September 2, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

'Gov. Veto'? You're darn right

Gov. Bruce Rauner is taking the big picture into consideration when it comes to the state's finances.

Years ago, when Republican Gov. Jim Edgar held office, he earned the enmity of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and other legislative Democrats.

What was Edgar's sin, aside from being a member of the other party?

He vetoed bills that authorized the spending of money the state didn't have.

Mightily offended by that novel concept, Democrats tried to make political hay of Edgar's vetoes. They called him "Gov. No," suggesting that Edgar was unalterably opposed to doing good — and expensive — things for the people of Illinois.

Actually, it wasn't that at all. Edgar knew that reckless spending, however politically advantageous in the short term, wouldn't do anyone a favor. It would, instead, turn the state's finances upside down and generate the kind of budget chaos that paralyzes the government's ability to carry out its core functions.

As a matter of fact, what Edgar feared most — although he probably never thought that the state's finances could get so bad — is what Illinois has now — financial disaster across the board.

Some people, of course, never learn. This being an election year, Democrats are running the same play they ran against Edgar.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker slightly revised the language. He's not calling Gov. Rauner "Gov. No." Instead, he's chosen "Gov. Veto."

"Governor Veto is on a roll, nullifying bill after bill that would benefit working families," he said.

Pritzker cited a list of bills Rauner vetoed that he, apparently, happily would have signed.

Of course, if a Democrat was governor, it's not clear the Democratic Legislature would have passed some of these bills.

Politicians of both parties have been known to pass bills with the expectation that a governor of the opposite party would veto them and that the veto could be used against the governor in an election campaign.

Among the bills Rauner vetoed was one that would raise minimum teacher pay to $40,000, an unfunded mandate that had local school superintendents screaming bloody murder because their districts don't have the money.

No one begrudges teachers a decent salary. At the same time, few dispute the reality that money intended to be used to pay higher salaries has to be available to be spent.

Details, details.

Another veto concerned legislation that would increase the state's liability from $100,000 to $2 million for individuals injured while under the state's care. It's an out-growth of the Legionaire's disease contagion at a veteran's home in Quincy.

Once again, there's the question of what the state can afford. In his veto message, Rauner said "the current law is outdated and in need of adjustment," but that $2 million is too high.

If legislators really wanted a bill Rauner might sign, Madigan and his minions might have passed a more reasonable increase. Kentucky caps claims at $250,000, Missouri at $300,000 and Indiana at $700,000.

Pritzker, of course, again denounced Rauner.

There's no disgrace in being "Gov. Veto," just as there was no disgrace in being "Gov. No."

Rauner is showing he has the courage to take the big picture into consideration — what can the state do with the resources it has? Judging from his rhetoric, Pritzker is indicating he'll sign whatever the Democratic-controlled Legislature sends him, which is what helped put Illinois into its current state of effective bankruptcy.

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August 31, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

State needs to provide fair funding for all of SIU

From the armchair quarterback's perspective, the solution seems obvious: Maintain the integrity of the Southern Illinois University system by providing equitable funding to both the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses.

The House Higher Education Committee spent part of this week holding hearings at the Carbondale and Edwardsville seeking input on the financial well-being and needs of both institutions.

Reading the accounts of the meetings, we find ourselves agreeing with many of the comments made before the committee. The problem is that not all the comments point in the same direction.

Many of the statements made at Edwardsville are logical and lucid. However, the undercurrent of separating the campuses is both self-serving and short-sighted. The Edwardsville campus would likely benefit, in the short-term, from separation. On the other hand, both campuses and all of Southern Illinois would suffer in the long run.

As currently configured, the Southern Illinois University system is the second largest educational institution in the state. The combination of the undergraduate schools, the SIU School of Medicine, the SIU School of Law, the SIUE School of Pharmacy and the SIU School of Dental Medicine gives the system financial and political clout. Only the University of Illinois system is larger.

Separating the campuses erodes that clout for both Carbondale and Edwardsville.

The existing tension between the two campuses is like a family spat. There is a solution that is best for everyone, although no one is going to be totally satisfied.

We agree funding between the two campuses needs to be equitable. Equitable is different than equal — and, we are aware that the Edwardsville campus has not asked for equal funding. Conversely, we understand Edwardsville philosophy of the two campuses being viewed as co-equals rather than a flagship institution and its smaller sibling.

We agree with points made by Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno — SIUC's infrastructure is older and requires more maintenance. We agree that it is more costly to run a research institution. Yet, it's impossible to disagree with Edwardsville's contention that the mission toward undergraduates should be identical.

Toussaint Mitchell, the president of the SIUC Undergraduate Student Government, cut right to the heart of the issue when he said something is wrong when the state budget is so thin that sibling campuses are "at each other's throats."

SIUC must sharpen its focus on recruitment and retention of students. The Carbondale campus must take an inward look aimed at streamlining staff and evaluating areas of study. At the same time, it is vital for both campuses to maintain a broad curriculum to insure that student life is diverse and rewarding at every level.

It is, admittedly, a complicated situation. The points highlighted here are salient, all these considerations are important to maintaining vibrant, quality education at two campuses. All the House committee has to do is synthesize all this information and somehow form a solution that is acceptable for all concerned.

Family differences? Yup, and some of them appear to be serious. Yet, in the final analysis, there are significant areas of agreement. It is vital the committee, and both campuses, focus on shared growth and commitment to success.

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August 30, 2018

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Students need to do homework before choosing a college, field of study

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to help students pick a college by providing information on employment outcomes, student debt and a grade card comparing institutions.

For-profit colleges are getting a break from rules that were established during the last weeks of President Barack Obama's administration. Funding was cut off from career-focused colleges if the student debt incurred by those who attended was too high. Federal financial assistance also was withheld if a student's study would not lead to "gainful employment in a recognized occupation."

These rule changes demonstrate the dilemma now facing millions of Americans.

Education has long been seen as a well-defined path toward prosperity and career advancement.

In the years immediately after World War II, millions of military veterans came home and accessed the GI Bill to get postsecondary schooling. For most, college led to better jobs with better salaries.

In each decade since then, growth of the middle class has swelled the ranks of people seeking degrees or career training. For-profit schools sprung up to offer training, often in specialized professions.

Students were repaid for their time and tuition fees with the likelihood of higher lifetime earnings.

But as costs rose and job markets changed, more and more students found themselves with a nightmare of debt, rather than a dream job.

Certificates or specialized degrees from some schools did not translate into job skills that were in demand. A few schools faced lawsuits accusing them of charging high fees that yielded little in the way of employment opportunities.

Education Department data from late 2016 showed that students from about 800 schools had very high debt and low job placement. Student debt in the United States now stands at $1.4 trillion.

DeVos wants to see whether the marketplace can handle the problem, instead of having the federal government police the schools.

For-profit schools are once more eligible for federal student aid. The Education Department requires that colleges post likely earnings and debt data on their websites. A revamped College Scorecard also can be reviewed on the agency's website.

So what's the lesson?

Americans still see education as a good thing. They also want value for the time and money they invest in college.

Prospective students who do their homework before signing up for classes will greatly improve their chances of success.