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The partial government shutdown moves into day three
Other
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Commentary  |   WTAX 1240
Budget--Federal (9) , Congress (22)
The federal government’s partial shutdown has made it to a weekday. http://wtax.com/podcasts/the-partial-government-shutdown-moves-into-day-three/

Is a Medicaid work requirement fair?
Chicago Tribune
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Medicaid, Managed Care

Earlier this month, Kentucky made Medicaid history: It will now require some of its Medicaid recipients to work or risk losing benefits.

 

Critics say this 20-hours-per-week rule is a draconian plan to toss people off the rolls. Let’s talk about that. Kentucky’s plan is flexible: Recipients could meet the requirement through volunteer work, job training, searching for a job, taking classes, or caring for someone elderly or disabled. Pregnant women, full-time students, the medically frail, the homeless and people who aren’t healthy enough to work will be exempt.

 

About a dozen other states, including Indiana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Maine, have submitted similar proposals to the federal government. And Illinois? Gov. Bruce Rauner says he supports a work requirement and “our administration is working on that.” Here’s why:

Illinois, like almost every state, struggles to control rising Medicaid costs. You’ll remember that Obamacare not only offered a way for the uninsured to buy coverage, but also hugely expanded Medicaid beyond its traditional role of helping the neediest Americans afford health care. Illinois added hundreds of thousands of people to the rolls, many of them able-bodied adults — and Washington, not Illinois taxpayers — paid almost all of the new costs. As a result, 1 in 4 Illinoisans now is a Medicaid beneficiary.

 

But that federal generosity may end soon. Last year, congressional Republicans tried to phase out the Medicaid windfall. They failed, but Obamacare’s future remains murky. New tax legislation jettisoned one pillar of the law — the individual mandate. Expect more efforts to dismantle what remains of Obamacare.

 

That’s why Illinois leaders need a Plan B for Medicaid: What happens if and when the money from Washington diminishes? A Medicaid work requirement is anathema to those who live in denial of that likelihood. Here in the real world, though, states should be allowed to decide how to best spend money for the maximum benefit of their neediest recipients — and a work requirement should be an option for their respective Plan B’s.

 

However it plays out, the impact won’t be huge in Illinois: Of more than 1.2 million able-bodied, working-age Illinois adults on Medicaid, two-thirds already hold a full- or part-time job, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Many others are caregivers or go to school. Still more are in categories that likely would be exempted.

 

Two decades ago, a Democratic president and a Republican Congress dramatically changed welfare by ceding more power to states to design innovative programs to help the poor find work and become self-sustaining. Giving states flexibility to experiment with Medicaid rules follows that lead. Medicaid officials say the shift would "emphasize work to promote health and well-being."

 

Illinois has moved many Medicaid beneficiaries to managed care in the past few years to cut costs and improve quality. Imposing a work requirement wouldn’t knock the neediest off the rolls. But it could prompt many to get jobs — and thus health coverage via employers.

 

There are potential pitfalls. Medicaid was designed to help people gain routine health coverage. The Obamacare Medicaid expansion was supposed to help keep people out of the emergency room for such routine care. If many of these recipients lose that coverage because of the work requirement, they could wind up using the emergency room for basic care. That’s hugely expensive and wasteful. That said, we’re reminded of dire predictions that accompanied welfare reform — predictions that didn’t come true.

 

Kentucky is in uncharted terrain, but it won’t be alone. Many state governments, not just red ones, wonder whether this Medicaid experiment is worth a shot. Would Illinois benefit? Let’s figure it out.


What Metra's proposed fare restructuring could mean for you
Daily Herald
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   Marni Pyke
Metra (79)

After months of studying how to redo its decades-old fare system, Metra has produced a smorgasbord of ideas that range from a one-day pass to consolidating its outermost zones to discounting travel at less busy times.

 

An update of the fare system that dates back 50 years will increase efficiency and attract riders, Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

 

"Now it's time the public comes in to say, 'this might work,' or 'I like this,' or 'this definitely won't work.'

 

"It's not rocket science to figure out most people don't want to pay more."

 

Numerous public forums to explain the proposed changes start Feb. 1, the same day the agency will institute fare hikes of up to 12.6 percent.

In the meantime, let's delve into the nitty-gritty.

 

One of the most significant ideas is to discount rides to and from downtown during off-peak hours for people using 10-ride passes or one-way tickets. It would not affect monthly pass-holders. Discounts could range from 50 cents to $1.

Metra planners hope the move would reduce crowding on rush-hour trains and grow ridership at other times.

 

And for the record, "peak trains are weekday trains arriving downtown between 6 and 9:15 a.m. and leaving downtown between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.; all other trains are off-peak trains," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

 

Another concept that could be popular is creating a one-day pass between any two zones costing twice the price of a one-way ticket. This pass would only be available through the Ventra app.

 

Here's a look at other ideas:

 

• Restricting Zone A to the six downtown stations (Union, Ogilvie Transportation Center, LaSalle Street, Millennium, Van Buren Street and Museum Campus/11th Street) and kicking out 27th Street, McCormick Place, 18th Street, 35th Street, Western Avenue, Halsted, Kedzie and Clybourn. Those stops would be shifted into Zone B.

 

The idea is to designate the downtown stations as "premium destinations." Fallout for suburbanites could mean "market-specific fare changes," as in higher rates for travel during rush-hour. Metra planners are hoping the congestion pricing will encourage more commuters to ride at off-peak times, relieving the squeeze on rail cars at peak times.

