- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August 6, 2017

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Schools must be priority for Illinois

Illinois cannot afford to allow the politically charged climate in Springfield to derail efforts to finally enact meaningful education reform.

Lawmakers from both parties agree the current state aid formula used to fund public schools— established in 1997 — is unfair and forces school districts to rely heavily on property taxes.

They acknowledge Illinois has the largest spending gap of any state between its most affluent school district and its poorest.

Some districts spend more than $30,000 per student, others less than $5,000 per pupil because the state provides only about one-fourth of what schools need, while property taxes supply two-thirds of funding.

This inequity continues to put rural schools, like many in West-Central Illinois, and inner-city schools with low property wealth and a high concentration of poor students at a financial and educational disadvantage.

Clearly, correcting this problem is long overdue.

Both the Senate and the House approved Senate Bill 1 at the end of the regular spring legislative session.

The bill changes the formula to fund its K-12 public schools by implementing an evidence-based model that channels money to the neediest districts first after ensuring that no district receives less money than it did in the last school year and sets individual adequacy targets for every district.

Those adequacy targets — or amount of additional state funding that’s determined to be needed to adequately educate each student — is calculated on several factors, including the level of available local resources, percentage of low-income students, technology, class size ratios and location in the state.

However, Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto power last week to rewrite many of the provisions in Senate Bill 1, including cutting money earmarked for Chicago Public Schools.

He says his funding plan will provide even more money to school districts around the state, although the Illinois State Board of Education is not expected to release its analysis of the governor’s proposal until this week.

Options for resolving this dispute are limited.

Lawmakers could override Rauner’s amendatory veto. This is possible in the Senate, where Democrats have enough votes to meet the three-fifths majority threshold, but less certain in the House, where at least four Republicans would have to join 67 Democrats to override and make Senate Bill 1 law as written.

Or, the Senate and the House would agree to the provisions spelled out by Rauner in his amendatory veto by the same three-fifths majority. This, however, is considered even more unlikely, given that the General Assembly has yet to accept any of the governor’s amendatory vetoes since he took office.

The bottom line is if lawmakers are unable to come up with the votes for either option, the legislation would die, meaning schools would not receive money until a new funding formula is developed.

While negotiations are reportedly ongoing, education funding is a complicated issue in a state as diverse as Illinois. It took more than two years for Senate Bill 1 to gain enough support for approval in the General Assembly.

While schools are expected to open on time without state funding, many districts have said they will have to make cuts or even close their doors if lawmakers can’t agree on a plan by fall. Quincy Public Schools Superintendent Roy Webb, for example, said the district can tap into its $16 million in property taxes to sustain operations through late fall.

Clearly, our schools should not be put in that situation. It’s incumbent on lawmakers and the governor to overcome their differences and compromise where necessary to take advantage of an opportunity to finally fix an inequitable education funding formula.

Illinois and its schoolchildren cannot afford anything less.


August 4, 2017

Sauk Valley Media

They kicked the can down the road - again

We have said repeatedly that it is inexcusable for the state of Illinois to operate without a budget. Therefore, we belatedly congratulate the state Legislature for putting a full-year state budget in place - finally - after 2 years.

The budget is important in a number of ways, maybe most important for what it says to outsiders evaluating our state, whether as a place to do business or during the process of evaluating our creditworthiness. So for that small victory, we are thankful.

As we’ve reported, the state budget, which raised personal income and corporate tax rates by 32 percent and 33 percent, respectively, to help cover the state’s bills, failed to include any real reform to address significant fundamental problems, such as underfunded pensions.

The tax increases are a stopgap at best. The Legislature, as politicians often do, simply kicked the can a little further down the road. We’ll pay a few more bills now, but the underlying problems are not going away.

With Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto this week, the state’s education funding bill, forged by majority Democrats in the House and Senate, has become the next political bone of contention, with state funding for K-12 schools hanging in the balance.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So what we expect is a group of politicians in Springfield unable to see beyond the “political noses” on their faces.

We’d like to have faith they will be well-intentioned and honorable servants of the public interest who will work tirelessly on behalf of the people of Illinois. What we expect is they will try to keep pushing real solutions aside until we reach another critical decision point created by the next financial crisis.

And for this Legislature, that will mean additional tax increases, with no meaningful spending reform. This group of politicians will look to guidance and political cover from other dysfunctional states across the country, and try to bring additional bad ideas to Illinois. We can only imagine how some Illinois legislators are salivating over the prospect of taking the state income tax to California-type levels, where the top marginal rate is 13.3 percent.

Our state is failing financially. The everyday people who get up each day and do the right things to make a life for themselves and their families are paying a steep price, and suffering as a result. The price they are paying has no end in sight for them or generations yet to come.

This will not end until we’re able to get leadership willing to honestly put the interests of all the people of Illinois before the political interests that have won out over the people’s interests for decades.

In particular, it’s time for Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House for 32 of the past 34 years, to go. Madigan holds what is arguably the most powerful “statewide” office in Illinois. However, all he has to do to hold power is win his own “safe” district and keep control of his cronies in the House.

While a Madigan-free House would be a start, there needs to be a clean sweep of those in charge in both the Illinois House and Senate who are using their power to gain or keep power, instead of finding real solutions to our problems.

This budget is a start, but does little to fix any of our real problems. People will continue to leave the state, business will continue to set up shop elsewhere, and the burdens placed on Illinois taxpayers will get more and more unbearable until the whole “House of Cards” comes falling down with catastrophic consequences.

Let your state senator and state representatives know what you think. It’s a daunting task, but we must take back control of our state government from the ineffective and corrupt, and put people in charge who believe in unlocking the real power of Illinois and its people.

Illinois should be a state others look to as a vibrant symbol of what a great state looks like. Right now, we look more like a cautionary tale.

We can do better. We must do better.


August 6, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

Illinois spends $1 to hand out every 83 cents in taxes for arts

Maybe $1.85 million isn’t the biggest expense in Illinois and won’t make much of a dent in the state’s $14.4 billion bill backlog, but maybe a blank canvas is exactly the kind of artistic statement we need.

Let’s eliminate the Illinois Arts Council Agency from the state budget. They must have taken lessons on government efficiency from our local townships, spending $1 million on staff and overhead in 2016 to hand out $834,900 in grants.

The council is chaired by Shirley Madigan, who has been in that position since 1983. Funny, her husband, Mike, has been Illinois House Speaker since then, too.

Adam Andrzejewski, who runs OpenTheBooks.org, recently wrote in Forbes that the council has failed to meet for the past three years. They decide who gets what public money in the art world without ever discussing the matters in public.

And guess who gets the money? Their well-heeled friends.

Madigan’s alma mater received $95,100, another board member’s employer received $165,650 and yet another board member’s pet opera company received $503,000. Surprise! There’s little of artistic merit south of Interstate 80.

Madigan’s appointment expired July 1. Another 12 of the 21 board members’ terms are also expired.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has an opportunity to let someone else be a matron of the arts and appoint a majority of board members dedicated to either eliminating the council or at least making it a transparent organization that helps local artists rather than makes your taxes a minor revenue source for well-connected, large arts institutions.

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