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Annual children's golf outing raises money for new clothes for kids
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Barb Eidlin
Children, Teens (19) Fowler, Dale--State Senate, 59

HARRISBURG — Despite the heat, more than 60 young people gathered Thursday morning for the 15th Annual Fowler-Bonan Foundation Clothes for Kids Jr. Golf Day at the Shawnee Hills Country Club in Harrisburg.

The annual event offers a free morning of golf to young people from ages 4 to 18, and raises money to buy clothing for impoverished local youth.

The event is the creation of Illinois Sen. Dale Fowler, and came about due to the persistence of a childhood memory.

“I grew up on a farm in Eldorado, and for years I had this persistent memory of a couple of children, a brother and sister, who would come running out of a somewhat dilapidated home to catch the bus. They were great kids, but I remember to this day how they were treated at school because of the condition of their clothing,” Fowler said.

Fowler said it was when he was playing golf with his children and teaching them about the game that the idea for a fundraiser gelled for him.

“At the time I was president of the United Way of Saline County as well as the United Way of Southern Illinois, so I went to them and asked ‘Can I operate under the umbrella of the United Way to form a community impact fund?’ and they said ‘Sure, absolutely.'”

So in 2003, Fowler set out to raise enough money to buy a school wardrobe for four or five children who attended the elementary school where the memory he had was made.

“Brand new, nothing used, that was my mission,” Fowler said.

That first year, the event was called the Saline County United Way Clothes for Kids Jr. Golf Event, and there was a $20 entry fee. Fowler’s efforts netted the charity $1,500, which he used to buy an entire school wardrobe for needy children through a confidential referral process.

“A few days after we delivered those clothes, I got a call from a school teacher who talked about ‘little Sally,’ who was a recipient that year. The teacher said the reaction from that child was electric,” Fowler said.

Fowler said the day after the child received those new clothes, the teacher noticed a huge change in her confidence level. That response hit the spot in his heart he had been carrying since childhood, and gave him the encouragement to continue with his mission.

In 2015, the foundation was able to make the event free of cost to participating youth.

“We’re able to do this only because of the generosity of our sponsors and supporters,” Fowler said.

Partnering with Fowler for the event is Bill Bonan II, President for the Southern Region of Peoples National Bank N.A.

“I knew Dale from other charitable projects we both worked on, so when he came up with the idea for this outing it made sense for us to partner on this,” Bonan said.

Peoples National Bank became a main sponsor for the event, donating both money and volunteers to the effort.

“This year we donated $20,000, and have six or seven volunteers here today. Last year we helped over 650 kids, and this year hope to reach even more.” Bonan said.

Bethany Shaw, head of retail and training at Peoples National Bank, is a Fowler-Bonan Foundation Board member and a regular volunteer for the event.

“As a result of all the donations the foundation receives for the event, not only do children who really need assistance get it, but we are able to offer this day of golf to the kids at no cost,” Shaw said.

Bonan said that the generosity he sees from local businesses and people is astounding.

“The people of Southern Illinois have such giving hearts, especially where children are concerned. We could not do what we do without their willingness to participate,” Bonan said.

Fowler said he structured the event as noncompetitive so anyone can participate regardless of skill level.

“After lunch we give each participant an award, one-by-one, but most importantly, remind them that their participation is what helps us supply underprivileged children with new clothes for school.”

Cannon Weatherly, 11, of Eldorado, said “I really like the idea of helping somebody doing while doing something I like to do. It is great that we helped raise so much money in the last few years and I would like to see that continue.”

Annabella Robinson, 16, who plays on the Harrisburg golf team, attended the event for the third time.

“I heard about the event through Kelly Mason in Eldorado and thought it would be a cool and fun thing to do. I know kids who could have benefited from this at one point, so I plan on coming to the event for as long as I am in high school,” Robinson said.

Both Fowler and Bonan said that they get calls from new school districts all the time.

“School districts should realize the foundation is a resource for the children attending their schools and call us anytime they have children in need,” Bonan said.

Fowler said the event has helped over 1,000 children in 18 Southern Illinois counties.

"Next year we hope to help more,” he said.

For more information about the event, or the foundation, please write, call or email: The Fowler-Bonan Foundation, PO Box 848, Harrisburg, IL 62946; 618-231-3904; FowlerBonanFoundation@gmail.com; or visit www.fowlerbonanfoundation.com.


Questions linger in Lebanon Cemetery undermining
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Barb Eidlin
Coal (20)

GALATIA — When Jim and Dan Harris laid their mother to rest this spring, little did they know that her grave site would be disturbed within a matter of months as the cemetery was prepared for undermining.