 

• Possibly consolidating K, L and M zones into a new "Zone J" over time. This would be of interest to marathon riders who board trains at the end of the line. The change caps fares for trips longer than 45 miles and affects 10 stations at: Round Lake Beach, Lake Villa, Antioch, Long Lake, Ingleside, Fox Lake, McHenry, Woodstock, Harvard and Kenosha.

 

• Shifting stations such as Forest Glen from Zone C to Zone B on the Milwaukee District North, and Rosemont from D to C on the North Central Service. This would address what some riders see as inconsistencies between train lines when stations located near each other are in different zones.

 

• Charging the same amount to travel to an additional zone. In most cases the amount is 50 cents but there are variations of 25 cents, 75 cents and $1.25.

 

The proposals were part of recommendations from consultants at Four Nines Technologies, which has a $315,300 contract with the agency.

 

Following the public forums, Metra will study costs and impacts on low-income riders, to be followed by a board decision.

 

To learn more, go to metrarail.com. Comments can be sent to metrafarestudy@metrarr.com and riders can participate in an online study at www.surveymonkey.com/rMetraFares.

 

Got a question or comment about the fare structure revisions? Send emails to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

 

Upcoming

 

Upcoming Metra forums will run 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 1, at Kane County Government Center, 719 Batavia Ave., Geneva; Feb. 5, at Crystal Lake city hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.; Feb. 8, at Arlington Heights' village hall, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road; Feb. 13, at Libertyville's village hall, 118 W. Cook Ave.; and Feb. 15, at Clarendon Hills' village hall, 1 N. Prospect Ave. Another meeting is 2 to 7 p.m. Feb. 20, at Metra headquarters, 547 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago.

 

You should know

 

State Rep. David Harris is seeking a legislative fix after concerns about a federal rule affecting towns with airports. Typically in the suburbs, a municipality's share of jet fuel taxes sold at local airports is put into the general fund. Under the revised federal policy, those taxes could only be used for airports. That would mean Wheeling, where Chicago Executive Airport is located, could lose about $150,000 a year. Harris has introduced House Bill 4228 that "provides for distribution of sales tax revenue back to the airports at which the fuel is sold." The bill is in committee.


LLC president: Community college an affordable alternative
Effingham Daily News
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Editorial  |  
Education--Higher (37)

Over the past decade a crisis has been brewing that has the potential to profoundly impact the very foundation of higher education. The crisis surrounds the precipitous rise of student loan debt. Over the past decade student loan debt in the United States has grown by 150 percent, topping out at $1.4 trillion. As Forbes magazine notes, "student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category - behind only mortgage debt - and higher than both credit cards and auto loans."

More than 44 million U.S. residents, roughly 14 percent of the population, are saddled with student loan debt. The data demonstrates that student loan debt is forcing many individuals to delay major life events, like purchasing a home, getting married or having children.

Fortunately, college students in our area have the opportunity to create a future with a much brighter forecast. By choosing Lake Land College to start, or earn, their college degree their future life plans can include vacations, new cars, a walk down the aisle and mortgage payments. Lake Land College's tuition and fees for two years are about $7,800, including textbooks. In contrast, the average cost for tuition and fees for the first two years of a bachelor's degree from a public university is about $28,000. Add on the cost of housing, estimated at $20,000, and the purchasing of textbooks, estimated at $2,600 and the tab for those two years quickly escalates.

In essence, it's a comparison of $50,000 to $8,000 for the first two years of a bachelor's degree. That's an enormous difference when thinking about the potential debt facing a college graduate. The gap grows wider when compared to private colleges or technical schools.

As an institution, we are committed to creating an environment where a student can earn a college education and enter the workforce with minimal debt. Two ways that we assist students are through Lake Land College Foundation scholarships and the Presidential Scholarship. All high school students have the opportunity to qualify for the Presidential Scholarship by graduating in the top 15 percent of their class or earning a 1240 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT. Each year, the Lake Land College Foundation awards nearly $400,000 in scholarships to deserving students. I encourage all who will be attending Lake Land this fall to complete the application by February 1 at 5 p.m. online at lakelandcollege.edu/scholarships/.

While we often hear requests from legislators and commitments from university presidents to minimize the cost of higher education, community colleges in Illinois have been living up to that commitment for more than 50 years. And, students are taking note. In Illinois, two-thirds of the undergraduate students enrolled in public higher education are attending community colleges. In our own Lake Land College district, community college is the top choice among high school graduates with more than 50 percent of the college-bound class of 2017 starting the fall semester as Lakers.

The higher education landscape continues to evolve with emerging technologies and heightened demands for workforce training. Community colleges are agents of change that readily adapt to the evolving needs of the communities we serve, yet one area we will hold steadfast is in our pledge to maintain opportunities for a quality, affordable college education.

Josh Bullock is the president of Lake Land College


Our View: Checking the long arm of the law as it reaches into your pocket
Effingham Daily News
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Editorial  |  
Courts (27) , Police (28)

We're glad to see changes on the horizon for the state's “civil asset forfeiture” law, as reported in a story on Saturday by Effingham Daily News reporter Graham Milldrum.

But we're unsure that those changes go far enough to prevent the abuses that local officials told Milldrum could happen elsewhere. (Not here, of course, they said. And we have no reason to doubt their prudence.)

Still, we encourage local police and area state's attorneys to use their discretion wisely in such cases. Because, as the law will continue to say even after July 1, a criminal conviction is not necessary for authorities to pursue in civil court the forfeiture of property related to that criminal case.

That awesome power demands close scrutiny. And a deft hand by those who wield it.

After July 1, the law will require the standard of proof for a forfeiture to be “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is more difficult than the current standard of “probable cause.” But it will still be below the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” needed in criminal cases.

