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On Illinois farms, where labor is tight, foreign workers are welcomed
Chicago Tribune
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Employment, Jobs (40) , Labor (55)

Wayne Sirles parks his dusty pickup amid rows of peach trees, where Mexican pickers pluck fruit that a few years ago dropped to the ground to rot for lack of hands to harvest it.

 

Not this year. Sirles, whose great-great-grandfather founded Rendleman Orchards in the tiny town of Alto Pass in southern Illinois, has for the second season hired temporary foreign workers through the government's H-2A visa program, stanching a loss of crops that threatened the viability of his family's 144-year-old farm.

 

He didn't want to. Determined to avoid the costs of the program, Sirles put up flyers in high schools, grocery stores and restaurants looking for local summertime help to pick peaches and apples.

 

But nothing came of the effort, he says. The family tried to work with the labor they had, but production got unsustainably low.

 

"We went for three or four years resisting the H-2A program because we thought we could do it, but we could not," says Betty Sirles, Wayne's mother. Now Rendleman's team of 30 pickers includes 12 foreign workers on temporary visas who toil in the muggy midsummer heat alongside longtime employees but return to Mexico at the end of the four-month harvest.

 

As the nation's immigration debate roils, farms like Rendleman are far beyond the question of whether immigrant labor is needed. They say they can't survive without it, their towns are better for it and that reforms are necessary to maintain and replenish the manpower they need to pull in each season's harvest.

 

Revamping the H-2A visa program, which invites agricultural workers to work temporarily in seasonal jobs, is a priority for an industry that relies overwhelmingly on foreign-born workers to tend the fruits, vegetables and livestock that end up on American dinner tables. Three-quarters of the hired laborers who do most of the work on U.S. farms were born abroad, according to a recent paper published by the Migration Policy Institute. Nearly half don't have legal authorization to work in the U.S.

 

The dependence on H-2A visas has grown as traditional farm labor pools shrink. Migrant workers who used to pass through the Midwest at harvest time have settled down to give their families more stability, and the number of Mexicans who used to flow across the border in search of work has been dwindling since the recession reduced demand and border security tightened. Meanwhile, immigrant farm workers already in the country are aging, and their kids are seeking different lines of work, just as U.S. farm families have seen their own kids do for decades.

 

The Department of Labor certified nearly 166,000 H-2A visas last year, more than double the number five years earlier. Unlike the nonagricultural H-1B and H-2B guest worker programs, there is no cap on the number of visas issued.

 

Illinois-based employers were certified for 809 H-2A visas in 2015, up 40 percent from 2010. So far this fiscal year, which started in October, 1,778 H-2A visas have been certified in Illinois. Most of the Illinois visas went to labor-intensive fruit and vegetable farms; corn and soybean farms rely more on automation.

 

The program isn't cheap. H-2A workers must be paid a government-set wage that is high enough that it won't adversely affect U.S. workers. In Illinois, this year's rate is $13.01 an hour, significantly higher than the state's $8.25 minimum wage.

 

Rendleman Orchards migrant workers

Sarah Frey, co-owner of Frey Farms in Keenes, Ill., the state's largest H-2A employer, said she hires about 250 H-2A workers for the five-week pumpkin harvest in southern Illinois and Indiana. Including the housing and round-trip transportation employers are required to provide, each worker ends up costing about $16 an hour, she said.

 

Republican lawmakers have introduced several proposals to streamline the H-2A program and make it cheaper and easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers. The proposed changes include cutting wages, reducing domestic recruiting requirements and allowing year-round visas for dairy and livestock workers.

 

Labor advocates like Farmworker Justice, which have long criticized foreign worker programs for being exploitative, oppose most of the measures. They don't like the fact that the visas would continue to be tied to employers, which could dissuade workers from reporting

abuses, and say the reforms don't address the many undocumented laborers already working in the sector. In addition, the group says, employers shouldn't need temporary workers for year-round jobs that could be attractive to U.S. workers.

 

Some farmers are looking forward to a bill slated to be introduced by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that proposes replacing the H-2A program with a new temporary H-2C visa. Agricultural workers who are in the country illegally could apply.

 

Under that proposal, seasonal workers who obtained H-2C visas could stay in the country for 18 months, and year-round foreign workers could stay for 36 months. It also would remove the requirement that employers provide transportation and housing and reduce the mandated wage to approximately 115 percent of the minimum wage.