At some point this year, shortly before Labor Day, workers from the American Coal Company entered the cemetery and laid flat most existing headstones as a precaution against mine subsidence that may take place as a result of the project.

Jim Harris and his wife, Barb, said the way they found out about the undermining was in itself disturbing. They were not notified by the Lebanon Cumberland Presbyterian Church which is responsible for maintain the cemetery, nor did they see any publication of a public notice.

They found out about it on social media, where someone reported they thought the burial ground had been vandalized.

“Then we heard from someone that the stones had been laid down because the church sold the mining rights,” Barb said.

The Harrises, like many community members, remain stressed and confused over the lack of communication from the church about the issue.

“We’re from here. We know many of the people buried here. It’s not like you can’t find the relatives of many of these people,” Barb said.

The only formal communication from the church to the community is an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper stapled to a homemade sign post. In it, the church apologizes for the timing of the work falling so close to Memorial Day, pinning the decision to do so on the company doing the work. Repeated attempts to reach a representative with the church was unsuccessful.

Additionally, the notice acknowledges that the church will receive a new fellowship hall and a new basement for the church as a result of the mining under its property.

While there is no mention made of the amount of money the church received from American Coal, the notice said the benefits from the mining will help the cemetery for years to come.

“We don’t have any hard feelings against anyone,” Jim said, “I understand people are just trying to do their best. Some of the church members may have relatives here. But it gets personal when you don’t know what is going to happen with your loved ones you just put in their grave.”

Jim said his dad died two years and four months ago and his mom died January 8 of this year and the stone over their grave, picked out by his mom, is now cracked. Jim says he and his brother, Dan, are left wondering how and when it will be fixed.

“If mom were alive to see this she would be very upset," Jim said. "We wonder if the warranty on the stone is still valid, and if not, who will pay to fix the problem. We also wonder about the vaults and their repair if need be.”

A spokesperson from American Coal said they are committed to seeing things through and offered some reassurance about the issue in a formal statement:

“The American Coal Company confirms that it reached an agreement with the church and cemetery to allow this mining. We will do everything to mitigate any damage caused by subsidence. Indeed, we will work closely with the church to ensure that this cemetery is completely repaired.”

Barb said that she thought the laying down of the stones was also done somewhat disrespectfully as many are laid face down making it hard to identify who lies where.

“You’ve got all these emotions running through you," Jim said. "You have to be emotional because it’s your parents, but you have to be understanding as to why the church decided to do it. There are some days I will get angry about it. But mostly we just want to know what is going on.”

A petition to stop the mining under the cemetery was started by another community member, Tiffany Feazel, after the grave of her infant daughter, Gabrielle was disturbed by the project. Feazel was not able to comment further because restrictions from a lawsuit.

The petition currently has 364 signatures, but the mining may have already been completed, so the point may be moot. The community has also voiced its frustrations in extensive discussion on social media.

How the coal industry deals with burial grounds is regulated state to state. While the issue is a culturally sensitive one, it is not illegal in the state of Illinois to go after the minerals buried under cemeteries.

The bottom line for many in this situation is still one of communication. Both Dan and Jim are still hoping the church will hold a town hall meeting or some sort of gathering to address the issue.

“The way that I want to come at this is that we aren’t angry at anyone. We would just like more openness and to understand what is going on. Are they going to check the vaults? How do they know? If they were more forthcoming with information, it would help the community,” Jim said.


Rauner: Amendatory veto of K-12 funding bill would help Southern Illinois schools
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   K. Janis Esch
Education Funding (36a) , Education--Elementary and Secondary (36) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Manar, Andy--State Senate, 48

CARBONDALE — Gov. Bruce Rauner said Thursday that his plan to change the language of a key K-12 funding bill would funnel more money into downstate schools and avoid an unfair “bailout” of Chicago Public Schools.

During an interview with The Southern’s editorial board, Rauner called for the General Assembly to send him the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, also known as SB1, which passed both chambers of the legislature on May 31 and has been held from the governor’s desk ever since.

Rauner announced his intent to issue an immediate amendatory veto of the bill at a news conference in Mount Zion earlier this week.

Specifically, the governor plans to strike out a provision that would require the state to fund the employer’s portion of teacher pensions for the Chicago Public School District, the only school district in Illinois currently responsible for covering its own teacher pensions.

“We’ve gotta get this right,” Rauner said. “Our schools are too important, our teachers and our kids. (House Speaker Michael Madigan is) trying to siphon like $300 million a year away from Carbondale and Marion and Mount Vernon and send it to Chicago pensions, and it’s just so wrong.”

As the bill stands, all 850 of the state’s public school districts would see an increase in funding, based on a formula that factors in local property wealth and other factors.