Imagine: You're arrested for doing something evil. You're convicted of doing something kind of bad – or not convicted at all. But the government might still get to take your property – cash, car, even your house – because of a lesser standard of proving that you're evil.

We tend to think it's the government's job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you're guilty of doing something before it punishes you.

But we can also imagine circumstances where it's best for the community to give police and prosecutors leeway, as long as they use that discretion wisely. Luckily, the changes to state law will provide a little more oversight.

The changes will makes it more difficult for law enforcement to keep items gained by civil forfeiture. For example, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office maintains a vehicle seized years ago for its detectives. The changes require police to make a written justification for each item the department wants to keep.

Agencies will also be required to report the property taken to the Illinois State Police, which will publish an online report of the aggregated assets taken by an agency.

The changes also limit how seized money is spent, limiting what the American Civil Liberties Union calls “policing for profit.” On that point, we are concerned about the way property is divided after it's been auctioned off: 65 percent to the local agency, 25 percent to the prosecutor’s office and 10 percent to the Illinois State Police. We agree with critics who suggest that money should go into a fund and be distributed by grants to law enforcement, drug treatment, public defenders and other elements of the criminal justice system.

Scott Ealy, a local defense attorney who has also been a prosecutor, said the changes will be an improvement. But he said concerns remain.

“It still leaves law enforcement in the position where they have a definite motive, and it’s not necessarily justice,” Ealy said.

It's not clear if local police and prosecutors can share such proceeds with public defenders or drug treatment programs. We hope they'll explore the idea.

Beyond that, we urge authorities to hold themselves to the most stringent standard when attempting to seize someone's property.

No one should have to prove themselves innocent before the government uses the mighty powers that we grant it. Especially when "not guilty" in a criminal case does nothing to deflect the long arm of the law as it reaches into your pocket.


U of I focuses on facilities
Effingham Daily News
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |  
Education--Higher (37)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Although the University of Illinois has invested more than $1.2 billion in classrooms, residence halls and athletic venues since 2013, the school will put a renewed focus on facilities across its three campuses.

University officials say it's time for a renewed focus on facilities. They say they hope to use the university's borrowing power to fund key projects — including the Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago

With no state budget for the past decade, the university had to pay for more than half of its building projects through operating funds. The state covered about 7 percent.

The News-Gazette in Champaign reports university trustee Donald Edwards says that lack of state funding, coupled with an estimated $2 billion maintenance backlog, demands a long-term approach to addressing concerns about the school's facilities.


Bill would give rural Illinois schools high-speed internet
Joliet Herald News
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |  
Internet, Social Media (98) Manar, Andy--State Senate, 48 , McCann, Sam--State Senate, 50

SPRINGFIELD – A proposed bill would give more than 90,000 students across 100 districts in rural Illinois access to high-speed internet.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood are sponsoring the legislation, the State Journal-Register reported.

Manar says the measure would be a one-time expense that would bridge the digital divide that puts many rural schools at a disadvantage. Schools that lack access to high speed internet can't stream educational videos, use online testing or offer remote learning.

"We expect schools and teachers to solve all of society's ills; we debate that all the time in the legislature. Yet we fail to equip them with the tools necessary to get the job done," Manar said. "With the evidence-based model now in place, this is the next logical step for us to take to bridge inequity in our public schools in the state of Illinois."

Building the fiber optic infrastructure is estimated to cost $75,000 to $420,000 per school. Funds from the state's School Infrastructure Fund, which has more than $36 million, would be used for the improvements.

The legislation would also set aside more than $16 million in state funds from the upcoming budget. It could gain as much as $50 million in matching funds from the federal government.

The legislation has the potential to also lay the groundwork for general broadband expansion in rural communities, Manar said.

A 2016 Federal Communications Commission report says 40 percent of American in rural areas don't have access to broadband internet, compared to just 4 percent lacking access in urban areas.


Madigan says opposing Rauner will pay off for Dems
LaSalle News Tribune
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |  
Labor (55) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

OTTAWA — If to be early is to be on time, Mike Madigan was prompt for Saturday’s Illinois Valley Federation of Labor third annual Biennial Labor Summit held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ottawa.

The state Speaker of the House and keynote speaker at the summit took to the dais about an hour earlier than scheduled. This caused an intermission in a presentation by Robert Bruno, professor from University of Illinois at Chicago, while Madigan delivered a well-received speech to a largely Democrat crowd.

Madigan’s remarks celebrated modern Democrat principles he traced back to President Franklin Roosevelt, rebuked Gov. Bruce Rauner and predicted success for Democrats in the upcoming general elections.

“I’m pleased to tell you we will continue to stand against the Rauner right-wing agenda,” Madigan said to applause.

He blamed the governor for the recent, lengthy budget impasse and said Rauner has never participated in a successful budget-making process. He also lauded the 10 “reasonable Republicans” who ultimately voted with Democrats to pass a budget.

“They stood against Rauner, they stood for the proposition Illinois governmental budget making process shouldn’t be held hostage simply to make Illinois right-to-work, change collective bargaining, change worker’s compensation, change minimum wage.”

Madigan struck out against his vilified role in the multi-year budget impasse and described an early meeting with the governor.

“He told me, right in the meeting that if I didn’t cooperate with him, he’d just go on a major assault against me,” Madigan said. “My service in the Illinois government has always been on behalf of the working people. The people in my district, which is right near Midway Airport in Chicago are working people.”

Madigan began his remarks by praising the tenets of FDR’s New Deal and said 2018 marks the 85th anniversary of the modern Democratic Party since that is the year Roosevelt assumed the office of the presidency.

