Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
Posted March 14
March 7, 2017
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
State elected officials should spend time on what really matters
With all that ails Illinois, this is what time is being wasted on these days?
The "this" being referred to is the feud between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who are arguing what fund should be used to pay about 600 state employees.
We get the politics behind it: The need to paint the other political party as uncaring or wrong is a well-worn page out of the political maneuver playbook. It's just frustrating that the pettiness between the political parties is getting this low. Did both sides decide they hadn't had a big enough public fight yet so they decided to get something going?
The crux of the disagreement is this: There are 578 employees who work in the Department of Central Management Services who need to get paid. CMS submitted payroll vouchers asking these employees be paid out of the General Revenue Fund, which is typically used for most expenses.
Mendoza wants to cut these checks from two revolving funds — the Facilities Management Revolving Fund and the State Garage Revolving Fund — that have $93 million in them as opposed to the general fund, which has a stack of unpaid bills totaling more than $12 billion. She has used the word "triage" to describe how her office attends to the state's obligations when Illinois doesn't have a budget and the majority of spending is being done through court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations. She argues using money from funds in the black is better than further burdening the one in the red.
Rauner says the comptroller's plan would violate a 2015 order from St. Clair County Court that has kept state workers being paid despite the lack of a state budget. The administration has filed in that same court asking for quick action, saying a delay could mean workers would miss a paycheck.
CMS has also said those two funds have specific purposes, like keeping state vehicles on the road and maintaining vehicles used by the Illinois Department of Human Services to transport vulnerable citizens. If those funds are used for payroll, CMS believes the money would be depleted before the end of the fiscal year, and that could mean, for instance, no money to pay for gasoline for state trooper vehicles.
The comptroller's office notes that both of those funds have money specifically appropriated for payroll purposes for these employees, and previous comptrollers have used those funds for payroll. Rauner's team said in the past, other agencies gave some of their general revenue funds to CMS as it serves as a consolidated clearinghouse for certain services (like negotiating leases or vehicle repairs). Without a budget, those agencies cannot transfer money to CMS, and therefore the funds to assist with CMS overhead are not there.
All that (and more) has been outlined in a series of letters, press statements and videos during the last few days, culminating in Monday's court filing.
As the popular internet meme goes, this whole episode "is why we can't have nice things."
It's a simplified explanation of a ridiculously complex budgeting system, but realistically there is one pot of money and it's called revenue. That may be divided into smaller buckets, but in the end, revenue is used to pay expenses. Most Illinois residents don't care a lick what bucket it comes from.
This is what matters: The state is $12 billion behind in paying its bills. We are in month 21 of no budget. Revenue continues to not meet expenses. Residents are leaving the state. Universities must cut expenses. Businesses are looking for ways to cut expenses. Social service agencies are reducing offerings to clients. Do we really need to add to that list squabbling over what bucket of money to use to pay 600 out of the state's 60,000 employees?
Despite the fact that we can't believe this has become a problem, its solution can be found by compromising on a state budget. Lawmakers should be spending their energy on crafting a spending plan, approving it and getting it signed into law.
Get to work.
March 12, 2017
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Don't skip spring election
Illinois residents will go to the polls again April 4.
No, we aren't electing a president, governor or even senators or representatives. In fact, it's easy to forget the municipal elections, to be caught off-guard as signs marking polling places start to crop up during early voting. It's tempting to ignore local elections, when global-scale problems seem so urgent and ever-present in our lives.
But the November election proves two things — every vote counts and elections have consequences.
Voters going to the polls April 4 won't be sharply divided along party or ideological lines. Labels such as Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative don't evoke visceral knee-jerk responses in municipal and school board elections.
And, while the fate of the free world will not be riding on the outcome of these elections, they are important nonetheless. The results of municipal and school board elections will have a direct, not to mention profound, effect on residents of the community or school district.
The Southern Illinoisan will continue to publish stories about the upcoming elections, looking at the candidates seeking the votes of their neighbors and the issues voters and candidates care about. It is gratifying to see fields of candidates, providing voters a choice. Again, the 2016 general election seems to have spurred an interest in the American political system.
We have been seeing that renewed interest in mass demonstrations in major cities, in modest protests at town hall forums and even in an uptick in Letters to the Editor.
American citizens are speaking out for their beliefs, becoming engaged and not taking for granted that some candidate will reflect their point of view, and by extension, act in their best interest.
Not everyone has a taste for public office. Not everyone has the time or ability to fulfill the demands of an alderman or school board member. But, every American has the duty to vote. That duty is accompanied by a mandate to vote responsibly.
Take the time to study the candidates and their positions. Do not vote for someone simply because they live in the neighborhood or go to the same church. All over Southern Illinois, candidates for mayor, city council and school board are gathering for public forums, giving all of us a chance to hear directly from the people who seek to represent us. Many forum organizers are taking suggestions from the public for questions.
Aldermen and school board members won't be deciding foreign policy. They aren't changing how our health care system works. But they will be making decisions that affect you — that affect all of us. And these may be things some of us care about more deeply than global policy or nationwide legislation. Our local representatives — school board members, college trustees, city council representatives and township supervisors — make decisions about what our children learn in school (or don't learn), how much we pay in taxes, where our hard-earned tax money goes, and what rules small businesses must adhere to.
We know our readers care very much about each of these issues. Zoning may sound extraordinarily dry, but when Carbondale's City Council changed the zoning of some downtown businesses this past week, people cared. We talk (sometimes complain) about our local taxes more than anything. A vote in April's election is a chance to have those complaints heard.
In these dire financial times for Illinois schools, it is particularly important to elect knowledgeable, engaged school board members. With no school funding relief on the horizon, school board members must be capable, and willing, to think outside the box.
The state budget impasse has strained funding at every level of Illinois government. Our local leaders will continue to face fiscal challenges. We must elect the leaders who will make those tough decisions.
And we must do so on April 4.
March 12, 2017
Bet a bunch of new casino fees could balance Illinois' budget
Illinois is again betting on gambling, but it appears the goal is not to win the pot but just to collect the buy-in.
State lawmakers are proposing six new casinos, which they expect will generate $1 billion in setup fees. The license fee is $100,000 for the Chicago-area casinos with an extra $30,000 for each slot machine or seat at a blackjack table.
Hmmm. We've got a $12 billion backlog of state bills. Maybe if we can scam six new casino operators out of $1 billion, we could take 72 of them for the whole $12 billion tab?
Illinois has nearly 10 million residents old enough to gamble. Certainly that large of a potential customer base could draw another 72 casinos.
Instead of the Turnaround Agenda, we need the Roulette Agenda.
We can't count on any more taxes from gambling. We're saturated with a mini-casino in every tavern and fraternal hall and the "old" gambling of horse tracks and casinos are on the decline.
There's no economic development. See any strip malls, restaurants or nightclubs growing out of the casinos in Alton or East St. Louis?
Our state universities balance their books by tacking on fees, so let's get Illinois solvent by feeing those casinos.