 

Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing proposals to offer "blue cards" to immigrants who have worked in agriculture consistently for two years, which would give them legal status and, if they continue working in agriculture, the chance to pursue green cards.

 

Mutual benefit

 

For foreign laborers who toil in Illinois fields, the work is hot and gritty, but it also represents economic opportunity for them and the communities that host them.

 

At Rendleman Farms, which has 100 acres of peaches and 90 acres of apples to harvest, aluminum ladders clang as workers carry them from tree to tree. A flotilla of dragonflies hovers in the humidity.

 

Pickers, trained to gauge ripeness by color, collect ready peaches in padded tubs strapped across their chests and unload them into crates on a growling tractor. One worker standing on the tractor's edge is tasked with separating the soft peaches meant for the farm's on-site market from the firm ones destined for grocery stores. Mariano's is a major customer.

 

"They're looking for opportunities," Sirles says of the workers. "Just like my forefathers did."

 

Sirles' ancestors founded Rendleman Farms in 1873 in the rolling green hills of Alto Pass because it reminded them of their native Appalachia, which they left during Reconstruction. The farm, which has grown to 800 acres from about 88 originally, is now tucked between two wineries along the bucolic Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

 

Estanislao Tomas, a longtime Rendleman employee, found Alto Pass peaceful and made it his home as well. He came to the area illegally from Michoacan, Mexico, in the early 1980s in search of work, but said he was granted amnesty under President Ronald Reagan's 1986 decree and is now a legal permanent resident. He goes back to Mexico every December to visit his family.

 

For migrant workers on Illinois farms, the job is hot, risky

Tomas, who owns a Mexican grocery store in neighboring Cobden, knows he's lucky. Other farmworkers in the area who are in the U.S. illegally have been scared of being stopped by police since the Trump administration instituted toughened immigration enforcement policies. They ask if their groceries can be brought to their homes because they're afraid to leave.

 

But Sirles' father, who goes by the nickname "Ren," said area residents recognize that immigrants are good for the community and its economy, notwithstanding political rhetoric.

 

"Fifteen years ago, you take Cobden and Alto Pass, they were dying," says Ren, 76. "These people start buying a fix-up home, and they fix them up, they pay their taxes, they mow their yards. They have revived both towns."

 

Tomas, 56, wanted more than farm work for his kids, and he got it. His five children include a doctor, nurse, kindergarten teacher and director of a school, he said. His youngest son is about to graduate from law school.

 

"I am proud because I am a farmer who helped his children get ahead," he says.

 

Jesus Robles, 47, another longtime picker at Rendleman, also is relieved to report his kids are working in car repair, retail and hospitality.

 

"I precisely told them not to (pick fruit) because it's very hard," he says in Spanish.

 

Jorge Uribe, 26, left his wife, toddler and newborn in their home in Guanajuato for the H-2A job, which pays far more than the 1,500 pesos weekly, or about $84, he makes at home working in construction.

 

Being away from his family for four months is the hardest part of the gig, Uribe says, but he wants to save money. He hopes to one day move his family to the U.S. so his kids can have a better education.

The fruit picking isn't difficult so much as hot and tedious, says Uribe, who wears a long-sleeve button-down shirt to protect against the sun and scratches, and a bandana tucked into the back of a baseball cap to cover his neck.

 

Rendleman Orchards

Freshly picked peaches are seen at Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass, Ill., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. The primary crops at Rendleman are peaches and apples. The workers in the field have varying immigration statuses. Some have become citizens, some are permanent residents and a few are in the U.S. on work visas. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Hurting for workers

 

Frey, who started her farming business in Keenes when she was a teenager, said that years ago she would harvest with the local football and softball teams and kids from the community. But as demand for locally grown produce soared and her business expanded, the local populations were too small to meet her labor needs.

 

"I am not of the opinion Americans won't do this job," said Frey, who now has farms in seven states and grows mostly melons and pumpkins. "There are simply not enough Americans living in these rural areas."

 

Several workforce development experts in the area say the hiring challenge is real, and not just in agriculture.

 

"We are absolutely swamped with employers trying to fill good-paying jobs," said John Otey, business services manager for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, who works in the southern region. "Getting the people, that's our struggle."

