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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

July 3, 2019

July 1, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Pension solutions hard to come by

Playing hot potato with pension problems hardly qualifies as a solution.

The people of Illinois are, no doubt, sick and tired of hearing about the financial problems surrounding public pension systems in Illinois.

Too bad — they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Here’s one reason why.

New Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently gave an inspiring speech announcing her intention to come up with solutions to Chicago’s underfunded pensions. They have $9.5 billion in assets and $42 billion in obligations, creating a $32 billion hole produced by overpromising benefits and underpaying mandated contributions.

The mayor didn’t mention any of her ideas of how to solve the problem then. But late last week, she revealed what she has in mind — Lightfoot is pitching a state takeover of city pension funds.

Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz characterized Lightfoot’s impending proposal as “a big, big ask.”

No kidding. The state already is on its financial knees, one of the reasons being its $136 billion pension underfunding problem as of June 30. The last thing it needs is to take on the unmet obligations of Chicago.

Lightfoot’s proposal raises a host of issues, the biggest being how the state would deal with adding another roughly $30 billion in pension debt.

Here’s another — if Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Legislature are going to take on Chicago’s pension obligations, are they going to do the same for Champaign, Urbana, Danville and every other public pension fund in Illinois?

News reports indicate that Lightfoot would be willing to forego some state revenues in exchange for the state taking on the city’s pension woes. She also is willing to support state taxation of retirees’ income in excess of $100,000 to generate revenue to go to the pensions as well as extending the sales tax to selected services.

One of the chief benefits to Lightfoot, aside from dumping a huge problem on the state, is that she’d be able to spare Chicago taxpayers a planned $1 billion property tax hike for the city’s pensions.

Chicago is absolutely the dominant political force in the state. Most statewide officials, including Pritzker, come from the city. The General Assembly is led by two Chicagoans, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

But it’s hard to imagine why legislators who already are at loose ends trying to deal with the state’s pension crisis would want to add to their problems.

They are, as a group, clearly not geniuses. But how dumb would they have to be to agree to Lightfoot’s request?

Perhaps that’s why state political leaders either professed ignorance about the plan, were non-committal or threw cold water on it.

Cullerton’s office said he has not “had an opportunity to review” Lightfoot’s proposal, while Republican Senate Leader Bill Brady said “taxing retirement income will just drive taxpayers out of Illinois.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, a close friend of Lightfoot, said he looks “forward to working with her in an effort to find a solution that benefits all Illinoisans.”

However unrealistic Lightfoot’s proposal may be, it is helpful in one disturbing respect.

It reveals just how difficult the city and state’s pension underfunding problems are.

Her public comments to the contrary, it seems clear Lightfoot has neither the desire nor the stomach to deal with her municipality’s pension woes.

At the same time, Pritzker has no real appetite to address the state’s pension problems. After all, it was just a few months ago that Pritzker proposed skipping $800 million-plus in required pension payments for the 2019-20 budget, a position he wisely reversed after the state received an unaniticipated boost in April tax revenues.

Given those realities, serious trouble looms, the only question being when circumstances go from really, really bad to even worse.

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June 28, 2019

Sauk Valley Media

Roby etches his name in local history books

On June 20, Dixon’s Isaiah Roby became the first athlete from the Sauk Valley to be selected in the NBA Draft since 1984.

The 2016 Dixon High School grad was taken by the Detroit Pistons with the 45th overall pick, and immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

The day after the draft, Dixon celebrated the culmination of Roby’s dream with a rally. The 21-year-old was escorted through the center of town and then met with fans at the Public Safety Building.

The event was warranted because what the 2016 SVM Player of the Year has accomplished is a big deal. While it’s difficult to be selected in any professional sport’s draft, the odds of being drafted into today’s NBA are astronomical - that’s why he is the first Dixon player to be taken.

In the NBA Draft, there are only two rounds in which 60 players are taken. The fact that Roby was one of those athletes becomes even more amazing when you consider how many international players are now among those selected. In addition to coming from a small school in northwest Illinois, Roby played his college ball at Nebraska - a school that hadn’t produced a NBA draft pick since Venson Hamilton in 1999.

In the NHL Draft, there are seven rounds in which 217 hockey players are taken. In pro football, 254 players are taken in a seven-round draft. In the MLB Draft, 1,217 baseball players are chosen during a 40-round process that takes 3 days to complete.

There are paths to the NBA for players who aren’t among the 60 players taken in the draft, but the road is more difficult. All you have to do is look at Rockford’s Fred VanVleet, who was undrafted and is now a star with the 2019 world champion Toronto Raptors. It’s been fun to follow VanVleet’s young career - first in college at Wichita State and now in Canada - and watch the excitement created in his hometown.

Like VanVleet, Roby is humble and easy to root for. He has never sought out the spotlight and he made it clear in an interview done last week with SVM how much he truly appreciates the support he receives from the Sauk Valley.

“It’s huge to me, and I feel really blessed; I can’t tell you how special that is,” Roby said. “Dixon’s a small, close-knit community, and I’ll always be a small-town guy. I’m proud of being from Dixon, and Dixon’s proud that I’m from here, so the feeling is definitely mutual.”

Roby should be a great role model for kids here for a long time. He has a strong work ethic, handles success and challenges with grace and dignity, and you get the feeling that the young man will never forget where he came from. We expect him to make a difference on and off the court in Dallas or wherever his career takes him.

We wish Roby the best of luck in his NBA journey, and we hope Dixon will someday host another event in his honor - this time to celebrate his team’s world championship.

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June 30, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Court’s gerrymandering decision lets the people down

We all tend to think we live in a republic built around democratic principles, with a government, as Abraham Lincoln said, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We hate to say this, but to some degree, we kid ourselves. It is not hyperbolic to warn against the erosion of our freedoms.

One significant example is gerrymandering, the practice of dominant political parties drawing Congressional and legislative maps in such a way as to ensure the elections of their party’s candidates.

Ironically, as our technology grows increasingly more sophisticated, it provides the capability to draw these maps more fairly.

Unfortunately, the parties just take advantage of that increased sophistication to draw maps even more to their liking.

This is no small thing. It turns the concept of one-person-one-vote into a fallacy. It enables dominant parties to increase their dominance and enables elected politicians to ensure their re-elections.

In Illinois, Democrats do this and are pretty blatant about it. But it’s not like this is endemic to one party. In some other states -- Texas, for example -- Republicans do.

In Illinois, and throughout the country, organized citizens initiatives have worked to change this without a lot of success. But until last week, there was reason for optimism. Good government activists looked to the Supreme Court to protect the electorate.

Then Thursday, the court handed down a horrible blow to democracy. In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that even though it recognized that district boundaries were being drawn through partisan gerrymandering, it is up to the voters, not the courts, to address that.

Such an appalling abdication of the court’s responsibilities.

That argument misses the point that in manipulating the process, the gerrymandering essentially takes the power to make decisions out of the hands of the electorate.

This is not a conservative or liberal issue. It is a liberty issue. Through gerrymandering, the political parties gain power, the voters lose power.

CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan advocacy group on this issue, has not given up its efforts to pass an amendment to the state constitution to change how our districts are drawn.

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