Our View: Don’t get a ticket, stick it

Another month without a state budget and another month without a reminder to motorists about their license plate renewal stickers.It’s a $20 fine if you’re caught without an up-to-date license sticker. Thousands have already been fined; don’t join that club.The Illinois Secretary of State’s office stopped sending license renewal reminders in October because it was running out of money. The move saves the agency about $450,000 a month in postage. […]

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Our View: Don’t get a ticket, stick it

House Speaker Michael Madigan makes rare appearance in Joliet to address labor leaders

JOLIET — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — arguably the most powerful politician in Springfield — made a rare appearance Friday night in Joliet to address labor leaders of Will and Grundy counties.

And to give, as he called it, his “side of the story” as to why Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and a Democrat-controlled majority remain deadlocked in a 10-month budget impasse.

“The governor’s advocacy of these non-budget issues — workers’ compensation, collective bargaining, prevailing wage – in my judgment, runs contrary to the core beliefs of both Democrats and Republicans,” Madigan said before a packed International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 167 West Banquet Hall. “Because advocacy of these issues would reduce wages for … middle class families and send injured workers to the emergency room and to the welfare program.”

Madigan, who’s served as speaker of the Illinois House for 31 of the last 33 years, was the keynote speaker Friday night for the Will-Grundy Central Trades and Labor Council AFL-CIO’s 38th annual dinner. Local, state and federal elected officials from both political parties were in attendance.

Madigan said he pledged from day one to work closely and cooperatively with Rauner, noting he has a long record of working with other governors — both Democrats and Republicans — but this time, things are different, he said.

“Thompson, Edgar, Ryan. I’ve worked with a lot of governors. We’ve never had this difficult of situation. Never,” he said.

Rauner, he said, is holding the budget hostage with the goal of stripping away union powers and collective bargaining rights. The Republican governor won’t consider new revenue unless Democrats agree to his Turnaround Agenda.

Faced with ballooning pension obligations and a $6.9 billion backlog for the current fiscal year – which started July 1 of last year – Madigan said it’s impossible for Illinois to cut its way out of the deficit.

“You take all of that, you add it up. It’s very obvious that Illinois is awash in debt. The state is swimming in debt,” Madigan said.

Charlie Hanus, president of the Will-Grundy Counties Central Trades Council, lauded Madigan for his support of union rights.

“You look where we’d be at today without Mike Madigan there, that we’d be just a neighbor state. Right to work. Depressed wages. Everybody out of work. It’d be terrible. In the last line of the defense for many years has been Mike Madigan,” Hanus said.

He also called on labor supporters and union members to retain seats in the House and Senate during the upcoming November election

“We gotta work our tails off this fall because if we lose the majority and let Rauner buy this election and we lose control, every one of us in this room, we’re done. We’re done,” Hanus said. “Everybody needs to put the wheel to the grindstone.”

Will County Democratic Caucus Chair Herbert Brooks, D-Joliet, said it was quite the rare appearance from Madigan, but a pleasant surprise.

“It is rare. We feel privileged to have him here tonight,” Brooks said. “I’m surprised he came.”

The fact that Madigan showed up in Joliet on Friday night is “a real credit to the trades here,” Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said.

“He doesn’t speak at a lot of events, but he came out to the trades in Joliet tonight to give a fair representation of how he sees things in Springfield,” O’Dekirk said.

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House Speaker Michael Madigan makes rare appearance in Joliet to address labor leaders

Does Acme make a Rauner-catching machine?

Remember the “Road Runner” cartoons? I loved them when I was a kid in the 1960s, even though the plot never once changed.

There were only two characters: Road Runner and his pursuer, Wile E. Coyote. The hungry coyote would chase the bird and always come up short. The coyote would develop more and more elaborate methods of capturing or killing the bird throughout each episode, often involving bizarre machines manufactured by Acme.

But the traps never worked. Dynamite failed to detonate under the bird, but the plunger would explode in the coyote’s paws. A catapult would misfire, crushing the coyote under a boulder. Some crazy Rube Goldberg contraption would fail, dashing the coyote’s hopes yet again.

“Meep-meep,” the bird would say as he dashed down the road.

Some folks saw the cartoon as a metaphor for our failure in Vietnam. We had ultramodern equipment, but our Third World enemy always evaded defeat. Former political blogger Andrew Sullivan often compared President Barack Obama to the Road Runner and the Republican Congress to the coyote.

I think we now have a more recent, more local metaphor.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has long been credited with thinking through his strategies far more thoroughly than his rivals. And until recently, it’s been credit where credit is due.

Madigan’s strategy for dealing with his nemesis, Gov. Bruce Rauner, seemed solid at first. He would pit moderate House Republicans against the governor, which would then force Rauner to give up his demands for anti-union economic reforms in exchange for a budget deal.

