $750 million in state funding over the past two years, a reduction in resources that Killeen said puts the institution “under huge stress.”

“Rome is burning around us,” he said.

Killeen is right. But it’s not just the UI that is in danger of being engulfed in flames, but the entire state.

It’s understandable that Killeen is focused solely on his responsibilities. But it seems unrealistic to expect - or even hope - that the state would address UI issues alone without trying to address the larger problem.

What is that problem? Chiefly, it’s the inability/refusal of Republican Gov. Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to reach a compromise agreement. With power divided, what other kind of agreement can one realistically expect them to reach?

If Madigan is to get the tax increases he wants, why shouldn’t Rauner get the economic growth reforms he wants?

If that seems simple to achieve in theory, it has been impossible in reality, at least so far.

Maybe this year’s bitter legislative election battles will produce an accommodation. It seems, however, just as likely that Madigan, ever-ready to rumble, will immediately shift his attention to the 2018 gubernatorial election, with the aim of running Rauner out of state government and restoring himself as the ruler of Illinois.

Perhaps that explains why Democrats are already spending millions in 2016 campaign ads attacking Rauner, who won’t be on the ballot again until 2018.

It’s instructive to note that Killeen’s proposal isn’t just about money. He’s proposing to meet certain specific benchmarks in exchange for budget certainty. But Killeen also is seeking changes in regulatory and procurement rules, proposals that would not cost the state one thin dime but could save the taxpayers many millions of dollars.

Why hasn’t the state already acted on regulations and procurement? After all, money saved by the UI means money saved by the state. The answer is, the Legislature doesn’t want to act. These common sense measures are caught up in Madigan’s showdown with the governor.

It’s a revolting set of circumstances, one that is taking a huge toll on taxpayers and all the institutions that depends on them for financial sustenance.


October 30, 2016

Rockford Register Star

Jail is no place for people who have mental illnesses

A psychiatrist would never recommend that a person with a mental health problem be locked up in a 6-by-8 jail cell with a person who has a different set of problems, yet that is what happens daily in the United States.

Tom Dart, the Cook County sheriff whose jail has been called the largest mental health facility in the country, understands the challenges from a law enforcement perspective and from a people perspective.

Dart was in Rockford for a League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford fundraiser. The topic of his speech was “The Shameful Criminalization of Mental Illness.”

Shameful, indeed.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that people in a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police than to get medical help. NAMI estimates that 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails every year and that 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women in jail have serious mental health conditions.

The numbers in Dart’s Cook County jail are worse: About 32 percent of inmates have a diagnosed mental illness at any given time.

He has not allowed them to languish. Dart has implemented advanced mental health and crisis intervention training for the jail staff, and is now hiring health professionals.

Rockford and Winnebago County are looking for ways to help individuals who have mental illnesses and keep them from emergency rooms or the jail.

The state of Illinois is applying for a Medicaid waiver that would allow it to use federal money to pay for preventive care services. Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey is pursuing that funding stream so the city’s first responders can be proactive rather than reactive when helping residents.

It’s an approach that Dart has used with his law enforcement professionals and one that will help Rockford better serve its residents.


November 3, 2016

The (Freeport) Journal Standard

No more waiting: Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!

No more wait until next year. No more lamenting what didn’t happen in 1969, 1984 and 2003. No more fearing curses, goats and guys with glasses in Cubs hats along the third base line. No more talk about being “lovable losers.”

The Cubs are “lovable winners” after capturing their first World Series title in 108 years. For those of you who are casual baseball fans, that’s not a typo. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Cubs fans are accustomed to drama, but they’re not used to it turning out their way. It’s that 108-year thing again.

The odds were against the Cubs when they fell behind three games to one to the American League champion Cleveland Indians, who had their best pitchers ready and waiting for the seventh game of the series. Plus, the Indians had home-field advantage and a crowd of fans about as hungry for a championship as Cubs fans.

The Cubs were the best team in baseball during the regular season piling up 103 wins. They won 11 games in the playoffs. They became only the second team since 2000 to win 100 games and the World Series. The other was the 2009 New York Yankees.

Speaking of the Yankees, whose fans have been smug for so many years because they have won more World Series than any other team, they haven’t appeared in a World Series since that 2009 title.

Still, the Yankees have won 18 division titles, 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series championships, all of which are Major League Baseball records.

The Cubs, in contrast, have appeared in 11 World Series, and on Wednesday captured their third title.

The Cubs made television a big winner. Game 7 was the most-watched baseball game in 15 years. Tuesday’ night’s Game 6 was the most-watched World Series game since 1997, with 23.4 million viewers.

More people tuned in to watch Sunday night’s Cubs game than watched the featured football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. It was just the third time a World Series game drew more viewers than a Sunday night NFL game since the two started going head-to-head in 2010.

The Cubs of the past two seasons have been a great team for fans. With the youth, skill and battle-tested experience they now have, could World Series titles become - gasp! - routine in Chicago?

Believe it. When the Ricketts family bought the team in 2009, they hired the best in the business to run the baseball side of the operation. Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, put together a team that should be good for a long time.

He previously had worked his magic in Boston, where in 2004 the Red Sox won a championship after 86 years of disappointment. The Red Sox went on to win World Series in 2007 and 2013. His formula for success works.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s savor the Cubs’ championship.

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