“Prior to the Roosevelt presidency, the federal government basically kept its hands out of the management of the economy,” Madigan said. “The deferral government, the local government simply let the economy move along. Consequently, every 20 years there would be a severe depression, a recession, in those years they called them panics.

“Since 1933, we have continued to work for rising wages and rising standard of living and at the same time, worked to protect the vulnerable in society.”

How’d it go over?

The keynote address received a standing ovation from a crowd that mostly consisted of union members and Democrats.

Madigan was also greeted with applause. Both before and after his speech, people posed for pictures with the speaker and state representative.

About a dozen people gathered near the doors of the hall to watch Madigan leave shortly after his speech. Madigan waved goodbye and wished the small crowd well.

Bill Johnson, former La Salle County board member, of Peru was one of the people to stop for a photo.

“I thought his remarks were appropriate,” Johnson said. “I feel that he has the best interest of the working people in the state.”

Johnson said he considers Madigan’s lengthy political career and rigid opposition to Rauner a plus.

“Who else could do it other than someone with his political experience?” Johnson asked.

La Salle County board member Mike Kasap (D-La Salle) and Johnson both said they were glad Madigan addressed his perception in light of the budget standoff.

“He was made a boogeyman, and I feel sorry for him,” Kasap said.

Before the speech

Prior to his speech, Madigan briefly took questions from reporters.

Madigan rebuffed the idea he controls the state.

“The people are in control of the state,” Madigan said. “Every two years, there’s an election of the legislature.”

Madigan credited his lengthy tenure in the state house of representatives to liking his job.

“I enjoy what I do,” Madigan said.

He said he was glad to see every Democratic candidate for governor endorse progressive income-tax reform.

Madigan also addressed recently passed school funding reform.

He said he was in favor of an equitable model that provided more money for schools with a larger population of low-income, English-learning or otherwise at-risk students.

Madigan called state money directed toward private schools a “price” for reform.

“I supported the concept of SB1 from the beginning,” Madigan said.


Will Illinois Valley be affected by government shutdown?
LaSalle News Tribune
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |  
Budget--Federal (9) , Congress (22)

The government shutdown is set to sow more disruption and political peril Monday after the Senate inched closer but ultimately fell short of an agreement that would have reopened federal agencies before the beginning of the workweek.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said negotiations kept going late into the night, with a vote to break a Democratic filibuster on a short-term funding bill scheduled for noon Monday. Under the proposal taking shape, Democrats would agree to a three-week spending measure — until Feb. 8 — in return for a commitment from the Republican leadership in the Senate to address immigration policy and other pressing legislative matters in the coming weeks.

How does the shutdown affect the Illinois Valley? Here are three things you need to know:

1. Do you draw Social Security? Don’t worry: Your checks still will come. Most of the Social Security Administration’s staff are exempt from government furloughs. Also, the U.S. Postal Service, which of course delivers the checks, is unaffected by the shutdown.

One elder law attorney said he senses no worry from his clients, who’ve weathered government shutdowns before.

“I haven’t gotten any calls from clients about their Social Security checks,” said Peru attorney George Leynaud. “I think everybody knows the score.”

2. Were you going on vacation? It’s worth a call to your travel agent to see if your itinerary will be impacted.

“We advise travelers to anticipate delays and arrive earlier than planned,” said Erin Foster of Travel Connections in Peru.

Getting a passport could be tricky. Most U.S. passport offices are located insides federal buildings, so travelers will need to contact the local facility they are using to get an update.

“It will also affect travelers visiting our national parks,” Foster said. “Several National Parks have shut down, but others have some areas of their park that will remain open and accessible to the public, but that can change at any time, and public services will be greatly reduced. National Park Service provided services for visitors will also be put on hold, i.e. waste management, bathroom facilities, and road maintenance.”

3. Were you summoned to federal jury duty this week? Don’t play hooky: The courts are in session and your absence will not go unnoticed.

The U.S. Courts website indicates the feds will continue operating for at least three weeks. Only if the shutdown lingers past Feb. 9 will the courts consider curtailing hours and staffing and postponing court dates. Translation: Your jury summons still is valid.

“Unless you have a court order authorizing you not to appear, you’re risking contempt of court by not showing up,” said La Salle attorney Doug Kramarsic.

Need someone to blame for the shutdown? There’s no shortage of fingers being pointed across the aisles in Washington, D.C.

“They voted against our military, against long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and against keeping our government open,” read a statement joined by U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). “Their actions have endangered funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the middle of a nation-wide flu epidemic. Senator Durbin once said shutting down the government is ‘cowardice,’ but now he is leading the charge with Senator Schumer for this shutdown over a deadline for DACA that is more than a month away.

“We are asking Senators Durbin and Duckworth to vote on the substance of the bill; we are asking them to vote to reopen the government immediately. Holding the U.S. government hostage over unrelated issues that we have all committed to addressing is no way to govern.”

And House Democrats predictably blamed the Republicans.

“This shutdown is entirely unnecessary and counterproductive to the mission to which we are charged as Members of Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.). “At any time last year, Republican leadership could have negotiated a long-term budget deal, a solution for DREAMers, and an extension of CHIP funding to avoid this reckless brinksmanship.

“Instead of negotiating in good faith and finding a way to responsibly pass a budget, President Trump and the Republican controlled Congress has taken us to the brink four times. This time, however, they fell off the cliff. This shutdown will have adverse effects on our economy that could easily have been prevented if Republicans would have used their power to govern responsibly.”

