Editorial Roundup: Illinois
Arlington Heights Daily Herald. January 18, 2022.
Editorial: State should boost fund to municipalities and help control property taxes
Costs are rising for all of us.
Inflation has increased the price of everything from gas and groceries to new and used cars, and it seems inevitable that as those expenses hit municipal governments in the coming year, they will be looking for more revenue. For homeowners, that could mean higher property taxes.
However, there is something that Illinois lawmakers could do that would help reduce the pressure on property taxpayers. They could restore local income tax revenue that the state has used to fill gaps in its budget.
Local governments have long received a share of the state income tax revenue collected in their areas. But more than a decade ago, Illinois started reducing the amount that municipalities and counties receive from the Local Government Distributive Fund.
So while local governments at one time received 10% of the income tax revenue in their areas, that number has been reduced to just over 6%. Now municipalities are urging state lawmakers to restore some of that revenue.
The DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, an organization representing 35 municipalities, says income taxes collected by the state and distributed back to local governments account for between 10% and 20% of a town's operating budget.
Those dollars help pay for essential services, such as police and fire protection, road repairs, flood prevention, garbage collection and snow removal.
Last year, a group of suburban mayors and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were among those who successfully fought against further reductions to the Local Government Distributive Fund.
'úEvery dollar cut from LGDF places an increased financial burden on our members,'Ě said Darien Mayor Joe Marchese, who is vice president of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference. 'úMunicipalities depend on LGDF to not only ensure we can provide essential services but to lessen the burden on homeowners and businesses who pay property taxes.'Ě
Some state lawmakers have gotten the message. New legislation calls for increasing the local share of the income tax revenue to 8%.
'úThis is needed by every community, some more than others,'Ě said Westmont Mayor Ron Gunter, president of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference.
Could Illinois afford to give an increased share of income tax revenue to municipalities and counties? We will probably find out when the governor unveils his proposed budget. But thanks to an influx of money from the federal government, the state's finances should be in better shape. We can't think of a better time for municipal leaders to seek this change.
Illinois will get income tax dollars from us no matter what. State lawmakers are always calling for property tax relief, but rarely offer concrete proposals to provide it. The funding for local governments is one concrete way they can help communities pay for the local services on which we rely.
Chicago Tribune. January 18, 2022.
Editorial: New Illinois crime law is put to the test. We're both worried and watching.
With crime spiking across the state, both parties in Springfield find themselves wrestling with a life-and-death issue that's begging for problem-solvers, not demagoguery. Yet politics is never far behind.
In Illinois, the issue provides an obvious target for Republicans, who have too little power at this point to bear much of the blame. Democrats don't have that luxury as they search instead for some good news to justify the merits of the sweeping criminal justice legislation they passed last year, even as they have added additional crime-fighting proposals for this year's condensed session in Springfield.
New House Speaker Emanuel 'úChris'Ě Welch, now finishing his first year in the chair occupied by former Speaker Mike Madigan before he was voted out, has an ambitious agenda although he remains cheerfully tight-lipped about the tricky specifics.
The issue throws raw meat to Republicans in the General Assembly who have pounced on persistent surges in carjackings and organized retail theft rings as a sign of weak-on-crime Democrats. All state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker will be on the November ballot and defending last year's crime bill, which Republicans have ripped into with claims that it weakens law enforcement and emboldens criminals.
Adding to other recent horror stories about Chicago crime, the carjacking issue seemed to hit state lawmakers close to home after Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford and her husband, Eric McKennie, were carjacked by masked individuals in near west suburban Broadview a few days before Christmas. The holdup let to a shootout between the suspects and Lightford's husband, who police said possesses a concealed carry license.
Add that to the numerous smash-and-grab burglaries at retail stores since the pandemic began, including blue-ribbon shops on Chicago's Gold Coast and Magnificent Mile, as well as in the suburbs.
Also on trial is the elimination of cash bail in 2023, a key provision of last year's anti-crime legislation. Aimed at addressing inequities in the justice system, the measure already has drawn fire from pro-police groups and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs.
So far, data show a profound lack of empirical proof that similar reforms in Cook County's bail system have made crime in Chicago worse. But as a political issue, crime always evokes strong feelings quite detached from actual evidence.
To wit: 'úThese guys aren't going to show up,'Ě said Durkin, a former Cook County prosecutor. 'úI know it for a fact.'Ě
Yet, since the new law has not gone into effect yet, Welch said he still supports cash bail elimination and cautioned against tying a measure that hasn't yet taken effect to the rise in violence.
Indeed, on bail reform the jury is still out, but amid much watchful waiting.
Welch and his fellow Democrats already have been signaling a reconsideration of their approach to crime fighting, particularly in light of these brazen episodes of carjacking, which understandably terrifies many citizens, and retail thefts, which are having a visible impact on tourism and economic development in downtown Chicago. That's wise. Lax bail reform and electronic monitoring have had some scandalous and tragic consequences, as previously discussed on this page, a situation made yet worse by pressures to reduce the prison population during the global pandemic.
