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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

January 30, 2019

January 27, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Hopefully, our leaders learn from shutdown

The partial government shutdown is over — temporarily.

President Donald J. Trump announced Friday afternoon the government would re-open — temporarily — to give the House and Senate three weeks to try to resolve issues regarding border security.

What was solved by the shutdown? Nothing.

It was simply a waste of 35 days — 35 days in which 800,000 federal workers didn’t get paid. It was 35 days in which many federal workers dutifully reported for work, knowing there was no paycheck coming at the end of the week.

The shutdown created great anxiety in countless households around the country, including a good many in Southern Illinois, but accomplished nothing. Government shutdowns never do. And, they always hurt the poor, the most vulnerable and shutdowns normally have an adverse political effect on the party driving the shutdown.

If former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner had reached out to the president, perhaps the shutdown could have been avoided. Rauner’s term as governor included a two-year stretch in which the state went without a budget.

While it isn’t a perfect analogy, the similarities are striking. The budget impasse created hardship for Illinois citizens, institutions, businesses and ultimately cost Rauner his job. And, recent national polling indicates the president’s approval ratings are falling faster than the temperature this week.

The shutdown affected just part of the government, which is likely one reason it was allowed to go on for more than a month — the pain wasn’t widespread enough to prod members of the House and Senate to act.

But, the reality is that federal workers missed two paychecks, something not many of us could afford to do. Federal employees will receive back pay, but contractors who are hired by the government do not have that luxury.

Federal employees were sleeping at work in an effort to save money on gas. Federal employees were forced to make no-win decisions — default on loan payments or put food on the table. Food banks were established to employees could eat. Locally, the Friends of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge sponsored a potluck dinner to support refuge employees.

To make matters worse, the administration appeared to be totally tone deaf. There were suggestions that furloughed employees could have rummage sales or sell household items to make ends meet, or that federal employees could just convince the grocery store to allow them to run a tab.

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross couldn’t understand why affected workers just didn’t go to the bank to secure bridge loans, as if everyone has good credit or could afford to take on more debt. Lara Trump said workers should remember the greater good, somehow believing federal employees would care more about political philosophy than feeding their children.

The most disgusting element of this self-inflicted crisis is the root cause — President Trump’s desire for a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The president tried to convince us that the situation on the border was an emergency, yet nothing appears to have changed in recent months, except Democrats now control the House of Representatives.

Funding for the wall wasn’t a make-or-break issue during the first two years of the Trump presidency when Republicans controlled the House and Senate. In addition, recent polling suggests that Americans, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, do not want a wall. And, the fact that the wall wasn’t addressed previously indicates Republican senators and representatives don’t have much of an appetite for it either.

At this point there are two things we can hope for. First, we need Republican and Democratic leaders to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement that will benefit all Americans. Second, hopefully the painful 35 days will instruct the president that government shutdowns are ineffective and counterproductive.

We elect leaders to govern, not score political points. We pay them well to work FOR us. It’s time they earn their money and work for every American citizen, regardless of political affiliation.

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January 27, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Huge pensions make life after politics lush.

Former Democratic state Rep. Daniel Burke was unceremoniously tossed out of office last year by the residents of his increasingly Hispanic Chicago district.

But not to worry; Burke, like many politicians in Illinois, is enjoying a soft landing on a big pile of cash — courtesy of Chicago and Illinois taxpayers.

Burke is just the latest politician to enjoy what can only be described as incredibly generous pension largesse.

It’s just another sad example of how the political class takes care of itself. It ought to outrage every citizen in this state, because Burke’s pension is both excessive and unaffordable.

Here’s Burke situation.

The brother of indicted Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, he’s a scion of a longtime political family.

The 67-year-old Burke served in the Illinois House for nearly 30 years, one of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s close associates. In addition to that supposedly full-time job, Burke had another supposedly full-time job as a deputy city clerk. He held the clerk’s position for roughly 25 years before retiring at age 52 with an annual pension of $58,000.

Thanks to cost-of-living increases, Burke’s city pension now stands at $86,000, according to news reports.

Burke was paid a legislative salary of roughly $85,000 a year. He stands to collect a starting legislative pension of roughly $73,000.

