March 23, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Governor candidates still have a lot to prove

Now that the long — and we mean long — primary election cycle is over, let's take a deep breath and revisit something we've talked about before.

Negative advertising.

Political experts will tell you that it's effective, which is why it continues to dominate the airwaves in the weeks leading to an election.

We won't try to list all the examples here, but anyone who watched TV or listened to a radio in recent weeks saw or heard when the attack dogs were out.

These ads do not include any discussion of the vital issues of the day, which in Illinois would fill this space and jump to another page.

But it's important to note some of the issues that should be at the top of anyone's agenda if they want to run this state: Pension reform; workers' compensation reform; paying down $14 billion in unpaid bills; property tax relief; population loss; and our woeful record on economic development.

These and a lot of other topics are what both Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker — and their supporters — should focus on over the next 7 1/2 months leading to the November general election.

Both candidates will say they want to work with the other side to solve the state's problems, but the images — tearing down an opponent and the opposing party through misleading, inaccurate and sometimes offensive advertising and then pledging to work together if elected, are in conflict

There are clear differences between the two candidates on most issues. Our message to them is define your message, deliver it effectively, listen to feedback from the voters, be willing to compromise and then let the people decide which of you deserves to live in the refurbished Governor's Mansion.

The Southern did make endorsements in the primary, so it's a clean slate for both candidates. Both men have a new opportunity to convince voters that they are the better leader for our state.

In the end, it's likely wishful thinking to think that either Rauner or Pritzker will refrain from attacking each other's character as the second half of the campaign season begins.

For voters, the best antidote to this is to become informed. Study the candidates and their positions — and employ multiple sources from established media and not just from sources tied to a candidate or his ideology. If you can, go to a debate between the candidates and watch them on the campaign trail.

The purveyors of negative campaigning, we said at that time, count on voters being ill-informed, making it easier for them to accept lies, character assassination and half-truths.

That hasn't changed.

A lot is at stake and both candidates believe they have the answers, or at least some of the answers to the long list of problems noted above. They wouldn't be running otherwise — and spending more money than anyone has a right to spend.

And, then what?

Whoever wins in November still has to face a daunting task: How to get anything done in Springfield with Mike Madigan maintaining his iron grip on the General Assembly and virtually everything that goes on there.

But we'll revisit that at another time.

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March 23, 2018

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Is hoarding reserves violating spirit of tax cap law?

Back in 1991, in response to runaway property taxes, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties were subjected to a new law that created hurdles to continued growth in tax rates.

The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, better known as the property tax cap, allowed for modest increases in annual tax levies -- tied to the rate of inflation but never to exceed 5 percent. Home-rule communities were exempted from the law.

Cook County adopted it three years later and dozens more counties have adopted it since.

The tax cap was established to allow Illinois' nearly 7,000 taxing bodies to maintain services by allowing slow spending growth to deal with higher salaries and other costs. The philosophy was that if a large capital project were to be funded -- a new library or police or fire station or additions to schools -- the taxing bodies would have to get voter approval through referendum to pay for it. We've long advocated for most of these projects at election time.

The tax cap has been an important governor of spending, despite Illinois' ranking at the top of states in property tax burden. It's hard to imagine how bad things would be without it.

We've seen a troubling trend lately of taxing bodies collecting more than they need now and squirreling that money away for large projects.

Our Suburban Tax Watchdog, Jake Griffin, wrote last week that two-thirds of the 93 school districts in the Daily Herald's coverage area grew their reserves from 2016 to 2017.

Eighty-seven of them were holding more than 25 percent in reserve -- including 18 with enough in reserve to cover an entire year's expenses.

The state board of education recommends a school district hold a minimum of 25 percent of its annual budget in reserve but does not set a recommended maximum.

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 officials say they're building their reserves for pension obligations and life safety projects.

That type of contingency planning makes a lot of sense. Especially in Illinois, where state funding sometimes comes at a grindingly slow pace.

But some school districts amass money for large construction projects, which seems to fly in the face of the tax cap philosophy of asking voters to approve that sort of thing.

There is prudent saving, and then there is excluding public debate.

Proponents argue that by saving up to pay entirely for a big project, or at least defraying the costs of it, they are reducing future tax burdens.

Opponents argue that they're paying now for something they'll never benefit from down the line.

Keeping with the spirit of the tax cap law, we recommend that school districts engaging in savings be as transparent as possible about their practices -- or put them to a public vote.

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March 23, 2018

Chicago Tribune

In four letters, why people leave Cook County: J-O-B-S

The Texas economy is booming; Illinois' is sort of getting by. You want numbers, we've got numbers. Over the past year, Texas employment grew 2.3 percent, while Illinois employment grew 0.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's 285,200 new jobs in Texas vs. 48,700 in Illinois. Jealous yet?

This is one of the best periods in recent U.S. history to look for employment. The national unemployment rate is 4.1 percent with a record-high 6.3 million job openings. The U.S. economic outlook is bright, but Illinois is doing . just OK. Certainly, the Chicago area overall is in decent shape. Yet the state lags, and people are leaving. The unemployment rate in Texas is 4 percent; it's 4.7 percent in Illinois. And for four years running, Illinois has lost residents. In 2017, Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, dropping the state to sixth largest, below Pennsylvania. Texas grew. Because jobs are everything.

In today's episode of "How Illinois undercuts itself," we focus on some loopy action by members of the Cook County Board — many of whom are forever complaining that their constituents deserve more job options. Keep reading.

There are plenty of differences between Texas and Illinois, but the one to focus on is business friendliness. Pound for pound, Chicago may be able to outshine Dallas as a global business center, which is why Amazon is looking at both cities for a second headquarters. But Texas, with low taxes, low regulatory burdens and functional government, is inviting to employers. Illinois? This state can be hard to love.

The problem with Illinois, as we've written many times, is rooted in political dysfunction and a lack of respect for the needs of employers. Executives, entrepreneurs and investors want to play by the rules, not get strangled by them. They don't want to get fleeced by the tax authorities. And they want to know the rules, and tax burdens, won't be changed on them. They want certainty. Amazon came up with a smart description for its ideal second headquarters location. The company is looking for a "stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure."

Here's an example of when Illinois failed that test: The south suburbs of Cook County compete for jobs against nearby Will County and Indiana. Taxes are lower in both of those other locations, so Cook County has a real estate tax incentive program to lure commercial and industrial property investment. Basically, the county offers long-term property tax cuts for certain projects, in order to level the playing field. But earlier this month, in a sop to labor unions, a majority of the board voted to add onerous requirements to the program that make it more expensive to hire workers for these projects. Thus Cook County destroyed the effectiveness of its own program.

The board's decision is "maddeningly stupid," John Watson, the economic development director in South Holland told us. "We don't have people making good long-term policy decisions. They are always short term and many times have some kind of personal connection." Watson said South Holland attracted dozens of property deals in recent years through the incentive program, but now he worries the jobs-luring projects will dry up. In fact, he knows it. Investors and employers will take their projects, and jobs, to Will County or Indiana or elsewhere. Maybe to Texas.

By the way, the population decline in the Chicago area isn't across the board. Cook County lost 20,093 residents last year, but Will County gained population. It's not hard to see why. Jobs are everything.