June 30, 2015
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph
Democratic duo needs to compromise
Gov. Bruce Rauner took the right path last week when he vetoed the out-of-balance budget passed by the General Assembly.
The era of approving a budget with no grounding in the real world is over. The only part of the budget that Rauner approved was the education budget, ensuring the state's public schools will open on time this fall.
At the same time that he sent the misguided budget back to the House and Senate, he offered some concessions that might make a compromise possible.
Rauner, in an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, offered to help save Chicago and its public school system by agreeing that the state could pick up part of the teachers' pension costs. He said he would work with Democrats on changing the school aid formula.
Rauner still wants a property tax freeze, but has shortened the time to two years. He wants reform of workers' compensation and the civil justice system and he wants a promise of a vote on term limits and redistricting.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton reacted with the same tired political platitudes.
Madigan and Cullerton don't want to consider workers' compensation or civil justice reform because two of their main constituencies - labor unions and trial lawyers - don't like the ideas. Never mind that businesses have said both are an impediment to growth and many businesses are moving, partially because of these issues.
The two Democratic leaders also don't want to consider term limits or redistricting because it might upset the status quo where they hold most of the power. But both issues are popular with voters. Rauner isn't asking for passage, just a vote.
The state will begin its new fiscal year Wednesday without a budget. The impact may not be felt for a couple of weeks.
There is still time for a compromise. Both sides need to stop the political posturing and get to work.
And Madigan and Cullerton need to understand that unbalanced budgets don't work. If the Democratic duo wants to protect the spending they are so fond of, they are going to have to compromise on other issues.
June 28, 2015
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Victory is when gay marriage becomes boring
Gay marriage bans crumbled throughout the nation last week. But, only when gay marriage is officially old hat, can anyone claim success.
Friday's 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down all remaining state-level bans on same-sex marriage, including in Kentucky. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion is a sweeping treatise on love, commitment and the social importance of marriage. Gay couples for too long have been wrongly subjugated and isolated. They too deserve the protections found within the legal marriage contract.
Kennedy, through his articulate, graceful prose, was careful to show respect for gay marriage opponents. And, in the short term, perhaps it's that bit of wisdom that can begin to heal the scars from the most significant social battle in a generation.
Both sides of the bruising debate regularly accused their opponents of hate and intolerance. Even the justices split into two factions and sniped back and forth.
Just recently, The Southern was inundated with angry phone calls after a story ran about the one-year anniversary of Illinois' legalizing same-sex marriage. Callers raged about the story's placement. They yelled because it had been written at all. Many claimed that it wasn't newsworthy. Frankly, gay marriage -- and the unprecedented shift in public opinion -- are incredibly newsworthy. Illinois' law, and Friday's Supreme Court ruling, are huge massive victories for equality.
Now that gay marriage is decided, we urge everyone to lower the volume and begin the dialogue that will make gay marriage an integral part of American culture. There's policy work to be done.
Private, religious schools that won't recognize gay couples are worried about losing tax-exempt status. State legislatures and Congress must sift through the rubble and find the appropriate balance. Proceed with caution.
The lesson of Friday's decision can't be lost on those hoping to end-run the rule of law. Religious exemptions, in some limited cases, might be appropriate. But there's a fine line between the free expression of religion and outright discrimination. One's beliefs must never justify state-sponsored inequity. That's the entire purpose of the division between church and government.
Gay couples from Illinois can now travel to any state in the U.S. and expect their legal rights to be respected. Finally, the haphazard legal skirmish that saw thousands openly oppressed, is over.
But real victory comes when gay marriage is just another boring aspect of American life. And, for that to happen, engaging those most opposed is the only way forward.
June 27, 2015
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Don't shutter Illinois' natural, cultural history
Throughout much of Springfield's history, the now 138-year-old Illinois State Museum has offered steady reassurance that while people and politicians come and go from the capital city, the state's natural and cultural history are worthy of preservation, study and protection.
That apparently is no longer a given, as a budget impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature prompted the governor to threaten closure of the state museum.
The importance of protecting Illinois' history was evident back in 1877 when the editors of the Illinois State Register lauded the 80th General Assembly for establishing a state historical library and geological museum, the precursor to the Illinois State Museum, to care for a large and valuable array of minerals, fossils and other artifacts that had been collected during the first geological survey of the state in the early 1850s.
Editors called it one of the best pieces of legislation state lawmakers approved that year.
The new facility, to be called the Illinois State Historical Library and Natural History Museum, had a board of trustees, including the governor, who would establish rules for managing the facility and appoint a curator. Until that point, the specimens had been stored somewhat haphazardly in various locations.
The museum's first curator, Amos Worthen, immediately set about his work, which included accepting donations of artifacts from around the state and the world. Among the first contributions: 180 flint and 20 stone prehistoric tools and fragments of ancient pottery from Monroe County on the Mississippi River, where indigenous peoples lived long before Europeans arrived.
The museum moved around through the years. Early on, it was in the Statehouse, which was under construction at the time, causing the museum to be moved to different locations throughout the building. In 1903 it moved to the Arsenal building and later to what now is called the Howlett Building.
In 1963 the museum found a permanent home in a new building at Spring and Edwards streets, which cost $2 million to construct (more than $15 million in today's money). Museum directors through the years have expanded the facility, changed and modernized exhibits and imparted their vision for how best to enlighten visitors about Illinois' natural and cultural history.
Today, the Illinois State Museum has more than 12.5 million items at its main site, at its collection center and at the Dickson Mounds Museum, which was absorbed by the state museum in 1965.
Nearly 200,000 people visited the free-admission museum and its research and collections center in Springfield in 2014. Among them are thousands of schoolchildren and their teachers, eager to supplement classroom instruction with hands-on learning.
Preserving the Illinois' history and sharing it with the people of this state has been a priority for Illinois leaders for generations. The museum's value is immeasurable.
But today, Illinois' elected leaders are so entrenched they can't come to an agreement on a new budget, and the Illinois State Museum is in the cross hairs. The budget expires Tuesday, and there's still no signal that Rauner and lawmakers are on the brink of a deal.
Closing a museum is complicated business, as noted in a recent State Journal-Register article. It's impossible to simply lock the doors and walk away. The accreditation the Illinois State Museum has had for 40 years could be revoked if it closes. Donations of money and artifacts will be affected. Collections will have to be returned to rightful owners. Research will come to a halt. The museum could go into legal default on federal grants and contracts. Private collection donors could sue the museum for failing to live up to its promises. Local tourism would take a hit.
All of this upheaval just to save the state of Illinois $4.8 million a year in operating costs for a facility that generates an estimated $33 million in visitor spending throughout the state each year, based on Illinois Office of Tourism minimum estimates of visitor spending.
For 138 years, the Illinois State Museum has been a priority for the state, through wars, economic downturns and tough times. If leaders choose to close the museum, Illinois will invalidate decades of valuable and meaningful research and preservation work, as well as people's interest in the state's history and culture.
And Illinois will be a failure on yet another front.