For those keeping score, his two pensions add up to $159,000 — for now.

But thanks to some pension shenanigans written into law by former Senate President Emil Jones, Burke and others who have served more than 20 years in the Legislature will get even more.

The legislative change essentially lifted the practice of basing a legislative pension on a 20-year limit. Now it just continues to go up.

So Burke’s current legislative pension will jump from $73,000 to $92,000 in 2020.

For those keeping score, his two pensions then will add up to at least $178,000.

Here’s something else to consider: Burke’s legislative pension of $92,000 in 2020 will exceed his $85,000 legislative salary in 2018.

It’s a sweet deal that keeps getting sweeter — Burke can count on annual pension increases of 3 percent a year. He’ll be up to $200,000-plus a year in no time.

Looking at those numbers, it’s perfectly clear why Burke and his associates consider politics to be an avocation for friends and family to pursue.

Burke is openly grateful for his good fortune, but still less than forthright.

“I didn’t create the law, but I’m certainly very grateful to participate in it,” he said.

Actually, Illinois politicians do write the pension laws for public employees. That’s why they are so incredibly generous, to the point that they make no financial sense.

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that this state’s public-pension systems are in deep financial trouble. Experts estimated a total underfunding of roughly $134 billion last year, up from $130 billion the year before and expected to continue to go up at a dramatic rate.

Indeed, Illinois is drowning in debt, much of it due to the wholesale mismanagement of public-pension funds by elected officials.

Between promising too much to public employees and contributing too little, Illinois has dug itself a hole that appears inescapable, all so politicians like Burke and others can live like kings.

What can’t last forever won’t — at least, that’s what sensible economists say. But until the whole system comes crashing down, taxpayers will have to make larger and larger contributions to public-pension systems that will crowd out funding for core public services.

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his inaugural address a couple weeks ago, he was candid about Illinois’ financial problems with one exception. He mentioned nary a word about the pension dilemma or people like Burke who profit from it at the expense of the taxpayers who fund it.

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January 18, 2018

Sauk Valley Media

Strong legislative team give reason for hope

New leaders have been sworn into their offices in Washington and Springfield. For all but the most jaded and cynical, there is hope that a new governor and fresh legislative sessions can bring needed changes.

One reason for optimism in Springfield is the solid group of lawmakers there that will represent our area. All are Republicans, but party affiliation isn’t a big issue for us because we believe that bipartisanship is the key to fixing what ails Illinois.

State Sen. Neil Anderson and State Rep. Tony McCombie have worked well together and made a point of listening to the concerns of their constituents. McCombie put in a strong freshman year, proving to be a quick study with an independent streak.

Earlier this week, Anderson became the youngest state lawmaker appointed to serve on a caucus leadership team in more than a century. As assistant GOP leader, Anderson will give the district more clout on important issues.

State Rep. Tom Demmer is one of two deputy leaders named to the GOP team in the 101st General Assembly. This comes on the heels of his appointment to the deputy house minority leader post last summer.

State Sen. Brian Stewart was sworn in, officially taking the baton from the retired Tim Bivins. Stewart has put an emphasis on bipartisanship and his no-nonsense approach to fiscal matters should make him a steadying force in budgetary matters and the pursuit of business growth.

In Washington, Rep. Cheri Bustos continues to gain respect and power. She has been appointed to the Appropriations Committee, which has oversight over all federal spending. Bustos has promised to do her best to make sure our region is heard and receives funding for high-priority projects.

Some have voiced concerns that her duties as chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee might detract from her focus on our district. News from her camp Friday went a long way in putting those fears to rest.

The congresswoman’s Appropriations Committee duties are an exclusive appointment, but Bustos asked for and received a waiver from the House Speaker to serve on the Agriculture Committee. This will be her fourth consecutive term on the ag panel.

Bustos recognizes the economic importance of agriculture in the district and didn’t want to relinquish a place at the table where farm bills, infrastructure and other issues important to rural American are being negotiated.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger has solidified a leadership role in foreign policy issues. He has recently introduced legislation in support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a bill to impose sanctions on Iraq, and another in support of Georgian independence.

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