 

Agriculture work is never requested by job-seeking clients, said Pamela Barbee, who heads the regional agency responsible for administering federal funds to retrain dislocated workers, impoverished adults and youths with barriers. Most of her clients wish to be retrained in careers that set them on paths to self-sufficient wages, such as welding or truck driving, said Barbee, executive director of the Southern 14 Local Workforce Development Board.

 

Alto Pass, about 20 miles south of Carbondale, is in a 19-county economic development region at the southernmost part of the state with a 5.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest in Illinois, according to IDES. Such a high unemployment rate suggests there may be workers available.

 

But high unemployment in the state's southern region is a function of long-term population declines across many rural parts of the state as young people left for bigger cities and higher wages, said Dennis Hoffman, labor market analyst for the agency's southern region. Loss of coal mining jobs and ups and downs in manufacturing have hurt certain areas, he said.

 

There has been job growth in retail, tourism and health care along the major corridors, and "people will drive 60 miles or more for good-paying jobs," Hoffman said.

 

But many other people aren't interested in formal employers, preferring to earn cash with informal fix-it or service jobs, Otey said. Agriculture jobs are particularly difficult to fill, he said, because it "is hard to move people who are not associated with that kind of work into that kind of work."

 

"I think it's times changing," said Justin Horn, 28, who was born and raised in the Alto Pass area. "Our parents grew up around, 'You have to work hard for everything you want.' I think we're straying away from that. People don't really want to do manual labor."

 

Horn works at a company that rents out contractor equipment, and his wife, Katie, is a laser technician in Marion, a larger city about 30 miles north. He dreams of opening a country line dancing bar.

 

Horn said the immigrant labor powering the fruit farms is welcome, as produce drives the area's economy. Union County is the state's No. 1 producer of fruits, nuts and vegetables.

 

Back at Rendleman, Jesus Roman, 18, who has several family members working at the farm, helps load the packaged peaches into trucks. Roman, who graduates from high school in Cobden next spring, said most of his friends are not interested in the work, "maybe because they didn't grow up around it."

 

He could be in the fields picking, but "I'd rather be in here," where it's cooler, he said. Eventually, he hopes to be a diesel mechanic.


The Illinois Eclipse: It's not about Aug. 21. It's every day.
Chicago Tribune
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

Starting at 1:20 p.m. Monday, people in downstate Illinois will watch as their view of the sun is obliterated for 2 minutes and 43 seconds. Astronomy buffs have plotted a journey to Carbondale and other points to stand in the path of the first total eclipse to sweep across the continental U.S. since 1918.

We’re sure that will be a thrilling sight. But there’s another eclipse in Illinois that isn’t thrilling — or so brief.

This eclipse doesn’t occur only on Aug. 21.

It is happening every day.

You don’t need special glasses to see it.

Just keep your eyes open to the grim, familiar evidence of Illinois in eclipse:

Job seekers and company execs who cross Illinois off their lists early because of its toxic political and business climate.

Droves of students who flee to financially stable out-of-state universities.

For sale signs that sprout galore. Illinois in eclipse has led the nation in population loss three years in a row. (Such a three-year streak has happened only one other time since 1900, during World War II.)

Face it: No one comes to Illinois for the weather or to climb mountains. People come — or came — for opportunity. But that once-thriving state has receded into the shadow.

Why? Because while surrounding states add jobs, Illinois grinds private-sector concerns in its gears. The nation generated a 1.3 percent average annual growth rate from 2006-16, but Illinois managed just 0.4 percent, according to James Broughel of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Wisconsin outstripped Illinois with a 0.7 percent rate, and Indiana’s was more than double this state’s, at 0.9 percent.

In July, the state’s unemployment rate ticked up. That’s the same month that Springfield passed a 32 percent personal income tax hike — inviting more people and businesses to head for the exits. Thank you, Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

And what about those promised reforms, such as overhauling workers’ compensation, that could persuade more businesses to come, stay or expand? Or pruning Illinois’ wildly overgrown local governments to ease taxpayer burdens — two of the items on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pro-jobs agenda? What, say the ranking Democrats, us worry?

We recently sized up this state’s economic competitiveness and quality of life in a series of measures. In capsule, Illinois leads the nation in the worst ways. You know about the lousy credit rating, the unfunded pension liabilities, the onerous regulations on employers.

Once a colossus that overshadowed its Midwest neighbors, Illinois in eclipse can’t escape the shadow. Other states gain by offering a sunnier jobs climate. Wisconsin recently landed what could be a $10 billion Foxconn LCD panel factory that will employ as many as 13,000 people.

