May 5, 2013
Keep Illinois minimum wage as is
Illinois' unemployment rate is almost 2 percentage points higher than the national average, but that isn't going to stop another effort by Democrats in Springfield to raise the minimum wage.
Illinois' current wage of $8.25 an hour is already the fourth highest in the nation, higher than in any of the bordering states. Yet sponsors of SENATE BILL 68 would take the rate to $10 an hour over four years.
This bill should be a nonstarter. Illinois had a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in March. The national average was 7.6 percent.
Raising the minimum wage in this economy would result in even more unemployment and could push the state back into a recession. If businesses have to pay a higher wage, they would either cut back on employees or the number of hours people work.
Illinois needs more jobs, not a wage hike that would hamper economic growth. Kill this bill.
May 5, 2013
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Loss of Scott would be devastating
If there is one thing we don't need in Southern Illinois it is another major problem.
Our unemployment rate exceeds the state's, which exceeds the nation's jobless rate. Leadership controversies, declining enrollments and funding cutbacks haunt SIU. Our share of government jobs was cut through correctional closings.
Our state's financial quagmire is pulling the region into the murky deep. Even the glittering hope of a future destination development of retail and getaway venues in Marion is taking on tarnish with the recent departure of the principal developer.
At times it seems if it wasn't for bad luck, we'd have no luck at all.
What else could account for the possibility of Scott Air Force Base even being mentioned in discussions of potential base closings that might begin in 2015. The last such initiative was in 2005 and resulted in the nationwide loss of tens of thousands of civilian jobs and $35 billion in economic activity.
There is no doubt about military expenses being on the chopping block. As we reported last Monday, the nation has more military infrastructure than needed, according to the U.S. Department of Defense officials. At the same time, the costs of Medicare and other government-funded social programs are soaring, forcing spending reductions in other areas of the federal budget.
That's already caught the attention of the state's congressional delegation, especially since almost 4,500 civilian workers at the base near Belleville are scheduled to start taking 20 days of unpaid furloughs between May and September as a result of a series of automatic federal budget cuts that began last month.
Originally commissioned as Scott Field, the air base was developed and used for military training purposes in World War I. It has served a variety of military purposes over the years and currently provides air refueling and transport services — among other operations. It has an 8,000 foot runway, and air traffic control tower built in 1997 and houses nearly 30 aircraft.
Scott Air Force Base is a major military installation and, as such, wields enormous economic power that impacts all of Southern Illinois, including the entire St. Louis region.
Don't wait until 2015 and potential base closing decisions come into focus. Begin working today to ensure the survival of Scott Air Force Base by contacting your congressmen. Consider, too, taking your message directly to President Barack Obama who counted on Illinois voters to keep him in the White House.
Those voters expect Obama to support Scott Air Force Base.
May 4, 2013
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Extra planting can help support local hunger relief
Temperatures are getting warmer in central Illinois, and once the ground begins to dry after this rain, it will be the start of gardening season for many — a time to till the Earth, plant seeds and carefully nurture what grows.
It's also an excellent time to think about how gardening can support local efforts to relieve hunger.
Whether you realize it, chances are you're acquainted with someone who is unsure where his or her next meal is coming from. It may be a senior citizen on your block, one of your children's classmates, someone in your church congregation or a coworker.
In Sangamon County, about 25,000 people are "food insecure." Of those, nearly 9,000 are children. That's 13 percent of the population without enough food on a daily basis.
The numbers are more staggering for the 21 counties served by the Springfield-based Central Illinois Food Bank, where 110,320 people, including more than 39,000 children, are food insecure.
The food bank and pantries throughout the region are stocked with canned goods, cereal and bread, but they lack fresh, healthy produce — the leafy greens, colorful tomatoes, ears of sweet corn and beautiful fruit so many of us take for granted.
So as you plan your garden for the year, whether it's a small backyard plot, a generous country patch or an inner-city community garden, consider planting an extra row or two of fruits and vegetables to donate to your local food bank.