According to analysis on Rauner’s website, if his amendatory veto goes through, Du Quoin’s school district will receive $258,000 each year on top of the $586,000 they’ll receive under SB1 as it is; Murphysboro would receive $363,000 in addition to the $750,000 provided by SB1; Marion would be paid an extra $291,000 on top of SB1’s $301,000; Harrisburg would receive about $359,000 in addition to SB1’s $760,000; and Carbondale Community High School would receive an extra $46,000 on top of the $75,000 delivered by SB1.

The website states that the figures account for Chicago Public Schools tier funding, fiscal year 2018 pension pick-up and the elimination of the Chicago Block Grant.

“This is a lot of money, and it shouldn’t be diverted to Chicago pensions. This should be in our communities that need it. There’s a lot of low-income kids, there’s a lot of struggling families in these communities. They deserve the support. That’s what this whole effort is about, and (Madigan) hijacked it,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he would be happy to address pension reform in Chicago Public Schools but that he believes the matter should be considered separately.

“Up in Chicago, they accuse me, they say, ‘The governor doesn’t care about poor black kids or brown kids.’ As if there aren’t poor kids, minorities, in Peoria and Decatur and Danville and Rockford! I mean, come on, it’s insulting,” Rauner said.

The bill passed 60-52 in the House and 35-22 in the Senate — in both cases, below the three-fifths majority required to override a gubernatorial veto, the route the General Assembly took to pass a full state budget earlier this month after two years of gridlock.

That budget does allocate an additional $350 million to schools but requires the approval of a new funding formula to distribute the money. If SB1 remains stalled, it could pose a problem for schools counting on state money to open next month.  

Rauner described the Chicago Public Schools pension funding as a last-minute addition by Madigan.

“… You can see how sort of hypocritical this is. (Senate President) Andy Manar’s working — I give him credit, he’s wanted to do education funding reform for years. We finally figured out how to do it — because I sort of pushed him to do it — and he has introduced several education funding reform proposals; he’s never had a pension payment for Chicago as part of it.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Manar condemned the veto. He said Rauner has “repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to doing the right thing for Illinois public schools” and called the bill critical to fixing the state’s broken school funding formula.

“The oldest trick in the playbook is to show up in a downstate community and say, ‘Those people are the reason why you don’t have the things you need in your community.’ I’ve seen it a hundred times,” Manar said. “I’m not going to let Gov. Rauner’s divisive argument about geography derail school funding reform. We’ve come too far to let that happen.”


CPS expects 8,000 fewer students; per-pupil spending to increase $200
Chicago Sun Times
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Lauren FitzPatrick and Stefano Esposito
Chicago--Schools (18)

Amid another steep enrollment drop, Chicago Public Schools’ principals received school budgets Thursday designed to hold schools steady with a slight per-student funding increase.

Yet uncertainty remains about how the school year, promised to start on time, will end as the district relies for the third year in a row on state funding yet to come — this time to the tune of $300 million.

The best-case scenario for the broke district borrowing to keep the lights on — a “hold-steady budget” as CEO Forrest Claypool characterized it — aims to cover increased costs for existing school staff so schools with stable enrollment won’t have to lay teachers off. Per-pupil funding will rise by about $200 per student, to $4,590 for children in kindergarten through third grade, $4,290 for remaining elementary students and $5,320 per high schooler.

The financially troubled system as a whole, however, is projected to take another troubling dive of 8,000 students.

“We’re going to make sure for this school year, that our schools open and remain open,” Claypool told reporters, declining to specify how. “We will do whatever is necessary to make that happen despite the very difficult fiscal position we’ve been put in because of the dramatically unequal state funding system.”

The entire budget, to be released in full on August 7, assumes that $300 million in new state money will be approved by state lawmakers, despite the governor’s promise to veto $200 million of it. CPS also expects $2.281 billion less in federal funding for the upcoming school year, about $43 million less due to a decrease in enrollment, especially in poor students.

Principals leaving budget briefings with district officials at Westinghouse College Prep High School were pleased to have more money to cover cost-of-living raises and two “step” raises for teachers agreed upon in October’s contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.

“It’s good to see the student-based budgeting rate go up and I think 5 percent should be able get it done,” said Nate Pietrini, outgoing principal at Hawthorne Elementary on the North Side.

With CPS forcing mid-year cuts during the past two years after failing to secure state money the district banked on, “What do we do with our dollars? How do we spend them, how do we not spend them?” another elementary principal wondered. Last year unspent money was taken back by Central Office. The year before, savings were needed to avoid mid-year layoffs, the principal said, adding, “I feel genuinely torn, it’s a financial crisis. I don’t know what the right thing to do is.”

