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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

July 24, 2018

July 22, 2018

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Lawmakers acting swiftly on Illinois Veterans Home work

Two bills overwhelmingly approved by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law last week by Gov. Bruce Rauner are expected to expedite the rehabilitation of the Illinois Veterans Home campus in Quincy.

One, Senate Bill 3128, consolidates the design and building processes under state law. It will allow state officials to hire one company for both architectural plans and construction, a move intended to save the time it takes to design and then seek bids for a builder and to streamline the process for tapping into federal matching funds.

The second, House Bill 5683, makes the recently purchased Sycamore Healthcare Center part of the Veterans Home. The state bought the former nursing home at 720 Sycamore last month, and renovation work already has begun to prepare it to house veterans during upcoming construction work on the main campus.

Importantly, these moves continue a string of positive developments in recent weeks aimed at solving problems that have plagued the home since 2015.

The governor and state and federal lawmakers should be commended for following through on their commitment to invest in critical infrastructure improvements and safety measures at the home, which serves veterans from more than half of the state’s 102 counties.

Rauner’s administration has outlined a five-year, $230 million plan to update the 132-year-old campus. His senior adviser, Michael Hoffman, is overseeing four major projects connected to resolving issues linked to outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease that have led to 13 deaths and dozens more being sickened.

The first was buying and beginning renovation of the former Sycamore Healthcare Center, work that is expected to be completed within three months. This came after passage of a state budget in May that included $53 million for the Veterans Home.

Next, engineers are developing plans for a new campus water loop. That work, part of a master plan to be completed by the end of the year, will replace old plumbing to eradicate the Legionella bacteria that grows in water and can sicken when it’s inhaled in water vapor.

Moreover, architectural designs for a new state-of-the-art facility on the main campus are expected to be completed by next summer. Preliminary discussions have centered on a 250- to 300-bed nursing care building.

Additionally, the state is working with the city of Quincy on finding a new city water source as part of the plan for the new water distribution system at the home.

Clearly, much work remains and diligence will be required.

However, these efforts, along with others before them, will help the Veterans Home better provide for the care and well-being of those men and women who served their country, the best possible outcome.

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July 19, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

State’s financial woes can’t be ignored

Illinois’ gubernatorial election is about four months away, and the campaign debate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker has been considerably less than scintillating.

Rauner, a multi-millionaire, keeps attacking Pritzer’s successful effort to cut his property taxes by disconnecting the toilets in a mansion the multi-billionaire owned. Pritzker counterattacks with equally emotional, but otherwise vapid, assaults on Rauner’s tenure as a “failed governor” — you name it, Rauner has failed.

Both, obviously, know that the state is effectively bankrupt. But is the public hearing anything substantive about how the state is going to dig its way out of this hole, particularly Grand Canyon-size deficits represented by pension underfunding at the state and local levels?

Unfortunately, there’s nary a peep to be heard from either of them because, in campaign season, the goal is to win votes by any means possible. That, too often, does not include leveling with the public about issues that are disturbing, complicated and not particularly interesting.

But if Rauner, Pritzker and other candidates for state office are ignoring the state’s myriad financial issues, other people are not.

Financial problems swirling around state and local pension systems across the country will be coming to a head in the next few years, and financial experts contend that Congress and the states must be prepared to address the problem.

That’s why James Spiotto, managing director at Chapman Strategic Advisors, is urging Congress to create a special federal bankruptcy court to deal with these impending bankruptcies.

In an address delivered to the Brookings Institution’s seventh annual Municipal Finance Conference, Spiotto said it’s imperative for Congress to act because states and localities won’t be able to continue to ignore the problem.

With special bankruptcy courts in place and staff with judges who understand government finances, Spiotto said states and local units of government could file “pre-packaged” plans similar to conventional bankruptcy reorganizations and be in and out of the courts in 45 to 90 days.

Under current law, states are not eligible to file for bankruptcy, although special legislation passed by Congress allowed Puerto Rico to go that route. Less than half the states, not including Illinois, allow municipalities to file for bankruptcy.

Spiotto has two other proposals that he said will come in handy when the various states decide they have no choice but to take action.

He’s suggesting drafting model state constitutional amendments for states that are in way over their financial heads but face constitutional impediments to making changes in public pension rules. He also proposes establishing government financial oversight commissions to assist in states where public pension reform is legally or practically impossible.

This is drastic stuff. But the longer problems are ignored, the tougher the medicine is to fix them.

Illinois is in a state of denial. The public realizes there are grave problems with government finance in Illinois but is largely unaware of the extent of those problems. At the same time, elected officials, at least most of them, recognize the bleak circumstances but are too concerned about the November elections to level with the voters.

Unfortunately, problems that are studiously ignored do not disappear. They only grow worse.

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July 18, 2018

Sauk Valley Media

Science takes a front seat at prairie preserve

What could a scientist find to do on 3,500 acres of restored prairie in rural Franklin Grove?

Elizabeth Bach already has set some priorities.

Nachusa Grasslands’ first full-time scientist wants to:

1) Study how to better protect two endangered plant species, the prairie bush clover and eastern prairie fringed orchid.

2) Study why bison eat specific types of grass which, if left to grow, would overwhelm endangered species of plants.

3) Look for additional ways to help the grasslands grow.

And that’s just for starters.

Bach, a 33-year-old Iowa native whom The Nature Conservancy employs, has the background to tackle the job. She has studied chemistry, biology, environmental studies, plant biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, has earned multiple degrees, has done post-doctoral work with data collection and in the laboratory, and has collaborated with scientific colleagues in other parts of the world.

Plus, she has an intense interest in prairie ecosystems that could carry her forward to make worthwhile contributions to the understanding of how the ecologically rich environment works at Nachusa Grasslands.

For all the time that humans have interacted with the prairie, there are still a lot of things people don’t know about it.

They have known, for the past 181 years, how to use self-scouring steel plows to break up the prairie sod and convert it to farmland, thanks to inventor John Deere, whose blacksmith shop was in nearby Grand Detour.

But they haven’t fully comprehended the interconnections of the prairie.

And that appears to be high on the agenda for Nachusa’s new full-time scientist.

We wish Bach well as she pursues her study of the grasslands.

Her arrival is the latest effort to develop the grasslands’ potential, along with the construction of an open-air visitors center and the introduction of bison. The herd, by the way, has grown to about 125 animals.

Illinois is known as the Prairie State, but development has eaten away at the prairie.

The Sauk Valley is fortunate to have a sizable chunk of it remaining here.

Intelligent stewardship and development of Nachusa Grasslands has already served the goal of nature preservation.

It will now serve another goal: scientific study.

We’re glad to see science take a front seat at the prairie preserve. Along with eco-tourists, we’ll join in welcoming all the scientists who care to visit Nachusa Grasslands and the Sauk Valley.

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