How did Wisconsin prevail? By being close to Illinois but not Illinois. Foxconn sought to exploit Illinois’ assets — its transportation and logistical systems, its energy reliability — but avoid its ever-rising taxes, crushing public debts and never-ending political brink-dancing. Foxconn chose a state that does the basics, like pass a budget every year.

In a state in eclipse, though, even that task is too difficult. In a state in eclipse, taxes rise with no offsetting reforms. In a state in eclipse, voters return the same failed pols to the legislature decade after decade in a triumph of naive hope over costly experience.

We all know about the wisdom of the crowd — that many brains are better than one. Well, many brains are saying that Illinois is a good place to leave, or avoid in the first place.

Every parent who sends a child away to school hopes that he or she will be drawn back home, not by filial duty, but by an abundance of opportunity. To start a business. To work and play and start a family where promotions and prosperity beckon.

If you’ll allow us one more eclipse-based metaphor: When you don’t have much sunshine, there’s a limit to what you can grow.


Letter: Illinois residents held hostage
Joliet Herald News
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
Budget--State (8) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

To the Editor:

We are being held hostages by our own representatives, who are sworn in to do as the people wish.

For two years, we are still without a balanced budget and are going deeper in debt. It’s time these fat cats get off their behinds and start working for the people or resign and let the honest people run for office.

These lifers are only looking out for themselves and what they can get. It’s time to get rid of them all and take their ill-gotten pension away and put the money back into the state, where it belongs.

It’s time to stand up and fight for what’s right.

Taxes, taxes and more taxes on the people is not the way to solve the problem when you can’t trust those to spend the money wisely.

This is a fact that has been repeated over and over again by these so-called politicians.

Enough is enough.

Illinois is the laughing stock of America and President Lincoln is rolling in his grave at what this state has become. I am tired of the nonsense that they are shoveling and expect us to believe.

If there is any among them, let him stand up and tell the truth for once.

Oh, did I just ask that question?

We all know that they truly can’t answer that with a straight face since they’ve been lying to us for so long.

Again, I ask you all to stand up and fight back for your rights here in Illinois.

We deserve better and should not settle for less.

Gerald Zarembski

Shorewood


McDermed, Will County continue push for Lewis Airport tower
Joliet Herald News
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
Airports (4)

The Will County Board is continuing its push for a permanent air traffic control tower at Lewis University Airport in Romeoville.

State Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, presented the board with a resolution Thursday in support of the permanent tower, which officials said will not only make both the air and ground in the area safer, but also provide an economic boost.

McDermed described how one of her legislative colleagues was appalled that there is no formal air traffic control procedure for the airport and pilots communicate with each other to organize takeoffs and landings.

Amazed, Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, jumped on as a sponsor of the bill, along with other Will County-area legislators.

The resolution, which was adopted in May by the Illinois House of Representatives, urges Congress and President Trump to provide federal funding for Lewis University Airport to construct an air traffic control tower, or to be added to a federal pilot program allowing an air traffic control program.

It was estimated in June 2015 as a $6 million project.

County Board member Ray Tuminello, R-New Lenox, who has been a pilot more than 20 years, said he flies in and out of DuPage Airport because it is a controlled airspace.

“Many of these companies that have their own aircraft, the majority of them have written in their insurance policies that they cannot land or takeoff from a non-controlled airport,” Tuminello said.

In addition to serving aviation students at Lewis University, the airport is a designated “reliever airport” for other Chicago region airports.

“This will help, in a tremendous way, to bring economic development and growth – down the road – in a fashion that we’re not used to,” Tuminello said.

The addition of a second runway in 2004 heightened the airport’s need for a control tower. State, federal and local officials have talked about it ever since

A permanent control tower would benefit the airport when it gets exceptionally busy, officials have said, such as when NASCAR racing teams come to the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, though NASCAR brings in its own temporary control tower during its events.


Mendota grade school district banks on state funds
LaSalle News Tribune
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
Education Funding (36a)

MENDOTA — This is the month when school districts are required to present a budget to the taxpayers and this is the year when the legislature has again made that job nearly impossible.

Mendota Grade School superintendent Kristen School told her board the district could receive almost $200,000 more this year if state representatives can override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1.