As of Thursday evening, school by school numbers hadn’t been published. Problems also were reported with the budgeting software principals use, an extra hardship considering budgets must be finalized and approved by Local School Councils by Wednesday.

Some described the mood inside Westinghouse as “tense.”

“This is the worst I’ve seen it because we’re still banking on money we haven’t gotten from the state,” said one elementary school principal from the Southwest Side who wouldn’t give her name.

She added: “At this point, if they would fire me, I would welcome it. It’s that bad.”

At one point, principals said they were asked if they’d like a Q&A session with Claypool.

“It was like dead silence. No one wanted to hear the rhetoric and political answers,” said the Southwest Side principal.

CTU leaders also warned of more mid-year cuts.

“For the third year in a row, CPS leaders have provided a budget to schools without any idea of how to pay for it,” union president Karen Lewis said at union headquarters.

Positive changes to special education funding offer some hope, “but these merely allow the district to run in place,” Lewis said.

“So while the latest budget does signal the district is getting serious about financing obligations to our new contract and special education, it does not go far enough to address all the critical needs of CPS students and their families,” Lewis said.

Complaints last year from the CTU, principals and families led to changes in special education. Money for special ed staffers is no longer co-mingled with the rest of a school’s budget, and all special ed money will be allocated now, including the 4 percent held back last year in case of later changes.


Illinois avoids credit ‘junk’ heap — for now
Chicago Sun Times
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Tina Sfondeles
Bonds, Bonding, Borrowing, Debt, Credit Rating

Illinois has escaped the immediate pressure of its credit rating being downgraded to “junk” bond status — for now— Moody’s Investors said on Thursday.

Moody’s said the passage of a state budget for the first time in two years “alleviated liquidity pressure and moved the state closer to fiscal balance.”

Lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package earlier this month — marking the end to a historic impasse that decimated the state’s social service network and public universities. The threat of a “junk” downgrade was very real. And even after the passage, Moody’s last week placed Illinois’ near-junk bond rating under review for a possible downgrade, citing “credit challenges” that linger.

On Thursday, the ratings agency affirmed Illinois’ rating of Baa3 — still one notch above “junk.” More importantly, Moody’s noted there’s still big challenges ahead and there’s still a possibility of a downgrade within the next year or two.

“The state’s unfunded pension liabilities, which we estimate at $251 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016, are the highest of any state and will keep growing in coming years despite some reforms included in the budget,” Moody’s said in a release.

Illinois’ credit ratings stand at one notch above “junk” status with all major ratings agencies. The ratings are important because they help determine the interest rates at which the state borrows money; the worse the rating, the more taxpayers pay.

Moody’s also emphasized that the state must reduce its $14 billion bill backlog. There are some provisions to pay back some of that backlog contained within the passed budget bills. Moody’s said that will improve liquidity to allow for a “significant” drop in the backlog to about $8 billion.

A spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said “it’s hard to disagree with many of the points Moody’s makes.”

“Our balanced budget highlights our ability to self-govern and the strengths of Illinois’ diverse economy. What Moody’s seems to ask is: What took you so long? That’s a valid criticism,” spokesman John Patterson said in a statement. “Looking forward, the Senate President knows more work is needed to continue to shore up our financial stability and keep Illinois moving in a positive direction.”


Morning Spin for Friday, July 21, 2017
Chicago Tribune
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Rauner, Bruce

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle faces a world of woes on her own turf, with key ally Joe Berrios under fire for his work as county assessor and a lucrative tax she was counting on held up by the courts.

That hasn’t stopped her from criticizing other politicians, though.

And in the case of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Democrat's words were particularly harsh during an interview with veteran radio newsman Bill Cameron.

Asked about Rauner saying he would veto a Democratic school funding plan that provides about $300 million more to Chicago Public Schools — a proposal the governor has labeled a “bailout” — she called Rauner a “profoundly inept and mean-spirited governor.”

“I’ve lived in Chicago for 50 years. In that time, Jim Thompson was governor, Jim Edgar, George Ryan, and I disagreed with them sometimes, but I never thought that they were unfit for their jobs or evil people," she said of the former Republican governors. "And that’s where I am with this governor. It’s pretty profoundly disturbing.”

Cameron made sure he heard her right.

“Evil?” he asked.

“Yes,” Preckwinkle responded. “This is a person who cut funding for autism programs on national autism day.”

A Rauner spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday. But the governor reiterated that he would "issue an amendatory veto that would eliminate the Chicago Public Schools’ bailout and result in higher state funding for almost every school district in Illinois."

