Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
May 13, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Pain at the pump
Motorists, get ready — here come the tax increases.
The gasoline tax bidding war is off and running in Springfield, and, like many auctions, the bids are getting higher.
It was just a couple months ago that the Illinois Chamber of Commerce proposed a 25-cent per gallon increase to finance an infrastructure building plan.
Now state Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat, has taken that suggestion and considerably upped the stakes for taxpayers.
Where all this ends up between now and the end of the month, when the General Assembly’s current term ends, is anyone’s guess. But it seems clear that Illinois’ gas tax of 19 cents a gallon (plus a sales tax on top of the gasoline tax) is on the way up.
In March, the chamber sent up a trial balloon proposing phasing in increases that would raise the tax per gallon from 19 cents to 44 cents. At the same time, it recommended repealing the sales tax imposed on top of the gasoline tax, estimating that the changes would generate another $2 billion.
The money, of course, would go for road improvements included in a capital improvements bill, which often is characterized as a pork-fest. That’s because every legislator in the state will seek money for projects that may — or may not — be needed.
The chamber’s move signaled bipartisan interest in raising gasoline taxes to support construction projects that business and labor interests, each for their own financial reasons, support.
The chamber plan calls for a 15-cent-a-gallon increase on July 1 and another 10 cents in increases phased in over five years. The chamber also called for tripling the annual registration fee for electric vehicles — raising it from $98 to $294.
That proposal raised eyebrows. But Sandoval’s tax plan has eyes bulging.
He wants to boost the gas tax to 44 cents a gallon, raise driver’s licenses fees from $30 to $60, increase the vehicle registration fee from $98 to $148 and raise the fee for registering electric cars to $1,000. His proposal also would provide for automatic gas tax increases every year based on inflation, a move that would insulate legislators from having to vote for future increases.
Sandoval’s plan would leave the current sales taxes imposed on top of the gasoline tax in place.
The plan — or portions of it — would give Illinois the highest gasoline taxes in the nation, and that doesn’t include local levies.
It’s pretty clear that Gov. J.B. Pritzker, despite his campaign statements to the contrary, is on board with much of what’s being proposed.
Not only does he support a capital bill, he can use it to reward or punish legislators who do not support his other tax proposals — House members voting on putting his progressive income tax amendment on the November 2020 ballot — by granting or withholding their share of the pork pie.
There’s a risk for political blow back. Legislators would be taking a big chunk of change out of people’s pockets every time they re-fill their gas tanks. Our public servants would prefer to take as much as they can, but it’s really a question of how much they dare.
They justify it by stating and restating that Illinois’ roads and bridges are “crumbling,” an exaggeration at best. Clearly, maintenance is needed. But maintenance is always needed, particularly in the warm weather months. How much is enough?
That’s a tough issue in every state, but especially in Illinois. In the Land of Lincoln, too many other budget items — skyrocketing pension and Medicaid costs to name two — crowd out spending for core state programs that include the maintenance and construction of roads, highways and bridges.
May 12, 2019
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Thank you, teachers
In the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, found his life unraveling on Christmas Eve.
His dire financial situation was complicated when he returned home to find his daughter “Suzu” suffering from a cold. Bailey’s wife told him that Suzu wasn’t feeling well at school and her teacher sent her home.
When the dutiful teacher called moments later to check on Suzu’s well-being, Bailey grabbed the phone and accused the teacher of sending his daughter home without a coat. His tirade left the teacher distraught.
Later in the evening, Bailey drove to a bar in Bedford Falls, turning to alcohol for solace. There, he ran into the husband of the aggrieved teacher. When the husband learned of Bailey’s identity, he punched him in the nose.
That is learning teacher’s appreciation the hard way.
This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week. And, in many ways, we can sympathize with the teacher’s husband in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Times have changed. The period depicted in the movie scene described above was the early 1940s. At that time, a teacher’s job was more traditional — with an emphasis on the three R’s. There were, of course, other duties.