If they don’t, then School isn’t sure if they’ll get any money at all since the state already has missed the first payment for the current fiscal year and will most likely skip the next one, too, she said.

“The only vehicle we have right now is to pass Senate Bill 1,” she said. “The only way to get our money is to get it passed.”

Instead of counting on any new funds from SB1, School said she proposed a budget that includes some general state aid payments. If the district received the same amount as last year, then it can anticipate a deficit of about $228,000. A key vote is expected in Springfield next week that could result in some amendments to the budget before the Mendota school board hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21.


Congressman says leadership needed
Ottawa Daily Times
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |  
President (73) Rezin, Sue--State Senate 38

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of worsening the nation's divisions by downplaying "the morally repugnant hate" on display in Virginia over the weekend.

Kinzinger, R-Channahon, joined a small but growing group of congressmen who have called out the president by name for his assertions that "both sides" were to blame at a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va.

"In this moment, we need bravery, we need leadership, and we need a president who unites the people of this country," Kinzinger said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "Instead, with his remarks this week, President Donald Trump has furthered the divide and downplayed the morally repugnant hate on display this past weekend."

Kinzinger, who said he voted for neither Trump or Clinton in November, previously touted Trump in a campaign fundraising letter, but he has been critical of the president on certain issues, most recently Trump's tweets regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his stance on Russia.
 
Earlier this month, Kinzinger said he will not be a cheerleader for the president, commenting to media after an Ottawa event.
 
"If I have a disagreement with him, I will speak out like I have before," he told reporters then. "He needs to discipline his message."
 
In his statement, Kinzinger said Americans face a moment in which they must either stand up against hate or stay silent.
 
"I choose to forcefully stand against this evil, against this hate, against the white nationalists, KKK, neo-Nazi vile bigotry displayed in Charlottesville and everywhere else in this country," he said.
 
Last weekend, Kinzinger issued a general statement against bigotry and hate, but made no mention of Trump.
 
In a tweet, his spokeswoman, Maura Gillespie, said Kinzinger is on duty with the Wisconsin Air National Guard this week, but he was able to release the statement.

It was sent to media throughout the 16th Congressional District, which includes La Salle County.

In a press conference Tuesday, Trump placed some of the blame for the violence on those protesting against the white nationalists. He also claimed some "very fine people" joined the white nationalists in protesting the removal of a Confederate statue. Monday, the president described members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs" in a prepared statement he read. He also said "racism is evil."

On Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner told a state fair audience he "vehemently" disagreed with Trump's comments, saying everyone must condemn the actions of "disgusting, despicable white supremacist groups." The president's comments, he said, "damage" America.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said in a statement Thursday she agreed with the governor's comments.

“Acts of violence, terrorism, and hatred must never be tolerated and must always be condemned," said Rezin, who represents La Salle County on the Illinois General Assembly.

Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss brings gubernatorial campaign to Moline
Quad City Times
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Thomas Geyer
Candidates--Statewide (12) Biss, Daniel--State Senate, 9

Illinois gubernatorial candidate and Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss said his idea for funding schools while reducing burdensome property taxes will be to institute a progressive income tax in the state and do away with the flat tax.

 

“Ours is the most regressive income tax of any state in the union,” Bliss said Saturday during a town hall meeting at Black Hawk College. “It’s tilted toward the rich and against the poor and middle class.”

 

As a result, the state’s public schools are over-reliant on property taxes that burden the middle class, he said.

 

Only about six people showed up for the meeting, but Bliss wanted to hear the people’s questions.

 

Bliss, 39, said the state is dealing with an “extraordinary crisis” in terms of school funding.

 

The State of Illinois has “not done what we need to do in investing in education, not just in the past few years but in decades,” he said.

 

Since Illinois funds its schools through “preposterously high” property taxes, supplemented by state dollars and some federal money, “school funding is extremely inequitable.”

 

Illinois, he said, is the most property tax-reliant state in the nation.

 

“Where do you go to for money,” he said. Increasing everybody’s taxes just puts more of an unfair burden on the middle class.”

 

Biss said his solution would be to change the state’s tax system to allow for a progressive income.

 

But that will take a constitutional referendum, he said.

 

Illinois’ constitution allows only for a flat tax, Biss said.

As a result the money goes to the top and it is impossible to act, he said.

 

“If we put a referendum on the ballot it would take 36 votes in the senate and 71 votes in the house,” he said. “We’ve got the 36 votes in the senate to do this today. The house isn’t quite there. They need a few more votes. I think they’re in the middle 60s.”