Meanwhile, McConnell’s comments followed hours of behind-the-scenes talks between the leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers over how to end the display of legislative dysfunction, which began Friday at midnight after Democrats blocked a temporary spending measure. Democrats have sought to use the spending bill to win concessions, including protections for roughly 700,000 younger immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

Republicans have appeared increasingly confident that Democrats were bearing the brunt of criticism for the shutdown and that they would ultimately buckle. The White House and GOP leaders said they would not negotiate with Democrats on immigration until the government is reopened.

There were indications Sunday that Democratic resolve was beginning to waver, with growing worries that a prolonged shutdown could prove to be an electoral headache for the party just as it has grown more confident about prospects in November.

Although they initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal, Democrats had shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and President Donald Trump, seeming sensitive to being seen by voters as willing to tie up government operations over their big to protect immigrants.

Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, had been a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. He has not appeared in public since Friday afternoon. The White House said he was in regular contact with Republican leaders, but he has not reached out to any Democrats, a White House official said.


Madigan greeted warmly at Ottawa labor summit
Ottawa Daily Times
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |  
Labor (55) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

Shortly after Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2015, he met with House Speaker Michael Madigan about cutting a budget deal.

Madigan spoke about the private meeting during a speech Saturday to more than 300 people, many of them union members, at the 2018 Labor Summit at the Knights of Columbus hall in Ottawa.

The governor, Madigan said, wanted the Democrats to enact a right-to-work law, repeal or dramatically change prevailing wage rules, and end collective bargaining for public employees.

"He told me that this was what his turnaround agenda would be," said the speaker, whom those in attendance greeted with a standing ovation. "He said, 'I want you to cooperate with me, and if you cooperate, you tell me what you want.' It was the proposal for the usual government deal."

Madigan refused the offer.

"He told me in the meeting that if I didn't cooperate, he would go on a major assault against me. He told me this on the front end. That didn't change my judgment or decision," Madigan said. "My service in Illinois government has always been on behalf of working people."

Rauner kept his promise, spending millions on anti-Madigan ads. With a largely Rauner-funded campaign, Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator, won a long-held Democratic seat on the slogan, "Defeat the Madigan machine."

Statewide, Republicans picked up a few more seats in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"If you listen to Rauner or see his ads, every problem in the state of Illinois is caused by Mike Madigan," said the speaker, who also heads the state Democratic Party. "That's his strategy. That's his publicity policy, and to a certain extent, it worked."

For 2 1/2 years, Madigan said, Rauner held the budget hostage for his anti-union agenda. The impasse ended when a "group of reasonable" Republicans voted to override Gov. Rauner's veto of the legislative budget, the speaker said. That deal included an income tax increase.

To applause, Madigan said he would work to elect a Democratic governor and keep his party's majorities in the House and Senate.

In an interview earlier this week, Long said he believed Madigan was appearing in Ottawa, because he wanted to defeat Long in November. Madigan made no mention of the local state representative race in his speech, but his spokesman said earlier this week that Long had "burned all his bridges a long time ago."

Long, as a Teamster, had held out the possibility of attending the summit, but ultimately decided against it.

When Madigan arrived at the Knights of Columbus, he had his picture taken with well-wishers. Then, he spoke to three local reporters for a few minutes.

Madigan, who has not formally endorsed any candidate for governor, declined to answer Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy's attacks on him. "He speaks for himself," Madigan said.

Kennedy has said Madigan refuses to change laws on property assessments because his business as an attorney benefits from property tax appeals.

Madigan said all the Democratic candidates, including Kennedy, supported a progressive income tax, which the speaker said was a big improvement over Rauner's agenda.

Asked about the governor's recent suggestion that Madigan was in charge of the state, the speaker said, "The people are in control of the state."

As for his long tenure, Madigan said he enjoys his job, adding that if someone can work with people, they can get things done.

After his speech, Madigan had his picture taken with a few more people, then walked out of the Knights of Columbus hall, with a young aide in tow. The speaker walked across the street to a small car. The aide took the wheel.

Local officials said it was the first time in memory that Madigan had visited the area.

The labor summit was sponsored by the Illinois Valley Federation of Labor.


Illinois taxpayers deserve to know how their money's spent
Quad City Times
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

Don't ask too many questions, Illinois taxpayers. It's only your money.

 

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration went out of its way to provide cover for several firms contracted to manage a briskly enacted privatization of Illinois' massive Medicaid program.

 

Late last month, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services redacted reimbursement rates for insurers NextLevel Health, IlliniCare, Harmony and Meridian when Crain's Chicago Business sought the information. The four firms claimed that disclosing the amount of public cash pouring in to run Illinois' $15 billion-a-year program would result in undue harm in the open market.

 

And, like a good puppy, Health and Family Services complied.

 

Even more curious, the agency released the rates for three other insurers -- Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, CountyCare and Molina -- that didn't ask the people of Illinois to fund something without asking questions, Crain's reported.

 

Recently, NextLevel Health realized the public relations nightmare caused by its desire to accept public funds without any semblance of accountability and released how much Illinois is paying for each Medicaid recipient it covers.

 

There's a common refrain from the private sector looking to do business with government. Transparency is damaging to the bottom line, they argue. Open government injects too many pesky opinions into otherwise straight forward deals, they complain.

 

Yet, as any firm is keenly aware, these are basic requirements to working with government. Crying about disclosure, either before or after a deal is done, is downright disingenuous.

 

Government is not private business. It does not tout the efficiency of a like-minded corporate board. Representative government is a large, clumsy exercise in balancing stakeholders' interests.

