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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

June 5, 2018

June 2, 2018

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Compromise a great thing to see in Statehouse

Are we sure we’re still in Illinois?

A state budget received widespread bipartisan support after rank-and-file lawmakers from both parties spent the past few weeks crafting a spending plan together. The budget compromise was approved with little rancor before the end of the regularly scheduled legislative session on May 31. It includes no new tax increases or fees. The governor promised to quickly enact it. The new fiscal year that starts July 1 is poised to do so the way it’s supposed to be done — with a budget in place.

Forgive our skepticism, but for the past several years, at this point in the legislative session we had been racking our brains to find a phrase we hadn’t yet used to shame lawmakers for their inaction. We would on a weekly, if not near daily, basis be tsk-ing lawmakers as they fought bitter partisan battles that resulted in late budgets or no spending plan at all. We would bemoan the ways that partisanship was damaging Illinois, causing businesses, social service agencies and schools to find ways to deal with the unexpected financial crisis lawmakers had unnecessarily manufactured for them.

Don’t get us wrong — we’re delighted to have time to focus on other important issues facing our community. And at first blush, the $38.5 billion operations budget both chambers overwhelmingly approved doesn’t seem to be terrible.

Supporters say it is balanced and does not rely on any new taxes or fees. It will provide a $350 million increase for K-12 education to continue with implementation of a new school funding formula. There is a $50 million increase for early childhood education. Higher education, which was particularly hard hit with cuts in recent year, will see a 2 percent increase for public colleges and universities. House Speaker Michael J. Madigan said it creates a $15 million surplus that will be used to pay down old bills, and cuts bureaucracy like high-paid consultants and duplicative IT systems at state agencies. It includes $63 million in back pay owed to unionized state workers since 2011.

Yet, questions remain. While all sides are touting it as a balanced spending plan, is that true only on paper? It’s going to take time to sift through the 1,200-plus pages that the public first got a chance to examine on May 30 — just hours before the Senate voted on it. The process could have been more transparent. If Madigan is correct, a $15 million surplus will barely make a dent in the $6.6 billion in unpaid bill backlog in the comptroller’s office. The unfunded pension obligation will still be at least $130 billion. Illinois’ economy is not likely to ignite under this plan.

It’s not a perfect budget, but it provides something Illinois hasn’t had for the past several years — stability. Even if they don’t like what they’re set to receive, recipients of state funding can start planning because they know what they can expect to get for the next 12 months.

The uncertainty that has permeated the state has been cited by businesses as a reason they might be wary of considering Illinois as a place to locate or expand. It’s why students have fled to other states to continue their education. It’s why the state’s bond rating is one step above junk status. Stability is key to creating an Illinois that has the potential to thrive. Yes, there is much work to be done to truly start turning the state around. And that will require continued compromise — which is one of the main reasons we are glad a budget was done in time. As House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs suggested, the framework developed for negotiating a budget could be used to resolve contentious issues in the future.

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June 3, 2018

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Let us change our own smoking age

Not every problem can be solved through legislation. This notion might come as a shock to some folks in Springfield, but it’s true: Sometimes the government has to understand its limits.

Last week, a plan to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 stalled in the Illinois House. Senate Bill 2332 isn’t all the way dead, having been pulled from consideration after appearing to come a few votes shy, but it won’t be going away for good any time soon.

Already 14 government jurisdictions in Illinois - including Chicago - have adopted ordinances imposing the age 21 limit. This on top of laws that ban indoor smoking almost everywhere in the state, as well as policies keeping tobacco away from public schools. Yet those limitations aren’t enough for some lawmakers.

Here’s the thing: Smoking isn’t great. It basically poisons the person doing it and endangers those nearby. It’s dirty and smelly and, every so often, contributes to an accidental fire. But it’s also legal - so long as you follow the where and when rules - so it’s very difficult to accept an argument that a person old enough to enlist in the military and vote is yet too young to light up should they so choose.

Yes, the drinking age is 21. But alcohol affects the human brain in a much different fashion than tobacco, and its use can be much more easily linked to much more immediately dangerous outcomes. Tobacco is a personal choice.

The 2008 indoor smoking ban did great things in the name of public health to limit the effects of that personal choice on people who don’t want to be exposed to secondhand smoke, so much so that upping the legal age a decade later won’t be able to have a demonstrable effect.

We agree it’s not wise to promote addiction. But allowing a behavior is not the same as promoting abuse of such behavior, and Lilly has yet to prove the state is guilty of something here that must be corrected. To allow Illinoisans to begin their tobacco addictions at age 21 instead of age 18 reveals a larger concern for the taxes tobacco generates than the health of those who inhale.

Failing that, they should accept the existing conditions allowing a city or county to enact its own smoking ages or other more stringent rules than the state’s already stern guidelines. As noted, some communities already have done so per that prerogative. Springfield bristles when Washington, D.C., forces hands on a policy issue, but it often seems there’s not enough folks in the statehouse who understand how the rest of Illinois feels when they strip local control via statewide edict.

This editorial should not be construed as an endorsement of smoking. Rather, it is a call to let us govern ourselves and determine the climate in our own communities.

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June 1, 2018

Belleville News-Democrat

More Illinois high school grads are leaving, for better and for good

Illinois lawmakers are finally catching on that it is a problem when high school grads enroll in well-funded universities, meaning those outside of Illinois. The bright young people don’t come back to Illinois to energize this workforce or pay taxes.

The problem is increasing. In 2000 about one in six Illinois students attended college outside of the state, but by 2016 that doubled to one in three students.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, was pushing a package of bills that intended to put money toward the problem, but instead got a task force. So far they have learned that Illinois students most often choose between Illinois universities and none of the above, meaning they stay home because they likely don’t have money for tuition. The most popular out-of-state destination is University of Alabama for those Illinois exiles.

The Illinois Monetary Award Program, known as MAP grants, are one-year scholarships. One Rose bill aimed to give students more of a guarantee that the grants will be there for four years, not just one. That’s what out-of-state universities often offer.

The goal is worthy, because we want Illinois youth to contribute to their hometowns. But Illinois lawmakers need to own the fact that they created the mess, then figure out the long-term strategy here. Then they need to stick to it — not a strength among a group known for their short memories.

Illinois universities for decades have been jerked in many directions by lawmakers. Demands for tuition control at the same time state funding is cut. The two-year budget impasse created a crisis with those MAP grants and left universities borrowing and cutting.

We see the local impacts as Southern Illinois University Carbondale lost one-third of its enrollment in 15 years. It now is facing an identity crisis, unsure whether it still has a declared major, plus fighting with both its sister campus and state lawmakers.

You have to wonder whether this local skirmish over money and mission doesn’t also perfectly illustrate the larger decline of Illinois higher education and why this is not an attractive environment for high school grads. And there are fewer high school students in the pipeline, so the problem will get worse.

There are a lot of smart adult professionals out there who should be able to figure out how to keep smart high school students in Illinois. A solid plan, and a long-term commitment from state leaders to fund and set policy without micro-managing operations, would go a long way to making us attractive rather than repellent.

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