It started in earnest in September with a bill backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that would have prevented a state employee strike by sending deadlocked union contract negotiations to binding arbitration. Rauner absolutely hated the bill. But AFSCME has lots of downstate members, and Madigan thought there was a chance some Republicans would cross over and override Rauner’s veto.

Instead, Rauner threatened Republicans who crossed him with expensive primary opposition. Nobody crossed him. Rauner’s Democratic ally, Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago, skipped the vote, and the veto override failed. Kaboom!

Next was the child care assistance program. Rauner had unilaterally cut off access to subsidized child care to most impoverished parents who were working or going to school. Republican legislators were taking big heat at home, and they told the governor something had to change.

In November, on the eve of a crucial House vote to reverse Rauner’s draconian regulations, rank-and-file legislators (with encouragement from the governor and Senate President John Cullerton) worked out a deal. Rauner promised to rescind most of his cuts, and House Republicans refused to vote for Madigan’s bill to fully restore the program.

Rauner took more heat from Republicans in December, when their local mayors complained that the state wasn’t making payments from a special fund for municipalities. Rauner eventually agreed to support a bill to release that money before Madigan could use it to divide the GOP from their party’s governor. Zoink!

Last month, Madigan pushed through a spending bill that appropriated $1.9 billion to higher education and social service programs. Rauner threatened a veto because it wasn’t fully paid for, but Madigan knew that House Republicans were freaking out about the financial condition of their universities and were prepared to vote to override. Rauner cut a deal shortly before the Passover break to provide “stopgap” funding to universities and again prevented an insurrection. Kerthunk!

Madigan, like Wile E. Coyote, has repeatedly come up short.

Waiting out the House Republicans isn’t working, and the state just can’t go much longer without a budget. It’s time to change the channel.

A contributing columnist to Crain’s, Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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Does Acme make a Rauner-catching machine?

Rauner turns to privatization push during second year in office

Stymied at the statehouse by ruling Democrats, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is spending year two trying to shift government functions to the private sector.

Since January, he’s formed a private not-for-profit corporation to handle the state’s business recruitment efforts; announced a plan to allow…

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Rauner turns to privatization push during second year in office

OUR VIEW: Funds for Eastern fall far short

Eastern Illinois University was among higher education institutions that got a shot in the arm this week from the State of Illinois via a funding measure signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But if EIU was a human being, and this was a real injection of medicine for its health, the patient wouldn’t have felt a thing.

Legislation inked by the governor on Monday means about $12.5 million for Eastern, or not quite one-third of its 2015 expected appropriations. At this rate, our patient will remain severely anemic.

Yes, it’s a step forward and a bipartisan move in the right direction. But this is a drop in the bucket compared to the state funding Eastern has coming to it, and certainly not enough to turn around the university’s ongoing budget ailments.

Diplomatically, Eastern President David Glassman said he appreciated the bipartisanship from Springfield.

“We understand this is a step toward a comprehensive FY16 budget, and anticipate further conciliation in continuing support of an accessible and affordable quality higher education for all citizens of Illinois,” Glassman said.

A bit of funding out of Springfield for higher education comes, ironically, just as Illinois has asked for some money back from schools, cities, townships and other taxing bodies from across the Land of Lincoln.

As the JG-TC reported last week, the Illinois Department of Revenue announced that taxing districts owe Illinois money after an error to the tune of an estimated $168 million.

An IDOR press release detailed that a tax system modernization initiative uncovered a misallocation to the Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT) Fund that began under the Gov. Pat Quinn administration. The over allocation was identified during the IDOR’s implementation of a new general ledger system.

What does the IDOR have to say about expecting money back from taxing bodies that the state itself owes large amounts of tax dollars? "We are certainly sensitive to the impact recouping these funds will have on some of our taxing districts," Connie Beard, IDOR director, said in the media statement. "We will be working with the impacted taxing districts to establish a plan to recapture the funds over an extended period of time."

Local entities that owe the state these funds include the Mattoon school district, $145,006.93; the Charleston school district, $105,642.11; and Lake Land College, $54,340.86.

And the same day that the state announced it would be asking for tax money back? The Charleston school board authorized taking out $4 million in tax anticipation warrants because of a shortfall in the district budget due to the state’s lack of funding.

Oh, Illinois. Thy name is "incompetence."

Just when should state residents expect to "recapture" some value to the dollars they pay in taxes? Where are the taxes that we all pay like clockwork going as the state remains without a budget nearly a year after one was due?

Every time we think Illinois has reached a new low, another clown comes out of the car — no offense to clowns intended.