State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who voted in favor of the criminal justice reform package, more recently suggested in a Zoom-based public meeting in Chicago's Lakeview community, that the law might need another look.
'úI don't think that anybody bargained for repeat offenders and people who were in possession of a gun and accused of a violent crime to be released on an I-bond,'Ě she said at the meeting, (as previously reported by the crime-reporting website CWB Chicago.) She's right. An I-bond, short for individual bond, allows a defendant to be released merely by signing a statement saying they will come to court, without having to post cash bail. This clearly dangerous privilege should be limited scrupulously to nonviolent offenders. If we did not all know that before, we sure do now.
Now that the new legislation has moved from the dream stage into reality, responsible minds in both parties need to get their heads together for the sake of the public that elected them. They have to be willing to look closely again at the impact and efficacy of what they have done.
The current crime plague has touched the lives and shaken the confidence of Illinoisans across the state, contributing to a profound and depressing change in how safe people feel in their neighborhoods and thus to an exodus of Illinoisans of all stripes The proper measure of success for this crime-fighting legislation is not to be found in who's the most 'úleft'Ě or 'úright,'Ě but in what we can see has worked in recent months and its prospects for our shared future.
Chicago Sun-Times. January 18, 2022.
Editorial: Get anti-crime laws right before putting them on the books
Focus on measures that actually make people safe.
Suddenly, there's a rush in Springfield to enact bills to fight crime. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is circulating the latest draft of her Victims Justice Ordinance among City Council members. Before speeding new measures into law, it's important to get them right.
Republican legislators unveiled their own bills a couple of weeks ago and may add more. Among other provisions, the GOP bills would allocate $100 million for police departments to hire officers and buy equipment, toughen sentences for gun crimes and allow counties to opt out of some provisions of the criminal justice reform law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed last January.
Without Democratic support, however, the Republican bills are unlikely to go anywhere.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, said last week the Democrats will introduce their own package of anti-crime bills to avoid looking like the party that is soft on crime. He did not give details of what will be in the legislation.
In Chicago, Lightfoot is renewing an effort to pass her Victims Justice Ordinance, which stalled in September. The ordinance would allow the city to sue suspected gang members, recover damages and seize property connected to alleged gang activity through forfeiture. As this editorial page wrote last September, asset seizures are an outdated, ineffective approach.
'úCrime has overtaken all the other issues,'Ě state Rep. Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines, told us. 'úPeople used to talk about the budget, accountability and other issues. Now, all they are talking about is crime.'Ě
In an election year, candidates are already thinking about what the opposition mailers hitting their constituents' mail boxes will accuse them of.
Among the issues some lawmakers are concerned about are the rise in carjackings and the fear that organized rings of adults are relying on teenagers, who face more lenient penalties if they are caught, to steal the cars. There is also concern about organized retail theft by people who steal large amounts of merchandise from stores or arrange to sell the stolen items.
In addition, legislators are focusing on assaults on victims by groups of people in the city and suburbs, and a new law that allows people on electronic monitoring for serious crimes to be away from home for 48 hours before being charged with felony escape.
Carjacking, retail theft and problems with electronic monitoring are serious problems that must be dealt with.
The question, as one lawmaker said, is, 'úHow do you make people feel safe?'Ě
Last year, the Cook County medical examiner's office recorded 1,077 homicides, 1,002 of them gun-related. It was the first time the office recorded more than 1,000 homicides since 1994. Carjackings are up nearly 300% since 2019. Some other types of crime, however, have decreased.
To move the needle on crime, it doesn't work to respond to surges in violence with policies drawn up to suit political needs. The policies that work are those that involve sustained effort over a period of time. Politicians tempted to grandstand on crime in the coming election will just make things worse.
In the past, bills that did no more than stiffen penalties on various types of crime typically sailed through the Legislature. The criminal justice reform legislation Pritzker signed was designed to reverse that trend. Now, though, the reforms are getting pushback from police and some prosecutors.
Some lawmakers are feeling 'úreform fatigue'Ě after years of wrestling with criminal justice issues. That's understandable, but they can't afford to walk away from continued efforts to improve both public safety and fairness in our justice system.
Lawmakers proposing new bills should be armed with facts, not hyperbole. A bill filed Thursday by state Rep Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, to repeal last January's reform bill - lock, stock and barrel - is not helpful.
Just one example of legislation that would yield benefits would be a bill to address the proliferation of 'úghost guns,'Ě firearms people assemble by themselves without serial numbers, which are needed to trace the guns. Some ghost guns include no metal and don't set off metal detectors. On Thursday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced two arrests and the seizure of 35 guns, dozens of loaded magazines and models used to produce ghost guns.
For a safer future, any new laws should be part of a thoughtful plan to reduce crime, not just knee-jerk proposals based on politics.