Teachers have long doubled as coaches, have always been mentors and have always kept a wary eye on their students for signs of family problems. However, with the breakdown of the American family structure over the last few decades, the role of the teacher as a student advocate has become exponentially more important.
Dedicated teachers are often a student’s first line of defense against an abusive home life. Selfless teachers take money out of their own pockets to buy school supplies and even clothing for students from struggling families.
These issues occur more often than we’d like to admit. Unless you have a teacher in your family, or you have close friends in the profession, you probably don’t hear about it often. But, good teachers provide much more than a good education for our children.
Those selfless acts happen regularly, yet, the profession is often maligned. When teachers strike, or protest for higher wages, the naysayers come out of the woodwork. They point out, incorrectly, that teachers have an easy job. They note the school day ends at about 3 p.m. and teachers don’t work during the summer.
Again, if you have a family member or close friend in the teaching profession, you understand it’s rare for a teacher’s day to end with the final bell. There are classes to plan, papers to grade or tickets to sell for a basketball game or spring musical.
Yet the job entails so much more.
It’s rare to find an individual whose life wasn’t influenced dramatically at some time by a teacher. That teacher who recognized a hidden talent and steered that individual toward a field of study or a profession. Or, perhaps you were struggling with a subject in school and that teacher took the extra time to help you understand.
Or, even more importantly, perhaps you had a teacher that shaped your outlook on life, helped you set priorities to become a better person, a productive member of society.
So, unlike George Bailey, we don’t have to be punched in the nose to appreciate the work of teachers.
We realize their importance in our society. We understand they are frequently underpaid. We know that the most brilliant scientists, the best doctors and lawyers all learned their crafts from others — teachers.
Make someone’s day. Reach out to a teacher, maybe someone who taught you, maybe someone who teaches your children or grandchildren and thank them.
They deserve it.
May 8, 2019
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Sandra Bland and the value of video in police work
“Get out of the car! Now!”
“Why am I being apprehended?”
A Texas state trooper, shouting.
Naperville’s Sandra Bland, 28, demanding, as she records video from a phone held near her lap.
Seconds later in the video, Trooper Brian Encinia leans through Bland’s open driver’s door, points a Taser at her and screams, “I will light you up!”
The 39-second video is a new view of an encounter that by now is familiar to those following Bland’s case. Texas authorities released nearly an hour of dashcam video from Encinia’s car in July 2015 showing a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change that quickly escalated after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette and she argued that she didn’t have to do so in her own car.
The dashcam video shows an arms-length view mostly of Encinia, including his phone call explaining his actions as a tow truck operator prepares to take Bland’s car away.
The new video shows what Bland saw: Encinia, who is white, looming in the open car door as Bland, who is black, exclaims “Let’s take this to court” and argues that she has a right to record video.
We all know what happens next.
Bland goes to jail in Waller County, Texas. Three days later she’s still there. She dies in her cell, in what is ruled a suicide by hanging.
Amid many questions -- why did the video just come to light? How does it affect Encinia’s statement to investigators that he felt threatened by Bland? -- one thing is sure.
The case points clearly to the value of video of police encounters, from body cameras, from dashboard cameras, from bystanders, and, yes, from arrestees.
It protects both authorities and the accused. In Elgin, for instance, both 2018 complaints about excessive use of force were ruled unfounded after review of body camera video.
It sometimes resolves any ‘he said, she said’ differences in the narrative of a police encounter. In Encinia’s case, it resulted in a grand jury approving perjury charges against him. (Charges were dropped after Encinia promised he’d leave law enforcement forever.)
Confrontations can go badly in any location: big cities, rural towns and the suburbs.
We believe in police use of body cameras and dashboard cameras and encourage more suburban departments to get on board and seek grants to help pay for the technology and for maintaining records.
By all means, we support the right of citizens to openly record on-duty police in public places in a way that doesn’t interfere with their work.
We understand how uncomfortable that can be for anyone in front of the camera. Yet, that discomfort is easier to bear than the questions that begin once the cameras are turned off.