May 26, 2015
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Will someone please lead Illinois?
Pop quiz: What should have been the No. 1 priority for Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois lawmakers during the spring legislative session?
No sense wasting time with a faux multiple choice. The priority was to craft a thoughtful, balanced budget to see Illinois through the next fiscal year.
It was abundantly clear long ago that doing so will require a combination of cuts and new revenue, an evaluation of what this state considers critical programs worth continuing, and a firm promise to live within the state's means going forward.
But now in the final days of the legislative session, those involved in the process appear to be digging in their heels, more comfortable communicating through press-release salvos and public posturing than talking to each other and hammering out their differences.
That does not bode well for a state in financial crisis.
Rauner, a Republican, penned a column in Thursday's State Journal-Register that painted a picture of the legislative gridlock that may come. After reiterating campaign points from his agenda for Illinois, Rauner mentioned he understands the need for compromise.
But then he again accused lawmakers ("insiders") of being interested only in doing the bidding of "powerful special-interest allies" instead of signing off on his proposed reforms for the state.
The frustration the first-time governor may feel is understandable. Running the nation's fifth-most-populated state is quite different than running a company. But rather than share what he's done or is willing to do to bring people together to craft a sound budget, his words may have further poisoned his relationship with the very people he must work with if he wants to achieve many of his goals for the state.
Illinoisans expect better leadership from a governor. Past Republican governors managed to work with Democrats in the legislature; Rauner can, too.
Democrats don't get a pass, by the way. They, too, bear great responsibility for this mess. Last year they crafted a faulty budget that relied on an uncertain tax hike extension, which Rauner allowed to expire Jan. 1 — mid-budget cycle — as he'd promised he would do. That created panic across the state this spring when it became clear there wasn't enough money for some important state services.
What Illinoisans have on their hands is a Capitol full of stubborn politicians, few of whom seem willing to budge or give the other side an inch — even if it's for the greater good of the state. Because of Democrats' and Republicans' unwillingness to collaborate, precious time that should have been spent crafting real solutions to real problems was taken up by staged hearings on right to work and workers' compensation.
The state's fiscal problems didn't happen overnight, and they won't be resolved overnight. They developed over decades under both Democrats and Republicans. There is plenty of blame to go around.
But what Illinois needs now is leadership, not ultimatums and finger pointing.
May 23, 2015
Illinois needs change now
When Gov. Bruce Rauner took office, it only took him a few weeks to realize that Illinois' financial problems were worse than he realized. Now after a few months of working with legislature, he understands the state's political obstacles to progress are even more formidable than he imagined.
Rauner thought the Democratic majority in the House and Senate wanted to reach a permanent solution to the state's pension and budget crises, and to open doors to business. He's finding out that their first priority is to protect the special interests and the status quo. They would rather take the easy route of raising taxes on all state residents than make any changes that hurt their staunchest supporters: state employees, union leaders and trial lawyers.
Today begins the last scheduled week of the legislative session, and there are still miles to go on what Rauner hoped to accomplish. The budget hole has yet to be filled, and it's uncertain whether his key issues like workers' comp reform will happen. He has already backed down on his right-to-work proposal.
Now that the Supreme Court has nixed the pension reforms intended to save millions of dollars, some sort of tax increase is probably going to be necessary. But Rauner is right to refuse to even discuss that possibility until lawmakers agree to some fundamental changes.
Rauner wrote in a column published in the State Journal-Register: "Budget deadline or no budget deadline, I will not ask the people of Illinois to put more of their money into a broken system."
We're counting on him to hold firm on that promise. And we're counting on voters to remember who is refusing to take steps to fix this broken state.
May 21, 2015
The (Dixon) Telegraph
Clock ticking for newbies to learn Open Meetings Act
One of the positives to come out of the Gov. Rod Blagojevich corruption scandal of 2008-09 is greater attention to openness and transparency in Illinois government.
Reform legislation regarding the Open Meetings Act put greater responsibility on members of public bodies, such as municipal councils, school and county boards, and the like, to learn, understand, and adhere to state law when conducting meetings.
Since Jan. 1, 2012, all members of public bodies have been required to go online and take training on the Open Meetings Act through a curriculum developed and administered by the Public Access Counselor's office, which is part of the Illinois Attorney General's office.
Newly elected members, such as those who won their seats in the April 7 election, have 90 days to complete that training. The clock starts ticking the day they take the oath of office.
For example, the four new members of the Dixon City Council, along with the new mayor, took their oaths on May 4. They have until Aug. 2 to successfully complete the Open Meetings Act electronic training and file a copy of the certificate of completion with the city.
Numerous public bodies across the Sauk Valley had new members elected in April. Among them are Sauk Valley Community College Board of Trustees, Rock Falls City Council, Rock Falls High School Board, Sterling City Council, Sterling School Board, Dixon School Board, Dixon Park District, Polo City Council, and Tampico Village Board.
The training those new members must complete will give them a working knowledge of their responsibilities under the Open Meetings Act.
They will learn various legal definitions, requirements for legal public meetings, including advance notices and agendas, how meetings can be properly closed, what can be properly discussed in closed sessions, requirements for minutes and verbatim recordings, how the Open Meetings Act applies to electronic gatherings, enforcement of the act, and the role of the Public Access Counselor.
Members of public bodies need to remember that the people have a right to be informed about how public business is conducted. In other words, deliberations and actions are to be conducted openly.
We encourage newly elected officials not to wait until the last minute to take their Open Meetings Act training. They will come away from it better informed and better prepared to fulfill their new public service roles.