Preckwinkle's remarks came well into a 22-minute interview. Cameron’s show, “Connected to Chicago,” airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on WLS-AM 890. (Hal Dardick)

 

What's on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no public events scheduled.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner is set to talk about school funding again in an morning event in Auburn, near Springfield.

*The latest court hearing in the legal fight over the Cook County soda pop tax is set for the early afternoon.

*Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker will hold a late morning news conference Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center about abortion legislation. Rival Chris Kennedy will have a Chicago event at Windsor Park Lutheran Church on Saturday to talk about gun violence.

 

From the notebook 

*Chicago city clerk backs Pritzker: Anna Valencia, the new Chicago city clerk, is backing J.B. Pritzker for the Democratic nomination for governor.

"Anna is a strong voice for women’s rights and economic opportunity here in Chicago and across the state. As governor, I will work with leaders like Anna to protect a woman’s right to choose, support women and minority-owned small businesses, and work to close the gender pay gap,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Pritzker is to hold a “Women’s Rights & Resist Lunch” today at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Rick Pearson)

*Quick spins: Gov. Rauner once again Thursday called on state lawmakers to send him the education funding formula rewrite bill, at least the third time this week he's put out paper on the topic. Rauner plans to use his amendatory veto on the bill. Sponsoring Sen. Andy Manar responded with a news release titled "Knee-jerk veto could set Illinois schools back another two decades."... The Illinois arm of the conservative Americans for Prosperity says it will target with digital ads and mail 16 state lawmakers who voted to override Gov. Rauner's veto of an income tax hike. Its announcement doesn't detail who the group has in mind, but the Champaign News-Gazette reports Republicans are on the list. ... 10th Ward Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, 12th Ward Ald. George Cardenas and 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa want the mayor to hold a special August City Council meeting to discuss CPS finances. Good luck with that one — the council typically does not meet in August, taking a summer recess. ... Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced he will back President Donald Trump's pick to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray.

*On the Sunday Spin: Chicago Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests are Tribune reporter Hal Dardick; state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin; and campaign finance expert Kent Redfield. The "Sunday Spin" airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN 720-AM.

 

What we're writing

*City reaches $38.75 million settlement in red light ticket lawsuit. Read all of the Tribune's groundbreaking coverage on the issue here.

*Emanuel names former transportation official as deputy mayor.

*Judge says suburb illegally diverted water cash owed to Chicago, millions missing.

*City expected to pay $500,000 to settle Taser lawsuit against Chicago cop.

*Ex-prosecutor: Chicago police, prosecutors colluded in Englewood 4 wrongful conviction.

 

What we're reading

*Moody's: Illinois avoids "junk" credit rating, but risks remain.

*O.J. Simpson granted parole after nearly 9 years in prison for armed robbery.

*Why black home ownership rates lag even as the housing market recovers.

*Bag used to collect moon dust sells for $1.8 million.

 

Follow the money

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here

 

Beyond Chicago

*Despite Trump rebuke, Sessions says he'll stay on.

*McCain, fighting a brain tumor, says he'll be back soon.

*Department of the Interior pulls two people off Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's tour of Glacier National Park.

*Palestinians, Israeli police clash at Jerusalem holy site.


Clothes for Kids tournament continues to benefit region
Harrisburg Daily Register
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Travis DeNeal
Children, Teens (19) Fowler, Dale--State Senate, 59

HARRISBURG -- Thursday dawned hot enough that little dew was left on the grass at Shawnee Hills Country Club, home of the 15th Annual Fowler-Bonan Foundation Clothes for Kids Youth Golf Tournament.

Despite the heat that saw some golfers and spectators drink entire bottles of water over the course of each hole, 65 youth golfers persevered the humidity and blazing sun to make the event a success, according to Fowler-Bonan chairman Dale Fowler.

Fowler, state senator for Illinois' 59th Senate District, said the point isn't just to provide a quality youth golf tournament free of charge for the region. Instead, it's also a chance to showcase donors who provide for Clothes for Kids.

"It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since we started this," Fowler said, recalling the first Clothes for Kids tournament. "We've been able to help many underprivileged children from that point, and continue to increase the number of children we serve."

Indeed, the story of the foundation's clothing initiative stems from a childhood memory of Fowler's. As a boy, he rode a school bus to what was then known as Hillcrest Elementary School in Eldorado. Some children who rode the bus with him had only very ragged clothing to wear and consequently were treated poorly by some other children at the school.

The first year Clothes for Kids held its tournament, Fowler took the proceeds back to that school to help a few children in the Eldorado area, he said.

"We raised about $1,500 hundred that first year and we were able to help some of the children there," Fowler said. "I'll never forget that the teacher of the first little girl we helped said the girl came in the next day saying, 'Teacher! Teacher! Look at my shoes! Look at my new clothes!'"

