July 10, 2014
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
Full-day kindergarten a good idea, but state can't afford it
We admire Fred Heid's passion for improving early childhood education in Illinois.
The new chief executive officer of Carpentersville-based District 300 schools, Heid told the Northwest Herald recently that he'd like to see state lawmakers pass a law that would require day-long kindergarten at school districts across Illinois.
There's little doubt that our children could benefit from mandatory full-day kindergarten. The increased class time gives younger students more time to develop the academic, social and emotional skills they'll need in first grade and beyond. Studies have shown that students in full-day kindergarten develop stronger reading and math skills that part-time students.
That said, Illinois currently is in no position to mandate anything that increases costs, for itself, or for any other taxing bodies.
The General Assembly recently approved a sham of a budget that relies more on gimmicks than sound accounting practices. Among other things, the fiscal 2015 budget doesn't reduce the state's record spending; further relies on delaying paying the state's bills; borrows money from special funds to pay for operational expenses; and counts on inflated future revenue projections that may never materialize.
Add to that last week's ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court that seems to indicate that a 2013 pension reform package is dead, and we're looking at a warehouse full of red ink.
It would be nice if our state government was responsible enough to live within its means. It would be nice if our elected state officials didn't continue to push off tough decisions until next year, or after the next election.
Because that's not the case, and because Illinois taxpayers already are stretched to the breaking point, new initiatives — even admirable ones such as mandated full-day kindergarten — that will significantly increase costs are not possible.
There is a slight glimmer of hope. In the November general election, Illinoisans will elect a governor; all seats on the state House are up for grabs, as are half in the Senate. If taxpayers want to take their state back, and one day be able to support mandated full-day kindergarten, Election Day is the time to do it.
July 10, 2014
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Suburbs deserve fair distribution of tax
As the Daily Herald's suburban tax watchdog, Jake Griffin was curious about a state tax that most people didn't know existed.
At first, he was interested in how much money the Personal Property Replacement Tax generated over the last few years. But when he started looking into it, what jumped out was the big discrepancies in how much money each community received.
In fact, certain suburban governmental agencies receive far less than they should while other governments throughout the state -- especially those in Chicago and Cook County -- receive far more than they should.
As Griffin explained in a story published Wednesday, the tax on business profits (which replaced a tax on business equipment) is distributed, in general, based on 1977 tax collections.
That's right. The tax, more than $1.3 billion, is distributed (in a complicated way) in 2014 based on taxes collected 37 years ago.
So, suburbs and school districts that were much smaller back then are not getting any benefit from their growth in the ensuing decades.
A simple example is Naperville, which was but a small blip on the map in the 1970s, but now is the fifth largest city in Illinois. It receives less than a tenth of a percent of the total tax revenue collected, just under $437,000. Nearby Downers Grove receives roughly $60,000 more, even though it's one third of Naperville's population today.
And Chicago? The city receives 11.6 percent of the tax -- or $158.6 million. And its schools receive 14 percent or nearly $192 million. And therein lies the rub in fixing this discrepancy and helps to explain why no one has raised this as an issue until now.
"There would be significant pushback from Chicago legislators because they're currently getting a better deal than they deserve," said Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger.
It also would cause some suburbs and school districts to get less money than they now get because of a shift in growth to other areas.
"If we had more (replacement) tax money come back to us, would we have such high property taxes?" asked state Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein.
"It's a little backward ... You should always have tax policy reviewed every decade."
He's advocating a fresh look. So are organizations that analyze government spending and policy.
After nearly four decades, it's about time.
July 9, 2014
The (Joliet) Herald-News
Al the Pal will be missed
What did former U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon, who died Sunday at the age of 86, do for you?
For starters, open your purse or wallet and take a good look at your driver's license.
Before Dixon was Illinois secretary of state from 1977 to 1981, licenses consisted of words on flimsy pieces of paper.
Upon taking office, Dixon declared, "I'm going to put a picture on your driver's license so you'll have an identification card," he said in a 2011 interview with Sauk Valley Media.
"I'm going to issue another I.D. card for non-drivers," he continued.
Dixon also established a personnel code to protect the office's 3,000-plus employees.
Further, "I eliminated the chop shops," he said.
And probably most important, for Illinoisans tired of changing their vehicle license plates once a year during cold weather, Dixon launched multiyear plates so the only annual change necessary was affixing a new license sticker.
Accolades for Dixon, a Democrat from Belleville, have mentioned his friendliness ("Al the Pal" was his nickname), his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans, and his firm desire to get things done for the people of Illinois.
His career in elective office was long: police magistrate, Illinois House, Illinois Senate, state treasurer, secretary of state, and U.S. Senate, where he served from 1981 to 1993.
Dixon lost his 1992 bid for re-election in a three-way Democratic primary. His vote in favor of the 1991 confirmation of President George H.W. Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court probably contributed to his defeat.
He continued to serve the country into the mid-1990s as the appointed chairman of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In that role, he is credited with preserving Scott Air Force Base.
Democrat, Republican or independent, Illinoisans should honor the life and career of Alan Dixon. We join them in offering our condolences to his family.
July 9, 2014
The (Ottawa) Times
Post-disaster aid could make big difference
Natural disasters are all too common in these parts.
The most frequent occurrence is floods (while more common, blizzards rarely rise to the level of disaster), although this is the time of year to recall the tornadoes that forever changed certain communities.
As common as the actual disasters are the stories of the aftermath, of the people who come together as a community to support the people and buildings affected, to rebuild and restore, to forge a new normal.
But esprit de corps is not always sufficient. Efforts like building a new Central Intermediate School in Ottawa required gobs and gobs of money. The school is a public concern, however. Private issues are another matter.
Gov. Pat Quinn was in tornado-ravaged Washington, Illinois, Monday, signing legislation he and lawmakers hope will make it easier for business owners to recover from the lingering effects of floods, tornadoes and the like.
The new law, according to the Illinois News Network, will allow businesses destroyed by natural disasters to rebuild and pay the property tax rate as assessed the fiscal year of the destruction.
This tax abatement is billed as a rebuilding incentive for businesses that otherwise would find property taxes on new commercial and industrial facilities cost prohibitive. The property tax rate for a rebuilding businesses would be levied at the same rate as before the disaster, and would increase steadily up to current assessment rates over the course of 15 years.
It's a rare good idea from the folks in Springfield, certainly related to the fact it's a rare example of bipartisan cooperation.
There actually are three new laws. In addition to the tax abatement, one creates a direct paycheck-to-American Red Cross giving website for state employees who voluntarily decide to donate to specific chapters of the Red Cross in the wake of a natural disaster, and one that caps the percentage insurance adjusters can charge as fees for post-disaster property assessments.
The centerpiece, clearly, is the tax policy, which is a solid strategy.
With property tax assessments already in place and a payment schedule that doesn't offer breaks for hard-luck cases, it's easy to see how a proprietor might be forced to choose between paying taxes he or she can't afford or just abandoning ship altogether. Generally that affects not just the business owner, but their customers and employees as well.
If the state can give a break in these situations, it most certainly should. After all, the property stopped being worth its assessed value the second the storm came through. The 15-year window seems sensible to allow businesses to rebuild, and if it proves too long or too short, lawmakers can go back and tweak the plan.
This is a good move for Illinois. It's too late to help local businesses that have survived recent disasters, but history shows there's a good chance proprietors in this region will need the aid at some point. Kudos to lawmakers and the governor for putting this one on the books.