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Excerpts of editorials published recently in Illinois newspapers

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January 25, 2016

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

With friends like this ...

During the campaign in 2014, Bruce Rauner described himself as "a friend of higher education." He recognized that the state had reduced funding to state universities in recent years, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

On Oct. 1 of that year in Bloomington, he said he would "increase state support for higher education: We've been cutting it for years; that's pushed tuition costs up."

But there's nothing like winning an election to change a man's perspective.

Only two weeks after the election — two months before his inauguration — he sent a message to the Illinois Board of Higher Education warning state universities that their budgets would be drastically reduced. At that time, he was talking about a 20 percent cut. Further, he advised those institutions to store up a "spending reserve" for the coming storm.

Was he anticipating the virtual shutdown of the government even before he took office? Was he girding for the gridlock of July? Was he planning?

At that time, Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn and IBHE Executive Director James Applegate were holding out hope. Dunn said he thought a 20 percent cut would be the "worst case scenario." Applegate said, "It is a long way until February and we are hopeful that the ultimate results will be less dire."

But things were more dire by February, when Rauner delivered his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The proposed budget for SIU represented a cut of more than 30 percent.

With the legislature and the governor not able to reach agreement, and with the funding freeze in place, universities began feeling the squeeze. Just last week, Chicago State University started tolling the bell. It would be out of money by March. Looks like an early summer vacation in Chicago.

Other universities, those that had the ability to heed the governor-elect's advice in November to stock up spending reserves, were able to weather the storm. At least they have to date, but this is far from being over.

Now, as if we needed any more evidence that the governor had "unfriended" higher education, we get a new memo coming out of his office. And this one feels almost punitive .It is addressed to "Members of the General Assembly," and it comes from Richard Goldberg, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs, on Gov. Rauner's letterhead. It asks legislators to look more closely at state university "Income Funds," and to seek ways to pressure universities for reforms to "cut waste, root out cronyism, improve outcomes and achieve savings of taxpayers' money."

So what do we make of this memo? Not much. It is full of campaign rhetoric, twisted facts and misguided directives. It is very clear why Rauner has chosen to go hard after higher education, because anyone with half an education can see this memo is a feeble attempt to flex a gubernatorial muscle.

Yet, for its utter lack of substance, this memo is incredibly heavy. Because it confirms once and for all that the governor is about to declare an all-out war on higher education.

Some friend.


January 24, 2016

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Let the public assess red-light cameras

For years now, we've been warning about the immorality of red-light camera profits that have tempted officials in many suburban municipalities.

We're open to the idea that technology can be used to enforce the law and make us all safer.

If, for example, authorities determine through unambiguous data that driving beyond a certain speed on a specific stretch of road is unacceptably dangerous, then government has a responsibility to set the speed limit at that number and enforce it, and we've never opposed technological advances that have helped law enforcement do so more effectively.

The same holds true for red-light cameras. If they can be used to stop people from running red lights and endangering the lives of themselves and others, they could be a legitimate tool.

But whether they are effective at doing so is a considerable question.

There's no doubt that officials in many of the municipalities that have installed red-light cameras were motivated by the windfall of traffic citation revenue they promised.

But we also recognize that many officials have leaned toward the technology because they genuinely believe it can make our intersections and roads safer.

Yes, at some locations the cameras may have helped increase traffic safety. But as counterintuitive as it may sound, in many locations, it appears that they have not.

We agree with the conclusion drawn by Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for Chicago AAA. She says municipal officials ought to "be judicious and know why crashes are happening."

Beyond that, given the lack of credibility red-light cameras have with the public at large, unbiased statistics on the intersections where they're located should be made widely available.

We believe the public deserves an online statewide database of crash statistics at red-light-camera intersections so people can assess the effectiveness of the cameras for themselves.

Officials in municipalities that use the devices should be required to provide consistent and regularly updated information on the crashes that occur and the details that are relevant to understanding them.


January 22, 2016

Chicago Tribune

As the Illinois model collapses, pols have their own twist on 'Groundhog Day'

No, no, no. These noisy implosions weren't supposed to happen. Conspirators of both major parties figured their costly Illinois model of government would lurch along forever, enabled by doe-eyed taxpayers oblivious to such a marvelous, self-serving scheme.

Now, though, reality has intruded. As a result you hear the percussive boom, boom, boom of public entities that politicians unwittingly set up to fail. The state government in Springfield, rocked by decades of financial bumbling. Chicago Public Schools and Chicago City Hall, ditto. Public pension funds, perhaps none more imperiled than those for Chicago police and firefighters. Drowsy suburban and downstate local governments still awakening to their astonishing debts and retirement obligations. Universities unaccustomed to balancing costs and productivity. School districts whose boards often are elected by, and serve at the pleasure of, their own employees.

The Illinois model lies broke and broken. But for decade upon decade, running Chicago and Illinois must have been sweet. Mayors, legislative leaders and go-along governors — the R or D behind their names meant little — rarely made trouble for one another. To this day aging members of that incestuous Illinois political class describe one another as "someone you could work with." Of course you could. When everyone's profiteering except chumped taxpayers and needy people doomed to shabby services — or, in CPS' notorious case, to shabby educations — why would anybody make strange?

And if a few politicians ruffled an occasional feather — Gov. Dan Walker or, until he got his nose realigned by a certain House speaker, Gov. Jim Edgar — Illinois never had a chief executive who rebuked the Illinois model. Rebuked the quasi-Ponzi scheme in which politicians used rising revenue for their new spending rather than to reduce taxpayers' debts.

At the rotten core of Illinois governance lurked this big lie: If you ran a city or a school system or a statehouse, you perpetually could force Tomorrow to pay for Yesterday and Today. Each mini-generation — a new mayor or governor, a new cohort of legislators, a new county board — could spend and borrow and force their children to pay for it all.

The most egregious example was the pension legislation that today's top legislative leaders, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, and many others helped enact. In return, they got campaign labor and money from public sector union leaders.

We've written that, over the past four-plus decades, many of the folks who run our state and local governments signed suicide pacts, spectacularly unaffordable retirement deals that left too little money for the services those governments provide. Often when these deals were cut, the public officials and the union leaders were, in effect, seated on the same side of the negotiating table, holding hands. The pols knew they were creating someone else's problems. When the devastating costs came due they would be gone, out of office, retired. Collecting fat pensions.

As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.

The one consequence of their decisions that the architects of the Illinois model most strenuously reject is a first-term governor named Bruce Rauner. Angry voters sent him to repudiate much of what they've done in long political careers.

The architects fool no one. Employers wise to Illinois' tax and debt burdens go elsewhere. Rating agencies question whether this city and state can cash-flow such massive pension and other obligations. The pols watch, helpless, as credit downgrades extort taxpayers by raising the interest costs of all this borrowing.

Who knows, maybe Rauner someday will go native. But for now he's forcing politicians to confront a notion those angry voters endorse: Illinois governments, overspent Springfield and overborrowed CPS included, won't get more moolah until they help shape a new Illinois model. Rauner plainly wants a greater return on investment for taxpayers — and less access to levers of power for the cozy insiders who profit from the dereliction of both parties.

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