Having new shoes and clothing provides a certain level of self-esteem that some underprivileged children don't receive, Fowler said.

Now, with the Clothes for Kids golf tournament well-established, the donations that come in as a result mean fewer children each year in the region will face a lack of clothing or a coat for cold weather, he said.

"We've gone from that small group of children we helped to serving children from 18 counties across southern Illinois, and that's all thanks to our donors, the teachers and social workers who help us, the media support -- all of the help we get," he said.

Though all donations had not been totaled early Thursday afternoon, Fowler said this year's donations would be more than $32,000.

"People ask me all the time, what's your goal. I've never had a goal other than to work hard, raise money and spend it on the kids. What we bring in is what we spend," he said. "We've never had to turn away an order so farm, and hopefully we never will have to."


Moody's: Illinois avoids 'junk' credit rating, but risks remain
Joliet Herald News
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
Bonds, Bonding, Borrowing, Debt, Credit Rating , Budget--State (8)

CHICAGO – A major credit rating agency says Illinois' rating won't be lowered to "junk" but warns the state still faces serious financial challenges and long-term risks.

Moody's Investors Service on Thursday affirmed Illinois' current rating with a negative outlook, saying a downgrade remains possible in the next two years.

Moody's put Illinois under review for a downgrade earlier this month, after the state entered its third fiscal year without a budget. That would've made Illinois the first U.S. state to have a rating below investment grade, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars more.

Moody's says the budget legislators approved July 6 over Gov. Bruce Rauner's objections moved Illinois "closer to fiscal balance."

But the agency warns the budget doesn't reduce Illinois' unfunded pension liability, which is larger than any other state.


Column: Now that we have a budget, let’s fix electorial process
LaSalle News Tribune
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Column  |  
Budget--State (8) , Election Issues (not candidates) (39)

I unplugged my television recently. Former binge programs such as “Better Call Saul” and “House of Cards” have bored me to tears this season. Plus, my house is divided between Bears and Jets fans, so it’s going to be a long year. I’d rather save the money, thanks.

There was another reason for pulling the plug: A few more months and we’ll be in election season again. Hooray. After the misery that was 2016, I cringe at the thought of a fresh round of toxic campaign ads and divisive rhetoric.

But there are ways to make the electoral experience more bearable, including a few that Springfield passed on during the last legislative session.

True, the next significant Election Day isn’t for another 510 days; but from a legislative perspective, now is the time to address issues that would affect voters during the next campaign cycle.

The Illinois General Assembly, occupied as they were with the fiscal crisis, declined to pass some constructive measures. Each would have positively affected the forthcoming election cycle.

In particular, there were three measures that didn’t get as far as I’d have liked. They are:

1. House Bill 525 — No using schools as polling places.

This is anw issue worth revisiting. Schools are increasingly (and understandably) adopting security measures to screen visitors and ensure student safety. It’s hardly the environment to hold a polling place.

Think about it: How many voters have the right to vote but are nonetheless precluded or dissuaded from entering into premises where minors are present? The idea of dropping your kids off and then zipping down the hall to vote is charming, but it isn’t pragmatic amid today’s security concerns.

No, polling places belong in public buildings where minors aren’t present and where a peace officers can be placed nearby in case trouble arises, which brings me to the next neglected bill.

2. Senate Bill 766 — No concealed carry in polling places. The gun laws in this state are a mess and the federal government’s imposition of concealed-carry didn’t exactly set off a sustained effort to balance the rights of gun owners and sometimes competing interests such as private property.

But whether guns belong in polling places should be addressed forthwith. On the heels of such a toxic election cycle, it takes only a small leap of imagination to picture the next cycle ending in violence. The time has come to debate whether firearms have any kind of place near the voting booth.

3. House Bill 388 — Voters are allowed to photograph their own ballots.

This bill actually did make some headway, passing the House 97-14 on April 5, 2017. Rep. Jerry Long (R-Streator) voted yes; but it stalled in the Senate. On paper, it might not seem like a big issue, but these are your ballots and you should be able to share (or not share) your vote as you see fit.

And that touches on a point that seemed lost in 2016. Though the election seemed hijacked by demagogues and ideologues, the power to elect our leaders belongs squarely to the American people and we need to restore a sense that every vote counts.

Now that we have a budget, Springfield needs to take a hard look at any and all issues that impede people from exercising the most important of civic duties.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.


Illinois Department of Public Health reminds residents to avoid ticks
LaSalle News Tribune
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
Health (49) , Natural resources (23)

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Department of Public Health shared some tips on how to avoid ticks.