How big a difference can one row make for a family?
"Depends on how long the row is," Pam Molitoris, director of the Central Illinois Food Bank, said with a hopeful laugh. "In the average garden, if you plant an extra row I would say you've given produce to several families."
And don't worry about planting any particular type of produce.
"The greatest thing people can do is grow a variety, because we all need a variety of different kinds of fruits and vegetables in our diet," Molitoris said. "A variety of leafy vegetables, different colors, the oranges from carrots and the different colors you get from bell peppers. People need variety in their diet. That's the bottom line."
With a local unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent and many working families simply unable to make ends meet, the region's hunger issues will not go away anytime soon. Planting an extra row is a great way to help families in need, as well as to contribute to the overall healthfulness of the community.
May 4, 2013
Rockford Register Star
Compromise is key to battle on pension reform
Rep. John Cabello thinks that if legislative leaders like Mike Madigan would allow input from all stakeholders in the pension debate, lawmakers could come up with good reform legislation that would solve the problem.
Cabello, R-Machesney Park, was one of the "no" votes on a Madigan pension bill that passed the House 62-51 (with two reps voting "present" and three excused) Thursday. Senate Bill 1 heads to the Senate, where President John Cullerton has his own plan, which he has developed with the help of unions.
Cabello thinks the bill passed Thursday is unconstitutional.
If this bill or something similar passes and is signed by the governor "the second after the ink is dry, there's going to be a lawsuit, and that lawsuit is going to take anywhere from 18 months to 2½ years to be resolved in the court system," he said. "In the meantime, we don't do anything on pensions."
Neglecting the pension systems has cost the state billions. Pension costs have doubled since 2008. Pension costs are rising by $17 million a day, so the longer it takes for lawmakers to come up with a solution, the more costly.
"I believe everybody realizes that we have to do something," Cabello said. "Nobody's going to get everything they want, but until we have everyone sitting at the table, you're going to have people who vote no, you're going to have people who disagree."
Pension reform "absolutely has to" be done, said Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, another "no" vote.
Sacia expects revisions to be made in the Senate and sent back to the House for a vote. He's probably right, and rather than cheer or boo the reform measure that passed last week, we'll wait and see what lawmakers ultimately consider for a final vote.
"We still have a long way to go," Sacia said. "We still don't have a bill that's going to meet muster all the way to the governor's desk."
Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, and Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, voted yes on the bill.
"I believe that it is a very good deal," Sosnowski said. "It is not the best, but considering that you need to compromise in order to get a reform package passed, this is the best bill that will pass on a bipartisan basis."
Pension reform is unpopular but necessary. Illinois has the worst unfunded pension liability in the nation. Illinois' worst status on pensions has led to its worst status on credit as well. Pension costs squeeze — as Gov. Pat Quinn has pointed out regularly — money from education, public safety and social services.
Quinn seems poised to sign just about anything that says pension reform that comes to his desk. However, it needs to the right reform with real savings.
Reforms passed in 2010 were merely a bandage on the failing system. Illinois' unfunded liability was the worst in the nation then and it's the worst today: The hole has grown to nearly $97 billion. Illinois can't afford to replace one bandage with an even bigger one. It needs reconstructive surgery.
State employees would work longer, pay more into the system and get smaller cost-of-living adjustments under just about every scenario that has been considered.
However, we agree with the Illinois Policy Institute, the Heartland Institute and others that advocate a 401(k)-style system. Most of us in the private sector have 401(k) plans, which put us in control of our money and our retirement. However, it can't be just a 401(k). There must be a defined pension as well.
"Every pension program is a Ponzi scheme," Sacia said. "The only thing that can keep it alive is the amount of money being put in by new employees. A 401(k) program isn't going to have infusion from new employees."
Pension reform is the most important issue facing Illinois. We hope lawmakers can reach a deal that benefits retirees, current employees and taxpayers.