We could say this every week, but we’ll say it anyway: The State of Illinois needs to get its act together, agree on a budget and keep institutions ranging from social services to higher education from succumbing to the illness that is an incompetence of leadership in this state.

Find real treatment for this disease of fiscal nonsense, Illinois leaders. We need a cure, stat.

— JG-TC Editorial Board

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OUR VIEW: Funds for Eastern fall far short

Small Business Week: The perfect opportunity to pass a responsible budget and make badly-needed reforms

Illinois’ small business community is the engine that drives our economy and local communities. Unfortunately, the failure of our political leaders to pass a responsible budget or make badly-needed reforms is hurting small businesses, devastating the state’s economy, and quickly eroding any confidence the small business community still has in our state government.

In honor of small business week, our politicians should get serious about enacting reforms that will revive the state’s economy and encourage the growth of small businesses. Policymakers should adopt the following common-sense, nonpartisan measures to improve Illinois’ fiscal health and restore confidence in our state’s economy.

Pension reform

Illinois’ public pension system is $111 billion in the red and one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country. This pension crisis hovers over our economy like a black cloud, consuming state revenue, driving down Illinois’ credit rating, and shrouding the business community in uncertainty. For the sake of our state, we need bold politicians willing to work with all stakeholders on pension reform that will pass constitutional muster.

One innovative reform that will immediately impact the pension crisis allows certain retirees the option of receiving a portion of their pension in a lump sum, at a discount, instead of their entire pension over time. This provides participating retirees the opportunity to invest those sums or ensure they are passed on to loved ones. At the same time, this legislation reduces the state’s pension liabilities.

Our political leaders should embrace this legislation now because, while it will not erase the entire $111 billion shortfall, it will actually reduce our pension liability and begin moving the needle in the right direction.

Workers’ compensation reform

Workers’ compensation reform is not a partisan issue. Indeed, our politicians should be working together to pass legislation that lowers the state’s high workers’ compensation premiums while providing necessary protections to injured workers.

There is a common-sense proposal that properly balances the rights of employers and injured workers. This proposal, which closely mirrors the law in over half the states in the nation, apportions causation and thereby, compensates workers for the injuries actually caused by their work-related accident. For instance, if an arbitrator determines 35% of an injury was caused at work and the remaining condition was caused by other factors, an injured worker receives compensation reflecting that percentage. This initiative should be adopted, filed in the legislature, and passed now.

Small business reforms

There are an array of pending bills and initiatives aimed at empowering the small business community, creating jobs, and sparking the economy. For years, small business owners and entrepreneurs have been fighting to lower Illinois’ LLC fees. These arbitrarily excessive fees are among the highest in the nation and depress economic development. The fees required to form an LLC, the annual renewal fees, and several others should be lowered immediately.

The small business community has also advocated for a tax system that does not favor extremely large companies threatening to leave the state. Our policymakers should level the playing field for all Illinois businesses and significantly curtail the excessive tax breaks which have been doled out to individual companies.

The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation allowing Illinois companies to raise money through intrastate equity crowdfunding. This allows small businesses and local entrepreneurs to raise capital, in small increments, from many Illinoisans and in exchange, provide those investors a small amount of equity in their companies. While this important reform has already been passed into law, the state should work to pass companion legislation, such as extending the Angel Investment Tax Credit program and making it available for Illinois companies using the newly approved crowdfunding bill. The state should also work in conjunction with local business organizations to educate entrepreneurs about the opportunities associated with intrastate equity crowdfunding.

Illinois can spark its economy, create jobs, and raise revenue by passing legislation and making reforms that empower the small business community.

Political standoff must end

Small Business Week should be a call to action for small business owners and their employees across Illinois. The small business community must galvanize and demand our elected officials pass a responsible budget and make the reforms necessary to revitalize our economy.

There has never been a more important time to get engaged in Illinois politics. The more assertive the small business community gets, the less likely the state will be facing another budget crisis as Small Business Week approaches in 2017.

• Elliot Richardson is president of the Small Business Advocacy Council, based in Chicago. Reach him at elliot@sbacil.org.

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Small Business Week: The perfect opportunity to pass a responsible budget and make badly-needed reforms

Jim Nowlan: Can Illinois be salvaged?

A reader asked: "Can Illinois be salvaged?"

I take it he wonders if our state can stem its population out-flow, return to an economic growth rate comparable to that of the nation and get a handle on our huge state debt and pension albatross.

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Jim Nowlan is a former Illinois legislator and aide to three unindicted governors, and he is the lead author of “Illinois Politics: A Citizen’s Guide” (University of Illinois Press, 2010) and co-author of "Fixing Illinois" (University of Illinois Press, 2014). He can be contacted at jnowlan3@gmail.com.

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Jim Nowlan: Can Illinois be salvaged?