“Ticks can carry diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis,” said Director Shah. “A bite from a tick can cause anywhere from mild to severe illness, and even death in some cases, so it is important to protect yourself against bites.”

Many tickborne diseases have similar symptoms.

The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses can include fever, chills, aches and pains, and rash. Within two weeks following a tick bite, if you experience a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye or a rash anywhere on your body, or an unexplained illness accompanied by fever, contact your doctor.

Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. Tell your health care provider the geographic area in which you were bitten to help identify the disease based on ticks in that region. Ticks are commonly found on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks crawl — they cannot fly or jump. Some ticks will attach quickly and others will wander, looking for places like the ear, or other areas where the skin is thinner.

Simple tips to avoid ticks bites

  • Wear light-colored, protective clothing-long-sleeved shirts, pants, boots or sturdy shoes, and a head covering. Treat clothing with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.
  • Apply insect repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
  • Walk in the center of trails so grass, shrubs, and weeds do not brush against you.
  • Check yourself, children, other family members, and pets for ticks every two to three hours.
  • Remove any tick promptly by grasping it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pulling it straight out.

Rezin: State should follow example set by Illinois Valley on flood response
LaSalle News Tribune
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Letter to Editor  |  
Floods (42) Rezin, Sue--State Senate 38

In the wake of a northeastern Illinois flooding disaster, state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), whose district includes most of the Illinois Valley, is urging the state of Illinois to follow an example set here.

Rezin sent out a public letter this week, mentioning the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance that involves local community emergency responders and assigned flood managers to help with minimizing flood impacts and maximizing flood response.

Rezin’s letter reads:

“Illinois is seeing firsthand the havoc flooding creates for people in northern Illinois. Four counties have been declared disaster areas as the Fox River, Des Plaines River, Chain of Lakes, and other waterways have wiped out property and infrastructure.

“The state of Illinois has the largest collection of inland bodies of water and rivers in the continental United States. Twelve percent of surface in Illinois is mapped as a flood plain. My 38th Senate District, which stretches from Bureau County on the west to Will County on the east, has about 130 miles worth of river frontage, one of the most in the state. Ottawa alone is the watershed for 12,000 square miles.

“Flooding is serious in Illinois and it requires a serious approach to deal with it.

“Like northern Illinois right now, in 2013, communities I represent along the Illinois and Fox Rivers also lived the hardships that come with severe flooding. Many neighborhoods, businesses, and infrastructure were destroyed. The Morris Hospital had to close. Thousands of lives were impacted, property was lost, tokens of precious memories were gone forever, and infrastructure had to be rebuilt. That flood cost La Salle and Grundy Counties alone more than $150 million.

“That’s why after that flood, my office teamed up with local leaders and started the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance (IVFRA). The IVFRA brings communities, local governments, and emergency personnel together as one unit to prepare for and battle floods. It includes La Salle, Grundy, Bureau, and Putnam counties.

“The IVFRA meets four times a year and has resiliency plans in place for the region. Cities in my district have implemented new flood related ordinances that are helping keep water away from homes, schools, and businesses. There are also now 24 new Certified Floodplain Managers in my district.

“The IVFRA has received statewide and national attention. It’s is also now approved as a continuing education credit for certified floodplain managers.

“In April, our area saw rising rivers and streams after heavy rainfall. However, after coordinating with members of our Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance, the impact was minimal.

“How governments respond upstream and downstream impacts other communities along the waterway. So, being on the same page as a region has made a big difference.

“The IVFRA is truly a model other regions of the state and the country should adopt. It has given our communities a better chance at staying dry.”

Rezin represents Bureau, Grundy, La Salle, Kendall, Livingston, Putnam and Will counties.


Unclaimed property bill requires excess funds go towards curing pension debt
Madison County Record
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   by Ann Maher
Pensions (70) , Treasurer (92) McCarter, Kyle--State Senate, 54
SPRINGFIELD - A provision of the omnibus budget bill that allows the Illinois treasurer to offset "actuarial reserve deficiencies" in the state's woefully under-funded pensions, faces criticism among business interests.

Proposed by Treasurer Michael Frerichs, the new law gives his office discretion to turn over any amount received through the sale of abandoned property to state pension systems during the fiscal year; and on April 15 and Oct. 15 of each year the treasurer is required to deposit any amount in the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund exceeding $2.5 million into state pensions.

However, if the treasurer determines that $2.5 million is not enough on those dates to pay the rightful owners of property, which includes unclaimed life insurance policies, abandoned bank deposits and safety deposit boxes, for example, the office may retain more in the trust fund.

