Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
June 27, 2016
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Let's make a deal
Aren't people hired with the expectation that they'll do a good job?
Contract negotiations are all about give and take, offers and counteroffers, making concessions in one area to advance in another.
Everyone knows it. Nonetheless, the contract signed by new University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman is instructive on the question of how big deals get done.
Last week, The News-Gazette published the details of Whitman's five-year deal. He'll be paid $600,000 a year and eligible for another $200,000 in bonuses.
That's actually less than the $988,723 former athletic director Mike Thomas would have received if he had qualified for every possible incentive in his UI deal. Thomas' base was $568,178; his bonus package exceeded $400,000.
In that sense, Whitman, at least theoretically, left money the table - no great surprise given his desire to become the AD at the school where he played football and was a stellar student.
But it's still a lush package, including the usual perks that include two courtesy cars, a country-club membership and a suite at Memorial Stadium.
But another aspect of the deal, although common, is bewildering.
Whitman, like ADs and coaches at other schools, is entitled to bonuses if UI teams win championships. He is also entitled to a bonus if he exceeds fundraising goals.
Asking for these kind of incentives is almost akin to an AD or coach saying, "Look, I'll show up on time for the basic salary. But I'll have to be paid extra if you want real production out of me."
What is an AD for if not to hire outstanding coaches, raise big money and win games and oversee championship programs?
Why is this approach so common? Because major college sports is swimming in money.
Recent news reports indicate that the Big Ten's new television deal will generate an extra $20 million per year per school.
It is in that bizarre atmosphere - one seemingly without limits - that the parties craft their agreements whose underlying theme is this: If you want a winner, it's going to cost extra.
June 26, 2016
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
End pensions for all elected officials
There's no way to frame it as a giant leap, but members of the McHenry County Board quietly voting to end the practice of IMRF pensions for themselves was a small step for taxpayerkind.
Whether you want to give credit to a Republican Board Member like Andrew Gasser or State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who sicced the IMRF director on the County Board questioning whether members meet the 1,000 per year IMRF qualifying threshold, the practice has ended.
The unanimous vote taken this week will eliminate IMRF eligibility for board members effective Dec. 1, with the new county fiscal year and the seating of the new board after the Nov. 8 election. The resolution eliminates pension eligibility for new members, but also ends the accumulation of credit for pensions for existing members, which includes the newly-elected chairman position.
It has been ridiculous that elected officials who already receive a salary of more than $20,000 for their part-time positions also have been collecting pension benefits. It remains ridiculous that many also accept health insurance as part of their compensation.
We can't point fingers at our local school board members who oversee the vast majority of our property tax dollars, but at least they perform their services with no expectation of salary, pensions or health benefits.
So many things about government in Illinois are ridiculous, we have to start somewhere. Pensions should end for Illinois legislators, as well. The fact that legislators are socking away retirement savings while they haven't been able to pass a budget for a year is nauseating.
Illinois is in need of serious reform and crippled by debt from employee benefits it can't afford. And while lawmakers must address that situation and remedy it for the future, removing the plank from their own eyes would be a good place to start.
June 25, 2016
Jumping gap more likely than bridging it
It's starting to look like Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner have a better chance of revving up a couple of old Plymouth Colts and completing an Evel Knievel jump across the missing Illinois 157 bridge over St. Clair Avenue than they do of passing a 2017 budget by Friday.
That replacement bridge in Fairview Heights is one of many state highway projects about to come to a screeching halt when the 2016 fiscal year ends. Illinois went a whole year without a budget. It is starting 2017 without a budget, but this time there is no authority to fund $130.6 million in local highway projects and no authority to fund schools like there was last year.
Belleville Elementary District 118 is in the process of alerting parents that school may not start in August, or that if it starts they may have to close in November after reserves are depleted. Other school districts are facing similar choices, but it is worse in poor districts that live from state check to state check because they have little in reserves or property taxes.
Rauner is pushing a pair of bills that would allow state spending until after the November elections. Madigan is showing no interest and is choosing to build power out of failure. The budget working groups keep plodding along with no sense of urgency and no clue that Illinois will crash and burn on Friday.
When it does, expect construction project costs to mushroom as sites are secured and abandoned. When work does resume, some work will need to be redone and some will be delayed as Illinois tries to draw back contractors who moved on to other jobs.
When it does, expect working parents to scramble for day care or be forced to take off work to care for idled students. Expect an economic dip as a large chunk of Illinois' 135,000 teachers are idled.
And when it does, the Illinois Lottery will try to sell tickets with a 1 in 20 million chance of winning an IOU.
Can wreckage possibly be what the folks in Springfield want? Does the desire to spend $7 billion more than they have really outweigh the human costs their inaction is precipitating?