 

The referendum is needed so that the state to raise taxes on the rich, “who have not been asked to pay their fair share for generations.”

 

By instituting a progressive income tax, there can be adequate school funding and bring down property taxes to aid the middle class.

 

“In Illinois, we’ve not had the guts to do it,” Biss said, adding that every governor before has known it is the right thing to do but hoped that someone else would take care of it.”

 

Biss is a former mathematics professor at the University of Chicago. He served in the Illinois House representing the 17th District before being elected to the senate in 2012. He represents the 9th District.

 

Biss announced his candidacy for governor in March.


General Assembly needs to override veto of Debt Transparency Act
State Journal Register
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Comptroller (21)

The state of Illinois, as of Friday, owed its vendors about $14.7 billion.

At least, Comptroller Susana Mendoza thinks that’s what the debt is, based on the bills in her office and the ones she is aware of at state agencies.

Ridiculously, state agencies are only required to annually report in October the aggregate amount of bills being held as of June 30. By that point, it’s outdated. Mendoza said there have been four times since she became comptroller in December where a stack of bills that she was unaware of landed in her office. Some were 11 months overdue. One time, it added $1 billion to the backlog of unpaid bills. And, the state must pay penalty interest on those late bills.

Mendoza’s reasonable request is to lose the surprises that add to the already difficult job she has of triaging the state’s checkbook during times of unprecedented financial uncertainty. She wants to have, on a monthly basis, the most accurate snapshot of what the state’s debt is so her office can better manage it.

It’s dumbfounding to think such a policy isn’t already in place, but then again, Illinois isn’t exactly known for having its ducks in a row when it comes to anything financial. Mendoza is championing the Debt Transparency Act, which would require state agencies to report monthly to the comptroller’s office what bills they are holding and estimate the amount of interest that will be paid on those bills.

This is a best practice in any thriving business. Companies know they need to have accurate, up-to-date balance sheets if they are to make smart decisions that will benefit their business. It’s a no-brainer policy that would benefit not just Mendoza, but every person in the future tasked with writing the state’s checks.

So we’re somewhat baffled that Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed the legislation. He was a successful businessman prior to becoming governor, and this is the type of common-sense reform he has championed since getting into politics.

In his veto message issued Friday, Rauner said the “inclination to provide more transparency about the state of our finances is a good one. Unfortunately, this legislation more closely resembles an attempt by the Comptroller to micromanage executive agencies than an attempt to get the information most helpful to the monitoring of state government.”

He said lagging technology and variances in the input and calculation of the information would divert funds and staff attention from providing services to Illinois residents. The “dramatically increased reporting requirement” would be time-consuming and “yield decreasing marginal information” while neglecting to “account for the realities of agency record-keeping and reporting, which makes compliance with this mandate especially difficult and expensive.”

If Illinois is ever truly going to become more fiscally sound, it needs a real-time, accurate amount of what its debts and liabilities are, so the comptroller can better manage what funds the state does have. Legislators need an accurate picture of the state’s finances when they are crafting budgets. Taxpayers need transparency about how the state’s dollars are spent so they can hold elected officials accountable.

A yearly check-in for state agencies doesn’t cut it. State agencies that don’t submit bills for months should face penalties for doing so. That action contributes to the delayed payments to our state’s vendors — a horrible practice that hurt numerous Illinois social service agencies and businesses during the two-year budget impasse.

The measure was sponsored by Democrats, but this should transcend partisan politics. The pattern of holding bills at the agency level is nothing new: Mendoza believes agencies in former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration did so when Republican Judy Baar Topinka was comptroller as well. It was wrong then, it’s wrong now. It cannot continue.

While not an overwhelming majority, the measure did have some level of bipartisan support in the House and Senate. We encourage the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto and get this long overdue, best-practice accounting policy in place.


Rauner signs law to eliminate township collector in Sangamon County
State Journal Register
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Friday to eliminate, eventually, the position of township collector in Sangamon County.

House Bill 3521, which does away with the position in 2022, was sponsored by Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield.

Butler could not be reached Friday. However, he previously issued a statement that the position of township collector “has become outdated and is duplicative of the office of county treasurer. The treasurer handles the same duties of collecting and disseminating property tax dollars and in many cases the treasurer is currently doing the job for the collectors.”