The unclaimed property bill - known as House Bill 302 - passed both chambers before the end of the regular session in May. It became law after withstanding the governor's veto action earlier this month while packaged up with other legislation - including tax increases - under SB9.

Among other things, the new legislation expands the reach of the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act passed last year, and now requires insurance companies to locate beneficiaries of unclaimed life insurance policies by comparing names to the Social Security Administration’s Master Death File back to Jan. 1, 2012. Before the bill was amended in the Senate, the requirement reached back to 1996.

Pro-business groups have been critical of a provision in the bill that allows contingent fee auditors to try to find abandoned property owners and collect fees for services, saying that it doesn’t allow the targeted institutions much certainty as to when they can assume that an unclaimed asset will no longer be redeemed.

In a letter to the Treasurer's office, the Illinois CPA Society said it was principally opposed to any contingency audit arrangement.

"The basis of our opposition to contingent fee audit arrangements is that it obscures or clouds the auditor's objectivity, which is a fundamental tenant of an audit," says the May 9 letter written by the group's vice president for government relations Martin Green.

"Professional standards require all CPAs both in public practice and business and industry to maintain objectivity in rendering professional services."

The executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Tax Institute, Keith Staats, wrote in opposition to a bill similar to HB 302 - the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (HB 2603) - saying it would adversely affect the business community.

"Current law forbids the hiring of third party contingent fee auditors to conduct audits of Illinois-based businesses," he wrote. "Current law recognizes resource limitations of the Treasurer by authorizing the hiring of such auditors to conduct out-of-state audits. In our estimation, any fears of a possible constitutional infirmity created by disparate treatment of in-state and out-of-state audits is misplaced."

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), who voted against the measure, said in May that the bill was not constitutional because it would be a new law applied retroactively to previously existing contracts.

Other local legislators who supported its passage included State Sen. James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis); and State Reps. Jerry Costello (D-Red Bud), Katie Stuart (D-Collinsville), LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) and Dan Beiser (D-Alton).

The under-funded problem

The state's pension liability from six different funds - General Assembly Retirement System (GARS), Judges’ Retirement System (JRS), Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), State Universities Retirement System (SURS), State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) - has been estimated to exceed $250 billion.

"Actuarial deficiencies" were aided in the recent omnibus budget bill SB 9, which raised the personal income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, and the corporate income tax rate from 7.75 percent to 9.5 percent.

The group Taxpayers United of America, which has fought for funding reform of pensions, claims that Democrat legislators who pushed for the increase “are just getting warmed up.”

Jim Tobin, TUA president, said pro-tax increase legislators plan on putting on the statewide ballot “a proposal to convert the state’s already high income tax to an even higher graduated income tax.”

“If put on the ballot, this income tax increase amendment to the state constitution will be presented to Illinois voters, and I can assure you that all state government employees, active and retired, will vote ‘Yes’ on this measure,” he said.

He added that almost all of money raised would go to the state’s “insolvent” pension plans.

The TUA argues that the state's "lavish" defined benefit retirement programs should move to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s as most private sector workers receive.

“Nearly 100,000 Illinois government retirees collect annual pensions totaling $50,000 or more, and 17,000 of those former government employees collect annual pensions totaling $100,000 or more,” Tobin said. “This is outrageous.”

Rauner sets deadline for SB1, says he’ll call special session
State Journal Register
Friday, July 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Education Funding (36a) , Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner Friday said he will call lawmakers back into special session if a school funding reform bill isn’t on his desk by noon Monday.

At a news conference at Auburn High School in Auburn, south of Springfield, Rauner also set a July 31 deadline for lawmakers to approve a funding reform measure he finds acceptable that is needed to ensure schools will open on time this fall.

“Time’s up,” Rauner said of the continued uncertainty over school funding.

The budget approved by lawmakers earlier this month includes money for K-12 education. However, the money won’t be sent to school districts until a revised school funding formula is in place. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that a new formula is needed that will direct the most state money to the neediest school districts, something that isn’t happening under the current formula.

The General Assembly in May approved a revised formula, but the Senate has never sent the bill to Rauner because the governor threatened to veto it. Rauner said the bill unfairly gives money to Chicago schools that instead should be distributed to school districts around the state through the new formula.

Rauner has been making appearances around the state this week demanding that the bill be sent to him to he can rewrite it using his amendatory veto powers. Rauner said again Friday he will change the bill to put more money into downstate schools.

Rauner said Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, are trying to foment a crisis in the state by waiting until the last minute to send the bill to him. Many districts begin classes in August and need state money to open their doors. Other districts have indicated they could open using money held in reserve, but it is unclear how long they could remain open without continuing state aid.

This story will be updated.