February 16, 2014
Rockford Register Star
Register to vote; fight partisan political maps
The primary election is about a month away, and if you want to have a say in the political process you must register to vote by Tuesday (Feb. 18).
There are important local and state races on the March 18 ballot, including Illinois governor and Boone and Winnebago counties' sheriffs.
Voting is a right too few people take advantage of. Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar told an interviewer in 2012 that "in Illinois there's nothing more political than redistricting." Very true and perhaps a bit of an understatement. If you looked at your state representative's or your state senator's district, you'd see that the map defies common sense. The goal in the map-making process is to protect incumbents, especially incumbents of the party in power.
In Illinois that happens to be the Democrats, who drew political maps to ensure Democrats got elected or re-elected. The politicians pick the voters by making sure district boundaries have as many voters likely to see things their way as possible. Republicans do the same thing in states they govern.
Edgar and people who are interested in good government support Yes for Independent Maps, the citizen initiative that is trying to gather the necessary signatures to get an amendment on the November ballot to change the redistricting process in Illinois. The current redistricting process gives us only the illusion of democracy. The system protects those in power and they are pretty happy with the way things are going.
Our guess is that you're not real happy with a state that has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, the worst pension liability and a history of corruption.
If you want to learn more, or would like to donate or to help circulate petitions, go to the group's website: independentmaps.org.
February 16, 2014
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Feds should rescue Grand Tower
Our nation doles out roughly $50 billion annually in foreign aid. Do a little research and you will find America is by far the global leader in aid to other nations.
It is a point of pride and a fitting role for a nation justifiably known as the beacon of freedom. A great deal of good is done for world health through U.S. dollars; benefiting recipient nations directly and the global community indirectly.
International disaster assistance also is supported by the U.S., to the tune of $2.04 billion for 2014. Perhaps all the money will be used wisely and for the good of humankind. We sincerely hope so. But couldn't some way be found to siphon-off a measly $2 million to help a Southern Illinois community facing possible death and destruction from Mississippi River flooding?
That's the outlook for Grand Tower, which during the 19th Century was the financial hot spot for Jackson County and a rival in population to both Murphysboro and Carbondale. Ironically, the tiny city (yes, it actually is incorporated as a city) could be destroyed by the very river which once brought prosperity and young riverboat pilot Samuel Clemens, better known today as Mark Twain, to the city's streets.
Today, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' St. Louis District has warned local levee districts they might have to pay toward a permanent fix for a deficiency the federal agency admits was its fault. Pentagon approval will detail the specifics on the "fix" and its costs, but it is expected to be "significantly" more than the $1 million Grand Tower already is struggling to raise to fix a partial levee breech.
For various reasons, that kind of money can't be found for Grand Tower. Our nation sends millions, no, wait, even billions, to nations populated by zealots who make daily "death to America" pledges. But a few million can't be found for Grand Tower, which, in the event of an historic flood, will be destroyed and result in costs making $2 million for levee repairs sound like a bargain.
We think the federal government has an obligation to fully fund repairs to the levee and others threatened by the same design flaws by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Here's an idea. Take a few million out of the pots of gold destined for Afghanistan. Efforts to pass the buck to local taxpayers are nothing short of shameful. The levee repair bill for Grand Tower should be paid in full by the federal government.
February 16, 2014
Have you saved enough for your retirement?
Have you saved at all?
For Americans in great numbers, especially low-income workers, the answer to both questions is a resounding no. Far too many workers, the numbers show, are locked out of the heart of America's retirement system: employment-based savings plans.
In 2013, 64 percent of private-sector workers had access to an employer-based retirement plan, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's not bad. But it's a much darker picture when you dig deeper. Among small employers, only 49 percent of workers were offered access and just 37 percent of part-time workers could enroll. For the lowest 10 percent of earners, just 28 percent could tap into a retirement plan through their private sector jobs.
This comes as the national savings rate is on the decline and Social Security benefits are replacing a smaller percentage of pre-retirement income.
One simple yet profoundly powerful solution is before the Illinois Legislature, and we urge legislators to support it. The bill holds tremendous promise for bolstering retirement savings, particularly for low-wage workers.
It would give all Illinois workers access to an automatic Individual Retirement Account (IRA) through their employer if a 401(k) isn't offered, an idea that's been championed by conservatives and liberals. It was first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, along with the centrist Brookings Institution. President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain supported the concept during their presidential campaigns, and Obama continues to support it.
Unless an employee opted out, 3 percent of each paycheck would be automatically deducted. Employers would be responsible only for setting up the payroll deduction and, to avoid running afoul of the federal tax code, could not contribute to the IRA. New businesses and those with fewer than 10 employees would be exempt, and strong provisions would be included to discourage businesses from dumping 401(k) plans in favor of the IRA. The funds would be managed by an investment firm and overseen by a state-appointed board.
The expectation is that costs to employers would be minimal and the fund would be self-sustaining, meaning no taxpayer expense.
Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss, who is spearheading this effort along with Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, considers the bill the most impactful, and least objectionable, of all attempts in Springfield to deal with income inequality, including raising the minimum wage and mandating paid sick days.
We agree, even if the bill has drawbacks. Business groups, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business are opposed, saying it will burden small businesses, financially and administratively, forcing employers to act as a go-between on a program many don't want to offer. Insurance and financial advisers also are opposed, but we suspect that's mostly because the automatic IRA would cut into their business.
The business concerns are legitimate, but given the careful design of the Illinois program, we think the burdens would be minimal. In a country that's reliant on employer-based retirement systems, it's inevitable that business will face burdens. The question is how much is too much? This bill does not tip the scales.
February 13, 2014
The (Alton) Telegraph
Balancing the safety of students
It can be difficult at times to balance the rights of someone accused of a crime and the rights of others to feel safe.
When dealing with schoolchildren, it seems as though scales should weigh more toward the safety of students.
That's not always the case right now.
We're not talking about youthful indiscretions such as being caught shoplifting or drinking. Rather, there are students in some districts who are facing charges ranging from aggravated assault to sexual assault.
Unless it happens on school grounds or involves a student or faculty member away from school grounds, there is little school officials can do under state law.
Except in specific — and pretty severe — circumstances such as those already mentioned, school districts cannot suspend or expel these students.
Administrators hands are essentially bound in too many cases. It's time Illinois gave administrators the latitude to deal with this concern that other states have.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman has introduced legislation that would allow more leeway for handling such situations.
Hoffman, a Belleville Democrat, proposed the change after a concerned parent brought to his attention that students at Belleville East High School were attending classes with a 17-year-old charged with the sexual assault of a student in December. The teen's arrest record included two counts of aggravated battery and illegal possession of ammunition from months earlier, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
While expulsion before conviction seems like an excessive punishment, there should be mechanisms in place that do not force students to fear for their own safety in the interim. Suspension should be an option at the time serious felonies are alleged, with expulsion coming if the student is convicted.
Other possibilities could include alternative school or home-schooling and help keep an accused student from having to forgo his or her own education.
Out-of-school activities unfortunately can have an adverse impact on a school setting. While schools should not be put in the position of trying to replace parental responsibility or given the authority to control students' actions outside of the classroom, they should have the ability to review cases on an individual basis and do what is best for the majority of the students, staff and faculty.
We hope lawmakers see the differences between the two and take action to protect the rights of all involved.