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'The sky is the limit': Illinois governor race expected to be most expensive in U.S. history
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   MARILYN HALSTEAD
Candidates--Statewide (12) Biss, Daniel--State Senate, 9 , Bryant, Terri--State House, 115 , Ives, Jeanne--State House, 42
When the dust settled after Tuesday's primary, the race for governor of Illinois was set — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will face Democratic businessman J.B. Pritzker, an investor and heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune.

It's also expected to be the most expensive race in U.S. history.

John Jackson, of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the race already has been the most expensive governor’s race in Illinois. He predicts spending will go as high as each candidate thinks it will take to be elected.

“Each candidate has so much money. The sky is the limit for a billionaire and near-billionaire,” Jackson said. “This is where American politics nationally has been going for some time, not only with the Citizens United decision, but also several other U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Politics has become the playground of the mega-rich.”

In the primary, Rauner defeated State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, in a closer-than-expected race to win the Republican nomination. Ives, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was elected state representative in 2012 and served on the Wheaton City Council.

Rauner's background is in business, as before he was elected governor in 2014, Rauner worked for the investment firm Golder, Thoma and Cressy, later GTCR, a firm trusted to oversee retirement investment of first responders, teachers and other Illinois workers.

Pritzker garnered the Democratic nomination Tuesday, defeating State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Chris Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy. Primary candidates Tio Hardiman, Bob Daiber and Robert Marshall each received less than 2 percent of the votes.

Pritzker cites his work to expand the school breakfast program and preschool education, creating 1871 (a small business incubator in Chicago), serving on Illinois Human Rights Commission, and building the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

So now comes the fun part. Predictions range from $250 million to $300 million spent on this governor race. The race that holds the title of most expensive gubernatorial race in the U.S. is the 2010 California race between Jerry Brown (who had previously been governor from 1975-1983) and Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay.

Pundits say the result of this system is candidates spending more time courting potential donors than talking to average voters. Jackson said people in office spend an enormous amount of time getting ready for next race and raising money. “This is a lot of the reason why many get out of politics, and one of reasons former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon got out when he did,” Jackson said.

It also affects campaign staffing.

“Staff positions have become almost exclusively young people because it so disrupts a person’s life and family life,” Jackson said.

Jackson would like to see a serious discussion of policy issues that face the state, most notably, a discussion of issues relating to the state’s budget and revenue system.

“I would like to see a serious discussion of education, in particular higher education, which has been given a short shrift in both funding and discussion,” Jackson said. “Higher education is at least equal to K-12 education for economic future of the state.”

Although K-12 education saw some changes in revenue during the last administration, Jackson believes more work is needed.

He says what we are likely to get is a discussion centering around who voters hate the most — Speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan or Gov. Bruce Rauner. The majority of social media and television advertising has been spent on that.

“It’s just creating a total myth and spending millions of dollars to perpetrate that myth,” Jackson said.
Illinois governor compares foes' tactics to 'mafia racket'

He said Rauner ads calling Ives “Madigan’s favorite Republican” were just ridiculous. That trickled down to the state house races, like the 115th House District primary race between incumbent Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Dr. Paul Jacobs.

“People in Illinois can’t vote against Mike Madigan," Jackson said. "We ought to get over it."

It is interesting to note that both Biss and Kennedy said it was time for Madigan to go during their primary campaigns.

One issue that is sure to come up during the campaign for governor is the Illinois budget. Rauner was plagued by a lack of state budget during his first term, as Democratic and Republican state legislators led by Madigan and Rauner squared off in a budget stalemate that lasted more than two years.

Jackson said we will not know if something will become fodder for the fall campaign from the next budget cycle in the General Assembly until June or July.

But, one thing is certain: The state is in worse financial shape after the two-year stalemate, Jackson said.

Other issues are likely to come up during the campaign include taxes, job growth, wages, the opioid epidemic, gun violence, rights of women and LGBTQ people, as well as support of the president and his plans for immigration and healthcare.

Can Rauner get re-elected?
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |  
Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner will not win the election in November.

Democrats will be strongly motivated to take back the seat while acting out their resistance to President Donald Trump. It is interesting that the Democrats out-voted the GOP by a 2-to-1 margin in many of the primaries on Tuesday.

Forty-eight percent of Rauner’s base sent him a clear message on Tuesday. A sizable percentage of these folks will not vote for him in November.

Rauner has absolutely no record on which to run, for he has achieved none of his 44 objectives. He has yet to present a credible explanation of why he would be more successful over the next four years.

Fatally, Rauner has informed everyone that he is not the one who is “in charge” of the state. His statement illustrates the heart of the problem. He simply doesn’t know how to lead. He alone has the best bully pulpit in the state from which to sell the public on what should be changed. He alone has the executive powers to effect positive change through the stroke of his pen. He alone has the organizational position from which to rally and align Republican and open-minded Democratic legislators around an agenda that moves the ball forward and addresses the many structural issues facing the state.

Finally, leaders don't whine. Nor do they wrap themselves in the clothes of victimhood. These actions are very unbecoming of anyone at the top of any organizational chart.

— Mark Paulson, Buffalo Grove

Illinois must change or die. What’s your plan, Mr. Pritzker?
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Does J.B. Pritzker understand that debt-ridden, slow-growing Illinois is in crisis, must fix its hemorrhaging finances and add plenty of jobs to avoid potential ruin?

We ask not in anger or disbelief but with intense curiosity mixed with worry. Because the most important theme of the race for governor between Democrat Pritzker and incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner should be: Who’s got the best plan to rescue and revive Illinois?