Sangamon is one of only four counties that still have township collectors. The others are Peoria, Will and Madison.

New collectors will be elected in 2017, but they will be the last. They’ll be allowed to finish their four-year terms and then the office will be abolished on Jan. 1, 2022.


Statehouse Insider: Rauner tells reporters to not question wife’s role in the administration
State Journal Register
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Rauner, Bruce

You could say Gov. BRUCE RAUNER was not a happy man last week.

A couple of media outlets filed open records requests to get emails sent by first lady DIANA RAUNER on a state email account. It was not a question of trying to get emails sent on a personal account. One reason was to determine if the first lady had a hand in all of the recent staff changes, as many suspect.

Anyway, according to Politico, the request was denied citing two exemptions in the state’s open records law. One exempts communication with an attorney that would not be revealed in court, and the other covers preliminary drafts, notes and etc. If you’ve used the Freedom of Information Act, you know that the preliminary drafts exemption can be used to conceal a whole lot of stuff.

The news outlets did stories about the denials on Tuesday. The whole thing seemed to be on the governor’s mind Tuesday afternoon when he did an availability at the fair.

“Reporters have been calling asking if my wife has been very involved in the staff changes that have gone on in my office over the last month or two,” he said. “I think the inquiries, the questions themselves are pathetic. I think they are terrible. I think it just shows how desperate my political opponents are to try to attack my through attacking my wife. I think it’s disgusting.”

He went on to say he decides who is on his senior staff.

Remarkably, he wasn’t asked a question about the issue, he just launched into it at the end of the availability.

* The one Senate Republican who voted to override Rauner’s amendatory veto of the school funding bill was SAM McCANN of Plainview. It was not the first time McCann has voted against the wishes of the governor.

Last week, Senate Republican Leader BILL BRADY of Bloomington was asked if McCann was still welcome in the Senate Republican caucus.

“He’s a Republican. He’s welcome,” Brady said. “Everyone’s got to vote their district.”

Brady said he was unhappy McCann didn’t give fellow Republicans a heads-up on how he would vote. But Brady was willing to forgive McCann if McCann thought he was voting how his constituents wanted.

Interestingly, the two Republican representatives who cover McCann’s district — C.D. DAVIDSMEYER of Jacksonville and SARA WOJCICKI JIMENEZ of Leland Grove — support Rauner’s amendatory veto. Both said their constituents are telling them to support the governor because as originally passed by the General Assembly, the education funding bill is a Chicago bailout that should be stopped.

Wonder if McCann or his representatives have a better read on the district.

* Sen. DANIEL BISS, D-Evanston, said the Democratic rally at the fair (canceled this year) was the same as the indoor brunch, only with less air conditioning.

Yep.

* “My wife and I can look at the goat pens from our bedroom window. It’s very romantic. Now there’s actually goats in the goat pens and it actually makes it more interesting and more dynamic.” Rauner explaining the vistas from the temporary Executive Mansion on the state fairgrounds.

* Rep. SARA WOJCICKI JIMENEZ, R-Leland Grove, along with her husband, 4-year-old twins and her mother, were in the state fair parade this year.

At one point, a spectator yelled “We hate you,” perhaps a reference to her vote in favor of a spending and tax plan to end the budget impasse. Jimenez said one of her sons asked his grandmother if the man just said he hated him. Jimenez said her mother tried to downplay the incident. To which, Jimenez’ son opined that maybe it was because the person didn’t get any of the candy that was being passed out to spectators.

Good thing, because it’s probably a little early to explain to him the concept of a lout.

— Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr


Rauner vetoes plan requiring overdue bill reporting
WLS
Monday, August 21, 2017  |   Article  |   WLS-AM Staff
Comptroller (21) , Rauner, Bruce

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed legislation that the Democratic comptroller says would help the state manage overdue bills.

The Republican governor rejected on Friday a plan pushed by Comptroller Susana Mendoza. It would require state agencies to regularly report the bills they’ve not yet sent the comptroller for payment.

Mendoza argues it would provide a better picture of current liabilities. The state has a $15 billion backlog of bills because of a two-year budget stalemate between Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly that ended in July.

Rauner wrote in a veto message that transparency is a good idea. But he says Mendoza wants “to micromanage executive agencies.”

Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch (PA’-lush) says Mendoza will ask lawmakers to override the veto.