- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

January 21, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Rauner’s veto of school funding bill unnecessary

Sometimes being a resident of Illinois is like living a bad dream.

In just the past couple years, we’ve been the state without a budget. We’ve been the state that has citizens fleeing at record rates. We’ve been the state with a backward school funding formula.

The state seemed to have taken a couple steps forward recently, belatedly adopting a budget. And, after a long and arduous process, a new funding formula for public schools was adopted. The new formula would direct additional monies to the poorest, neediest school districts.

Things were looking up - until Jan. 8.

That’s when Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto for the school funding formula. Rauner’s objection? The funding plan failed to address an issue he has pushed, making donations to private schools tax deductible.

The veto is exasperating for a number of reasons.

Currently, school districts are still being funded at last year’s level. Schools positively affected by the recently passed law weren’t expected to receive additional monies until March. With the bill in limbo, school districts are now uncertain when funds will be disbursed.

In the meantime, the administration says criticism of the veto is unwarranted because schools weren’t going to receive additional funding for several months.

While school budgets aren’t passed until late summer or fall, decisions to RIF teachers (teachers are laid off, but can be rehired for the coming term if funding is sufficient) are made in March. Rauner’s veto throws an unnecessary wrench into the budgeting process.

And, the timing of the veto is curious.

The bill was passed this fall. Rauner had 60 days to act on the bill. He waited until deadline to issue the veto. Why? Nothing changed in the interim. The language he desired in the bill wasn’t there in November. Why wait?

What’s more, Rauner’s veto is holding up funding to hundreds of public schools for the sake of about three dozen private schools.

Private schools are an important part of the educational process in Illinois. About 280,000 students attend 1,694 private schools in Illinois. That’s 280,000 students being educated without the expenditure of state funds - that represents a substantial savings to Illinois taxpayers.

But, Rauner is going to bat for 36 of those schools. The language he seeks in the bill will allow individuals and corporations to give money for scholarships to these schools in exchange for a tax credit worth 75 percent of the donation.

Reasonable people can argue the merits of that plan. On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to hold up funding for many of the 2.1 million students who attend Illinois’ public schools.

The governor and General Assembly are bound by the Constitution to fund the state’s public schools. Action taken to benefit private schools is discretionary and certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of public school students receiving a quality education.

It seems obvious that the state fulfill its obligations first.

Making sure that each and every student in a previously underfunded school receives a quality education is a more pressing issue than someone receiving a tax deduction. The tax deduction can be addressed at a later date.


January 19, 2018

Effingham Daily News

Checking the long arm of the law

We’re glad to see changes on the horizon for the state’s “civil asset forfeiture” law.

But we’re unsure that those changes go far enough to prevent the abuses that local officials say could happen.

Still, we encourage local police and area state’s attorneys to use their discretion wisely in such cases. Because, as the law will continue to say even after July 1, a criminal conviction is not necessary for authorities to pursue in civil court the forfeiture of property related to that criminal case.

That awesome power demands close scrutiny. And a deft hand by those who wield it.

After July 1, the law will require the standard of proof for a forfeiture to be “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is more difficult than the current standard of “probable cause.” But it will still be below the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” needed in criminal cases.

Imagine: You’re arrested for doing something evil. You’re convicted of doing something kind of bad - or not convicted at all. But the government might still get to take your property - cash, car, even your house - because of a lesser standard of proving that you’re evil.

We tend to think it’s the government’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you’re guilty of doing something before it punishes you.

But we can also imagine circumstances where it’s best for the community to give police and prosecutors leeway, as long as they use that discretion wisely. Luckily, the changes to state law will provide a little more oversight.

The changes will makes it more difficult for law enforcement to keep items gained by civil forfeiture. For example, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office maintains a vehicle seized years ago for its detectives. The changes require police to make a written justification for each item the department wants to keep.

Agencies will also be required to report the property taken to the Illinois State Police, which will publish an online report of the aggregated assets taken by an agency.

The changes also limit how seized money is spent, limiting what the American Civil Liberties Union calls “policing for profit.” On that point, we are concerned about the way property is divided after it’s been auctioned off: 65 percent to the local agency, 25 percent to the prosecutor’s office and 10 percent to the Illinois State Police. We agree with critics who suggest that money should go into a fund and be distributed by grants to law enforcement, drug treatment, public defenders and other elements of the criminal justice system.

Beyond that, we urge authorities to hold themselves to the most stringent standard when attempting to seize someone’s property.

No one should have to prove themselves innocent before the government uses the mighty powers that we grant it. Especially when “not guilty” in a criminal case does nothing to deflect the long arm of the law as it reaches into your pocket.


January 21, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Road to ruin

Population shifts within the United States - who moves where and why - speaks volumes about how well the 50 states are governed.

The warnings keep coming. Illinois’ elected officials keep ignoring them.

How long can this go on?

That’s a reasonable question to re-ask after the latest shot across the bow of Illinois and other states that embrace similar slow-growth, no-growth policies.

Summarizing a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, economist Jonathan Williams reports that the agency’s estimates of population shifts across the country bode ill for Illinois.

But it’s not just Illinois that is in trouble in terms of population declines and their related effects on representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census Bureau’s estimates show that several states are in the same boat as Americans “vote with their feet” by moving from one state to another in search of, among other things, greater economic opportunities for themselves and their families and relief from high taxes.

Joining Illinois in trouble are big states like New York and California and small-state Rhode Island. Among those prospering most are Utah, Nevada and Idaho, while big states like Florida and Texas continue to flourish.

Williams reports that the main difference between successful and unsuccessful states is the extent to which they are economically competitive.

Do they impose high taxes on their citizens and preside over a business climate that is unfriendly to job creators or do the opposite?

Williams, chief economist of the American Legislative Exchange Council, said he uses those factors to link “migration to state-level policy decisions and economic competitiveness” and the information generated “gives a nice summary of estimates for congressional seat changes after the 2020 census.”

“In general, states that keep taxes low and provide the competitive business climate perform far better than the states that follow the tax-and-spend approach,” he writes.

Representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on population shifts. After the census is performed in 2020 - the federal government conducts one every 10 years - states’ representation in the U.S. House is refigured with growing states gaining House seats while others lose seats.

Williams said Illinois is “the state with the largest downside risk” because it will certainly lose one member of its U.S. House delegation and “is in danger of being the only state in the U.S. to lose two seats.”

Illinois’ recent population loss - “the largest net population loss of any state in the past year” - pushed it down to the sixth largest state, replaced by Pennsylvania as No. 5.

The bad news about Illinois is just more of the same. But it’s surprising to see other states like California, the nation’s largest, could “actually lose a congressional seat.” That is a shocker, considering that California gained seven seats “between 1980 and 1990 alone.”

Where are people who leave California, Illinois, New York and Rhode Island going?

The census estimate says destination sites are Florida and Texas and other states “that are more economically competitive.”

One of the great truisms about the U.S. immigration issue is that people from foreign countries come to the U.S. in search an opportunity for a better life. Less understood, Williams reports, is that those who move from one U.S. state to another move for the same reasons.

What Williams reports, of course, all seems rather obvious. But does anyone expect Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to make any productive changes when the General Assembly reconvenes? Of course not.

Unfortunately, our elected officials - collectively speaking - don’t seem much bothered by the failing status quo, at least not enough to do anything meaningful about it. But given the latest report and the many others that preceded it, they will never be able to claim ignorance as the reason for ignoring the depth of Illinois’ problems.

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