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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

May 31, 2017

May 30, 2017

Chicago Sun-Times

That $12,000 in wasted taxpayer money just the norm in Illinois

There are things public officials would never do if they thought somebody might call them out on it.

Case in point: Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough last month blew $12,303.09 of county money on a party for herself and 10 employees. At a rate of $1,118 plus change per person, they lolled away a weekend at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

And how, may we ask, is your tax bill looking these days?

We are aware of Yarbrough’s extravagance only because a Sun-Times reporter, Mitch Dudek, happened upon the story by chance. He was at the resort and encountered Yarbrough and her colleagues.

This points to the larger problem, beyond that $12 grand. In Illinois such wastefulness is normal, going largely unnoticed and unpoliced, because our state has an absurdly large number of local government entities, some 7,000. That’s the most in the United States. Who can keep an eye on them all?

Illinois would be more taxpayer-friendly if hundreds of unnecessary units of government were given the ax, as reformers have been pushing for years. A state law that went into effect last summer requires every county board to list redundant units of local governments that could be consolidated or eliminated, but almost every county has ignored the law.

The good news is that voters recognized in November that Yarbrough’s office, which keeps track of land transactions, was an unnecessary one. It will be merged into the county clerk’s office, beginning in 2020, saving taxpayers an estimated $800,000 to $1 million a year.

The further good news is that other small but successful efforts have been made to eliminate unnecessary units of government, after decades of complete failure. The DuPage County Board has been a leader in this, eliminating local units of government such as a street lighting district that operated just 77 streetlights. The DuPage board estimates its consolidations will save taxpayers about $80 million over three years.

But given that local units of government in Illinois spend almost $60 billion a year, we’d say the ax has only just begun to swing.

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May 30, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Downsizing government?

They don’t call the lieutenant governor’s office the light governor’s office for nothing.

The General Assembly remains awash in acrimony, Democrats and Republicans disagreeing on virtually every issue.

Even when they say they agree, they disagree.

So give state Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, some credit for hanging in as he continues to push legislation that, at least from the outside, doesn’t look like it has much chance of passage.

McSweeney is trying to save taxpayers a few dollars — $2.8 million in the first year and another $1.5 million every year thereafter. It’s relatively small change in a multibillion-dollar budget.

He wants to eliminate the state’s lieutenant governor’s office, a mostly useless public office that just isn’t worth what it costs.

That’s not the only unneeded statewide office. Many people, McSweeney included, would like to merge the offices of comptroller and treasurer into one, saving another big chunk of change.

But the powers that be won’t permit it. Aspiring politicians need offices to run for, entities that they can use as a springboard to even higher office.

So it’s not an easy sell to convince politicians to eliminate political offices, however unneeded or expensive they are.

But McSweeney keeps pushing a proposal he first raised in 2013 to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office.

He recently had some success on that issue, even if eliminating the lieutenant governor’s office wasn’t really the issue.

McSweeney persuaded the House to eliminate the requirement that the state send every household information about ballot items that would change the Illinois Constitution. At an estimated cost of $1.5 million, just putting the measure up to a vote by the people would be expensive.

McSweeney’s measure applies only to the lieutenant governor’s office and goes some distance toward pacifying those whose object to the cost of putting the measure up to a vote. The legislation now goes to the Illinois Senate, where Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a relative of Senate President John Cullerton, is sponsoring the legislation.

Maybe it will get a vote. Maybe it won’t. Cullerton decides which bills get votes in his chamber. That’s one of the awesome powers that Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan hold. They can kill legislation just by denying it a vote.

Still, McSweeney and Cullerton deserve a tip of the hat. Legislating requires patience, particularly in the current environment of seemingly permanent stalemate. It also requires a willingness to accept defeat and then come for another round.

What’s dispiriting is that our governor and Legislature can’t seem to do the easy things that are obviously in the public interest. What hope is there than they’ll ever get together on issues that are really difficult?

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May 29, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

Look for the helpers when bad things happen

There is little as vile as preying on vulnerable people, whether they be grieving or young innocents.

The metro-east has seen a spate of recent burglaries tied to visitations and funerals.

“It’s sad people have to stoop that low when the family is at their lowest point to take advantage of them,” Belleville funeral director Dale Kurrus said. “It’s sickening.”

On a much more tragic scale, youngsters drawn to Nickelodeon star turned pop star Ariana Grande were targeted by terrorists in Britain. The images of children, and the image of police talking to a young fan wearing a flouncy skirt and bunny ears, underscores just how far the victims were from a battlefield or a rational political statement.

The two events brought to mind this quote from Fred Rogers about being faced with scary, vile things.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world,” Rogers said.

Multiple local police agencies have banded and shared information to try to end the funeral burglaries.

In Manchester several homeless men came to the rescue, shepherding youngsters separated from parents. People opened their homes. Police and medical personnel rushed in, despite the possibility of a second explosion, to save whomever they could.

Look for the helpers, and remember that the evil can always be outweighed by the good. You just need to look for it.

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