 

But none of the four that sought non-disclosure are the real culprit here. It's disconcerting that large firms would demand to hide information from Illinois taxpayers while feeding from the public trough.

 

It was Rauner's administration that sided with big business over basic accountability to the public.

 

More than 3.1 million Illinoisans are enrolled in Medicaid. On Jan. 1, they were thrust into a hurriedly concocted scheme that is bound to result in denied services and reduced care. Just this past week, The Des Moines Register detailed Iowa's shameful privatization effort. Payments are denied or withheld. Initial appeals are sent to the private firms, not a state oversight agency. Real people are struggling to access the health care system.

 

This, too, is the likely fate for thousands in Illinois. Business is about turning a profit. And, in the name of rooting out waste and fraud, a lot of Illinoisans in need will go without necessary health care. Already, advocates for children with special needs are crying foul. There's is a chorus that's bound to grow.

 

Add to that a coordinated effort to cloak the program's details in secrecy and it's impossible to ignore just how poorly the Illinois Medicaid roll-out has gone so far.

 

Roads, military and prisons -- there are certain arenas in which government and government alone should operate. They're areas of society too easily corrupted by profit. Providing health care for society's poorest is among them.

 

But, to save a buck, Illinois has joined a growing number of states willing to shirk government's duty.

 

And, in Illinois' case, the desire for corporate privacy trumped the taxpayer, providing even less reason to have any confidence in the overhaul whatsoever.


Illinois education: In this test run, the tests don’t have any F’s A handful of high schools try competency-based learning
Sauk Valley News
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Education reform (38)

Several high schools across Illinois are testing an approach that allows students to learn at their own pace, a concept introduced decades ago at the University of Chicago in which there are no F grades and students choose how to approach mastering a subject.

 

Ten school districts statewide are implementing the sometimes controversial competency-based learning program, the Chicago Tribune reported. They include Chicago Public Schools and districts in Peoria, Kankakee, East St. Louis and Rantoul.

 

Rather than the one-size-fits-all approach in many traditional classrooms, competency-based learning puts the responsibility to study and master skills on the students by letting them make their own decisions. Students turn to peers and online searches for answers before they lean on teachers for help.

 

The approach, first introduced in the 1960s, has experienced a resurgence decades later around the country as schools have pushed back on time schedules for learning.

 

“It is a huge discussion in education,” said Susan Center, the director of teaching and learning in the Round Lake district. “Multiple articles talk about grades and what we’re doing and why we are keeping them. It is hard to break a system that is over a century old.”

 

Illinois has been slower than other states in launching the learning method. The Illinois General Assembly approved implanting competency-based learning pilot programs in 2016.

 

The 10 pilots were approved by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2017. Districts are in various stages of planning and implementation.

 

Among the changes from a traditional classroom is that students won’t earn an “F’’ grade, because failing is considered an attempt at learning. Students might not receive report cards with letter grades. Graduates might receive transcripts that show whether a student has mastered various academic standards, rather than a simple GPA.

 

At Huntley High School northwest of Chicago, 120 freshmen will start the program this fall. Principal Scott Rowe says that he made changes to the program so students will receive a transcript with a GPA, because colleges were concerned about how they would award scholarships without one.

 

Rowe called it “a major educational innovation” for the school.

 

“This gives us the opportunity and the ability to allow those students to move at their own pace and work with each individual student differently because they’re in different places,” he said. “That’s scary for teachers and it’s very challenging for us, which is why this initial program is going to only be 120 students so we can make sure we’re doing it right.”

 

“Transitioning from traditional high school programming to competency-based programming is a major shift in both policy and day-to-day practice, and thus takes a significant amount of time to plan and implement, and provide professional development for staff and education for parents and students,” said Aviva Bowen, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

 

Bowen said the transition doesn’t provide funding and that the districts “will need to figure that out.”


Lincoln Home closed due to federal government shutdown
State Journal Register
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   Tamara Browning
Budget--Federal (9) , Historic Preservation, historic sites (50)

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield was closed Saturday morning amid the federal government’s shutdown that began at midnight.

“Due to the federal government budgetary shutdown, the park is currently closed,” said a recorded message on the Lincoln Home’s phone line. “The park will reopen at its regularly scheduled business hours once the shutdown has ended. We apologize for this inconvenience.”

The home’s visitor center, 426 S. Seventh St., is normally open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours also are given inside of the home, the only home ever owned by Abraham Lincoln.

Loren and Londa Ingebretsen, who live in northwestern Minnesota, learned from a park ranger five minutes before they exited their parked vehicle at around 8:34 a.m. Saturday at the Lincoln Home site that it was closed due to the federal shutdown.

The Ingebretsens weren’t happy.

“We drove here for this,” said Loren Ingebretsen, who added they live in Felton, Minnesota, which is 250 miles northwest of Minneapolis along the North Dakota border.

“This was part of what we were going to do. We were going to go here, and then we were going to go to the national park down in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but good ol’ President Trump. Another reason to not vote for that guy ever again, and I didn’t do it this time.”

The Ingebretsens knew about the government shutdown and were suspicious that the Lincoln Home would be closed. They planned to walk around the area anyway.

“We didn’t know what would be open. They said national parks would be somewhat open and somewhat closed, but the park ranger was real nice. It’s not his fault,” Loren Ingebretsen said.

Other Lincoln sites in Springfield are not affected by the shutdown because they are operated by state government.

The fourth federal government shutdown in a quarter-century began at the stroke of midnight Friday, last gasp negotiations crumbling when U.S. Senate Democrats blocked a four-week budget extension. Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans and Democrats were trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.

