- Associated Press - Monday, December 30, 2019

Dec. 28, 2019

Rockford Register-Star

New year will bring more taxing times to Illinoisans

The next time you think lawmakers should DO SOMETHING to make things better for you and me, consider this: More than 250 new laws will take effect in Illinois on Jan. 1 and many of them will hit you in the pocketbook.

It seems the General Assembly and governor used a simple principle to determine how to raise revenue: if it moves, tax it! We’re surprised bicycles were exempt. Of course, we don’t want to give lawmakers any ideas.

The reason for most of the new taxes, fees and fines is to help fund a sorely needed, multiyear $45-million capital infrastructure plan. Some of the increases are more bone-jarring than the average pothole.

Here are a few of the new taxes we thought would be of special interest to you.

Vehicle registration: Registration fees for passenger vehicles will increase to $151 from $101, while electric vehicle registration fees will increase to $251 annually from $34 every other year. These are hefty increases and we wonder whether the electric vehicle fee, in particular, will discourage some Illinoisans from being more environmentally friendly. Their vehicles are on wheels, of course, so they might want pack them up and move to a different state to do their driving.

Trailer fees: The licensing fee for a trailer weighing less than 3,000 pounds will increase to $118 from $18, with every weight class above that also seeing a $100 increase. This looks like a mistake that needs to be corrected. A $100 increase to pull your boat is outrageous, especially because fees for the vehicles that pull those boats also increased by quite a bit.

Trade-in tax: The state currently does not collect sales tax on a car’s trade-in value. That changes Jan. 1 when the state will begin taxing any trade-in value more than $10,000. State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, was a co-sponsor on a bill that would have stopped that extra taxing. The measure was sent to the rules committee where legislation often goes to die.

This increase, which is expected to raise $60 million, will go toward “vertical infrastructure” such as new state buildings and renovations.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, you’ll be better off buying it before the year ends so you can save yourself a few hundred dollars.

Stop for the bus: The stop sign that school bus drivers extend when they’re making their rounds is not a suggestion. Stop means stop. However, far too often motorists ignore the bus stop sign and put the lives of children at risk.

Maybe those motorists will think twice now that the fines have doubled. The fine for passing a school bus with its stop sign extended goes to $300 from $150 for a first offense. Fines for second and later offenses also are doubling, to $1,000 from $500. This is an increase we agree with 100%.

Slow down, move over: Drivers who do not slow down or move over for parked emergency response vehicles will be hit in the pocketbook a lot harder and could face jail time.

The Move Over Law, or “Scott’s Law,” which is named for Chicago Fire Lt. Scott Gillen, who was killed in 2000, was meant to protect people and save lives. The law took effect in 2002.

However, too many people have been injured and lost their lives. This year, in particular, has been deadly.

There have been 27 Illinois State Police troopers who have been hit this year while attending to traffic incidents - and three have died, including Trooper Brooke Jones-Story, 34, who was killed March 28 after she was struck by a semitrailer while inspecting a vehicle on the side of the road near Freeport.

Jones-Story’s death was the impetus for tougher penalties. State Rep. John M. Cabello, R-Machesney Park, was chief co-sponsor of the legislation, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed in Rockford.

The fine for a first violation of the law is going up to $250 from $100. Subsequent violations now carry a minimum fine of $750. Violators also will be charged an additional $250 fee to fund education and enforcement of the law. A violation becomes a Class 2 felony if it leads to the injury or death of a first responder.

We hope the increase penalties make a difference for trooper safety. We don’t want to see a repeat of 2019.


Dec. 29, 2019

The News-Gazette (Champaign)

Is Pritzker’s wealth a problem

Great fortunes provide great flexibility, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker has demonstrated.

Illinois has so many problems that it seems rather silly for the people who are paid to think high-minded thoughts to search for more.

But since they have done so, it’s worth discussing.

Reform for Illinois, a good-government group in a state steeped in corruption, has suggested that it’s a bad thing for the state that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has used a teeny-tiny part of his mind-blowing personal fortune to personally finance the renovation of state buildings and supplement the salaries of a handful of close aides.

“We continue to have the same general concerns we’ve expressed in the past about elected officials paying for public functions with private funds, especially at the scale this governor is able to do it. It provides yet another advantage to wealthy officials and candidates, and depending on the use, can create conflicted loyalties and perhaps even increase the potential for corruption,” Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform for Illinois, told The Chicago Tribune.

Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Springfield and another veteran watcher of state politics, expresses similar concerns.

“It’s my responsibility as a citizen to contribute to the funding of the political system, and there’s no free lunch. We can’t offshore the cost of government to a bunch of rich elected officials,” said Redfield.

Slow down there. It’s important to keep this issue in perspective. Illinois has a roughly $40 billion budget, and Pritzker has spent roughly $3 million of his personal fortune on state affairs. No one is offshoring “the cost of government” to Pritzker or anyone else.

Hyperbole aside, what seems to concern the Nervous Nellies is that Pritzker is spending his personal money to achieve objectives that are important to him - supplementing the salaries of aides he thinks he needs and paying for renovations of his Springfield office.

He, like predecessor Bruce Rauner, is also working for nothing. Both Rauner, a multi-millionaire, and Pritzker, a billionaire, declined a paycheck. Should that, too, be a source of concern? Not from our perspective.

This is a unique situation - individuals who have the kind of wealth Pritzker acquired through inheritance are few and far between, even though they stand out like drunks at a funeral.

Former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, a scion of the Rockefeller family oil fortune, was among the first to use personal funds to make state government work better and smarter. But that was in the 1960s. How many others have there been since then?

Pritzker is using a small part of his fortune to do the same in Illinois, which is effectively bankrupt.

Is that a problem? Perhaps it could be if Pritzker - or someone like him - had some malicious intent. That doesn’t appear to be the case. He’s been above-board about his spending of personal money and no doubt will continue to be.

The reformers’ real gripe stems from this incontrovertible fact - the rich are different, and it skews their perspective.

Former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, during his confirmation hearings, once said that spending $100,000 to him was like spending $10 to Joe Sixpack. That’s a stupefying statement, but from Rockefeller’s point of view, it makes perfect sense.

So, too, it is with Pritzker, whose personal fortune has been estimated to be about $3.4 billion.

Of greater concern than Pritzker’s use of personal funds to pay for state-related spending is the use of his fortune to win elections. He spent about $170 million on his gubernatorial election campaign. He recently deposited another $5 million into an account to spend on passing his proposal for a progressive income-tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution.

Spending that kind of money can blow away the opposition. But it’s not illegal. So it will continue.

It’s the same with Pritzer’s personal spending on state projects. That’s not illegal either, and the public certainly doesn’t seem to mind. Given Illinois’ many other serious problems, why should it?


Dec. 20, 2019

The State Journal-Register (Springfield)

Thumbs up to initiative to improve coordinated service for the homeless

Thumbs up to the leadership of the city of Springfield, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and the Heartland Continuum of Care for their initiative to secure improved service coordination for the homeless. The group announced plans to hire a coordinator by early February of 2020. Though this action does not eliminate homelessness, this one step - creating a centralized point of contact - has the potential for much improved outcomes.

Since the 1980s, the Federal agency for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has required areas to establish local continuums of care, that is, agencies providing services to homeless should collaborate to assure coordination of services. Locally, representatives of some 20 agencies come together through board and task force meetings to improve coordination, all the while, working full time at their respective agencies. Heartland Continuum of Care, then, serves as the primary HUD designated body designated to develop, coordinate and implement long-range plans meeting the needs of homeless persons. These leaders began to imagine the value of a full-time, paid coordinator who will improve the communication between and among these member agencies, who finds and applies for grants to further their collective work, and who will identify overlaps and gaps in these services to strengthen the safety net.

Like waves on a beach and over many years, homelessness has come to our attention and then receded. Events of the last summer and fall, though, have prompted a deeper commitment to addressing this challenge in a permanent, thoughtful, and systemic fashion. Listening to what service providers said they needed, staff of the Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln identified this initiative and secured the generous support of the Foundation’s Jane and Paul Ford Family Fun’s and the Sommer Family Fund. John Stremsterfer, Community Foundation president and CEO, sees the person in this position making “sustainable system-level improvements” by better coordinating our system of care and bringing additional resources. Mayor Jim Langfelder noted that the city “is proud to enhance this partnership in order to provide greater efficiencies to all our efforts to end homelessness in our community.”

We applaud this important first step to assure the long-term resolution of homelessness.

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