It’s the first shutdown since October 2013, when the Lincoln Home was closed for 16 days. At that time, about 30 Lincoln Home employees were furloughed, leaving only law enforcement personnel at the site. The historic site drew nearly 240,000 visitors in 2016, according to National Park Service statistics.

The closure began at the start of a weekend, so many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans. Damage could build quickly if the closure is prolonged. And it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for President Donald Trump and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.

Trump said Democrats “could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.” In a series of tweets hours after the shutdown began, the president tried to make the case for Americans to elect more Republicans in November “in order to power through this mess.” He noted that there are 51 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, and it often takes 60 votes to advance legislation.

Social Security and most other safety net programs are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.

The four-week measure would have been the fourth stopgap spending bill since the current budget year started in October. A pile of unfinished Capitol Hill business has been on hold, first as Republicans ironed out last fall’s tax bill and now as Democrats insist on progress on immigration. Talks on a budget deal to ease tight spending limits on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies are on hold, as is progress on a huge $80 billion-plus disaster aid bill.

Contact Tamara Browning: tamara.browning@sj-r.com, 788-1534, twitter.com/tambrowningSJR. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

*****

Take a virtual tour of the Lincoln Home

The federal government has shut down access to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, but Google hasn’t.

Google’s Arts and Culture app includes a virtual tour of the home that can show viewers what the various rooms inside of Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield home look like.

Visit http://bit.ly/LIHOGoogle to take the virtual tour.


New report shows state agencies holding nearly $2.5 billion in bills
State Journal Register
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Budget--State (8)

State agencies were holding nearly $2.5 billion in bills at the end of last year, pushing the state’s bill backlog to more than $9.2 billion.

 

The numbers are part of the first report issued by Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office under a new state law that requires state agencies to report on bills they are holding that have not been submitted for payment.

 

Mendoza pushed for the law last year to give her a better picture of the state’s bill backlog. Previously, Mendoza and other comptrollers could only estimate the number of bills that needed to be paid but hadn’t yet been sent to the comptroller’s office.

 

“This report will be an effective cash-management tool for my office and provides a much greater level of transparency for taxpayers and policymakers,” Mendoza said in a statement.

 

Mendoza’s office said the report confirms information previously disclosed to bond houses that there are $2.3 billion in bills being held at state agencies for expenses that were not approved by the General Assembly.

 

The report also said that not all of the 84 agencies required to report under the law have complied with it. Four agencies have still not submitted the required reports, the largest of them the Department of Children and Family Services. The others are the Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Human Rights Commission and the Sex Offender Management Board.

 

Under the law, agencies will now have to make monthly reports to the comptroller on bills that have not yet been submitted to her office for payment.

 

This story will be updated.


New session will bring new efforts at pension reform
State Journal Register
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Legislature (56) , Pensions (70)

Illinois lawmakers are gearing up to start another spring session that will include more attempts to address an issue that has remained stubbornly elusive so far.

What can the state do to rein in the cost of public employee pensions and try to address the $129 billion debt faced by the five state-funded pension systems?

A number of ideas are floating around the General Assembly, from an idea to issue billions of dollars in bonds to pay off the existing debt at a lower interest rate, to an idea that would give some employees a cash incentive to accept smaller future increases in their retirement benefits after they retire.

As always, lawmakers will have to consider any changes with an eye to what the courts will find acceptable, given the pension protection clause in the state Constitution. There’s also the fact this is an election year when the Executive Mansion is at stake along with dozens of legislative races.

“Can you get anything done in an election year?” said Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, chairman of the House Personnel and Pensions Committee. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

The other problem is that the state Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot diminish benefits for people once they’ve joined one of the pension systems.

“I think the (Supreme Court) decision is crystal clear,” Martwick said. “Most of my Republican colleagues believe it is crystal clear.”

That means Illinois can’t follow the lead of Ohio, for instance, where that state’s largest public pension system recommended cutting benefits to cope with its own huge pension debt. The system recommended cutting the automatic 3 percent increases in pension benefits awarded to retirees each year.

People in the Tier 1 system in Illinois also are entitled to 3 percent raises in their pension benefits each year and unlike Ohio, Illinois compounds those increases. Those automatic raises are a major factor in ongoing cost increases for the Illinois pension systems.

Martwick wants to pursue a bill designed to encourage people to give up the 3 percent raises and opt for the smaller annual raises that are awarded to people in the Tier 2 plan. That plan awards annual raises of 3 percent or half the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

Martwick’s idea is to have pension systems compute how much those annual raises would amount to over the estimated life span of a retiree. A rough estimate would then be made for the same person if they were in the Tier 2 plan and getting smaller annual increases. The person would then be offered a portion of the difference as an up-front cash payment if the person agreed to give up the Tier 1 annual increase and accept the Tier 2 version.

“It takes the biggest cost driver of the pensions off the table,” Martwick said. “It puts people in the much more financial manageable Tier 2 (increase).”

Martwick said he’s asked the pension systems to compute potential savings from the idea, but has not received the results yet.

Another idea that will at least get some discussion is a massive bond issue that would be applied to the state’s pension debt. The idea is the money could be borrowed at a lower interest rate than the state is essentially paying on its $129 billion pension debt.

Martwick’s committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on the idea this week, but the House canceled its session days for this week. The hearing will be rescheduled.

The idea is being pushed by the State Universities Annuitants Association. A fact sheet from the association says that $107 billion in bonds would be sold and repaid over 27 years. It contends the state would save $103 billion by 2045 over the payment plan currently in effect.

Martwick acknowledged “this would be the largest bond sale in the history of the world” and said additional hearings would have to be scheduled with bond experts to see if such a sale is feasible. But he also said the idea is worth exploring.

“I think the ideas and concepts make sense,” he said. “We are going to pay our pensions one way or another. The only question is how does the rising pension obligation affect our ability to fund all of the other things we care about.”

Lawmakers could also again consider some ideas that have been floated before, but never been approved. One is the plan advanced by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, that has workers choose between having future raises count toward their pensions or continue receiving 3 percent compounded annual increases in pension benefits after retirement.

Another option is to restructure the existing pension debt and take more time to pay it off. The plan would ease pressure on the annual payments the state has to make to the pension plans.

The idea has been promoted by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability among others. CTBA executive director Ralph Martire said the plan would set a slightly lower target for the pension funds to be considered adequately funded, although still meeting acceptable standards. The problem is the date for reaching those targets is extended.

“You do have pressure created by editorial boards and others who say if you don’t follow the current (payment plan) and you get funded to a lesser amount, aren’t you kicking the can down the road,” Martire said. “No politician wants to be accused of kicking the can down the road. That attack has a lot of political value and it really makes elected officials nervous.”

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


Women’s rally, march draws crowd at Capitol
State Journal Register
Monday, January 22, 2018  |   Article  |   John Reynolds
Comptroller (21)

Cindy McCormick and her daughter drove to Springfield from the Alton area Saturday so they could join hundreds of other people at the “Women’s March to the Polls” rally.

The event, which was held at the Abraham Lincoln statue outside the Statehouse at Second Street and Capitol Avenue, marked the one-year anniversary of the iconic women’s march that occurred the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. The Springfield event was held in conjunction with other rallies across the state and country and drew people critical of Trump and his policies.

“I really dislike his policies on the environment,” said Cindy McCormick, who lives in Godfrey, which is north of Alton. “I feel the tax cut is mainly a benefit for the wealthy people. ... I’m really in favor of DACA.”

Kelly McCormick, 25, Cindy’s daughter, agreed.

″(I’m here) to stand up to Donald Trump and his policies and to say that we support immigrants, we support the environment and the EPA. We don’t like tax cuts for the wealthy,” Kelly McCormick said.

Wake up, stay awake

Action Illinois organized the event, which included a rally at the statue that lasted more than an hour and then a march to the Old State Capitol.

Debbie Bandy of Springfield, co-president of Action Illinois, said the main message was that all women and men have a voice.

“All humans matter and we need to take our issues and ourselves to the polls in the primary and general election because we have to be able to set policy,” Bandy said. “If we don’t elect people who represent who we truly are here in this community, then we do not have a policy that represents who we are as a country.”

The crowd near the Lincoln statue swelled to the point where many chose to rally across the street on the northeast and southeast side of the intersection. Second Street and Capitol Avenue remained open to traffic during the rally.

Organizers had hoped the rally would draw about a thousand participants. While she didn’t have an exact number for Saturday’s crowd, Bandy estimated that more than 1,000 attended.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, was the keynote speaker. She said she was impressed with the turnout.

“I think what we are seeing is a continuation of momentum that was built up with the calamity that was the election of Donald Trump,” Mendoza said. “We have a lot of things to fix, both on a local level here in Springfield, getting a new governor, and on a national level going into 2020.”

Rallies like the one held Saturday are one way to get more women to turn out on election day and vote, the comptroller said.

“You have to awake to this concept that we are the ones who are going to make a difference and a major impact. Most importantly, and this is the key, we have to stay woke,” Mendoza said. “And we have to get our sisters and brothers (involved). ... Strong men don’t fear equality.”

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, told the crowd there’s a lot of work to do.

“Last year we came together here in Springfield during a challenging time,” Manar said. “I told you at last year’s march, despite the mountains and headwinds, we could still make progress if we stuck together and we organized and we advocated on each other’s behalf.”

Manar said a high-point of the past year was the approval of automatic voter registration in Illinois.

“In Illinois, that will unleash the power of democracy and it will open up the doors to everyone, regardless of race, regardless of gender and regardless of sexual orientation. Everyone should have the constitutional right to vote, period,” Manar said.

Jonna Cooley, executive director of the Phoenix Center in Springfield, which serves the LGBTQ community, also spoke at the event.

“Hate crimes are on the rise,” Cooley said. “Last year, 28 transgender women were killed in this country. It’s only Jan. 20, and already four transgender women have been murdered in this country this year.”

Cooley added that LGBT people are denied supportive services every day.

“We need laws that bar discrimination. This administration invites it,” Cooley said. “LGBT teens have a suicide rate eight times their peers and school dropout rates 10 times higher. Nobody should have to live in fear. Nobody should have to live in isolation.”

Action Illinois will continue its work

The Springfield event drew people from as far away as the Metro East St. Louis area, Quincy, Alton, Bloomington and Jacksonville.

Bandy said Action Illinois will continue its work.

“How do we keep it going? We continue to have our voices heard, we continue to march and we continue to share our voices for those who don’t have as prominent a voice as we do. And we continue to hold our elected officials accountable,” Bandy said.

Many people held signs during the rally that encouraged women to get involved.

One sign read, “A woman’s place is in the House and Senate.” Another read, “If you are not angry, then you’re not paying attention,” and one man carried a sign that read, “I’m so mad I made a sign.”

McCormick was holding a sign that read, “Voting is my superpower.”

“We’re here to show that the resistance is still out there,” McCormick said. “We have the election coming up in November and that’s a chance to make some changes.”

Contact John Reynolds: john.reynolds@sj-r.com, 788-1524, twitter.com/JohnReynoldsSJR.