Answering that question has to start with a frank and detailed acknowledgment by the candidates that this is the issue of our times: Illinois must change or die. The state is deep in debt and can’t pay all its bills. Taxes already are high so there’s no easy way out, well, except to flee — so yes, people flee. Too many residents and employers are leaving for lower-cost Indiana, other Midwestern states or the Sun Belt. That worsens the looming reality for those who stay: Somebody has to pay for all that’s been borrowed, spent and promised.

Does Pritzker get it? We ask because the theme he’s laid out at the start of his general election campaign is full of promises and wishes to spend money to “lift up” Illinois and working families. And (gulp) he’ll raise taxes. But we don’t hear enough from him on the deleterious state of the state, or how he’ll repair it. (We address the start to Rauner’s campaign in a companion editorial.)

In his victory speech on Tuesday, Pritzker used the phrase “kitchen table issues” to signal to voters that he understands their struggles. He talked of “working families” who worry about high medical and college costs, high taxes and having a good job. So jobs are on his radar. And he recognizes that Illinois’ recovery is dependent on economic growth. “We can’t solve the fiscal challenge of the state if we are not growing jobs in the state,” he said in a radio interview.

How would Pritzker repair the state’s finances and prioritize job growth? Victory speeches and morning-after interviews are, by their nature, brief and euphoric. We weren’t expecting Pritzker to explain how he’d turn around Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation credit rating, or deal with the $130 billion in unfunded state pension liabilities. But those are problems Illinois voters need the candidates to address because the state’s future — their future — is in peril.

What we’ve heard and read so far is that Pritzker wants to tax and spend the state to greatness: more government services for people, better schools, upgrades to roads and bridges, training and capital for manufacturers, a $15 minimum wage and more. “It’s not right that government can destroy your credit and confiscate your car because you can’t afford a few parking tickets,” he said on election night. Hmm, so Gov. Pritzker would pay your parking tickets, too? We’re not sure, but that sounds expensive.

Pritzker’s funding plan includes raising taxes on wealthier residents by instituting a progressive income tax, which would impose higher rates on higher-income earners. Our specific concern about such graduated rates is that over time they’ll soak middle-class earners, too. Lawmakers lack self-control that way.

Besides, raising taxes is no cure-all. It’s a move that will drive away even more employers, jobs and residents. What we want to know from Candidate Pritzker is how will he repair the fiscal damage and make Illinois more attractive to employers and investors so the jobs come, residents stay and prosperity is shared.

Election Day is coming. Mr. Pritzker, what’s your plan to revive Illinois?

More people are seeking out mental health care, but psychiatrists are in short supply: 'It's getting worse'
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   Alexia Elejalde-RuizContact Reporter
Mental Health (64)

Medical student Mila Grossman had just begun her first clinical rotation when she started to get an idea of what kind of doctor she wanted to be.

Working at a women’s mental health clinic, she met a new mom who appeared put-together but inwardly suffered from painful postpartum depression.

Grossman decided to pursue psychiatry, and is among a growing share of medical students doing the same.

“That opened my eyes to the severity and stigma that really exist,” said Grossman, 29, who is set to graduate this year from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and enter a psychiatry residency. “I pretty quickly became intrigued by the patients and fascinated by the transformative effects of therapy and psychopharmacology.”

Psychiatry’s growing popularity as a career choice comes as the nation grapples with a stubborn shortage of psychiatrists that some fear will continue to deepen.

The shortage is most acute in rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods that often aren’t the first choice for in-demand doctors with plentiful options, but is also being felt across big cities as the need for mental health professionals outpaces supply.

“We feel it is an emergency,” said Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, which represents mental health agencies that serve mostly low-income residents. "We feel it's getting worse."

We feel it is an emergency. We feel it's getting worse. — Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois

The reasons for the shortfall are varied. Greater awareness, diminished stigma and a worsening opioid crisis are driving more people to seek mental and behavioral health care. Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of psychiatrists are over age 55, fueling a retirement wave that experts say exceeds the pipeline of new doctors who fill limited psychiatric residency slots.

Low insurance reimbursement rates for psychiatrists might also be keeping some people from pursuing the specialty, or, if they do, from joining insurance networks, which keeps services out of reach of many people who can't afford to pay out of pocket.

An additional challenge is that procedure-oriented doctors often prefer the more straightforward payoff of mending a broken arm or repairing a damaged heart.

“There’s no victory lap (in psychiatry) where you can say you fixed that patient, on to the next one,” said Travis Singleton, senior vice president of physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins. “It is lifetime management.”

The shortage of psychiatrists, who are distinct from psychologists and other general mental health service providers because they can prescribe medication, is not evenly spread. Chicago has plenty of private psychiatric practices, and some residential facilities say they are well-staffed thanks to being able to offer good salaries and the work arrangements doctors request.

Fear, anxiety, apprehension: Immigrants fear doctor visits could leave them vulnerable to deportation »

But community health clinics and some low-income hospitals struggle to hire psychiatrists, which limits their ability to provide services and forces more mental health cases into emergency rooms not staffed to deal with them. While the number of medical students pursuing psychiatry is growing, it’s not enough — and they don’t necessarily end up practicing where the need is greatest.

Staffing challenges

The Chicago Department of Public Health has felt the pinch as it tries to staff its five community mental health clinics, said spokeswoman Erica Duncan. It increased starting salaries for psychiatrists, to $109 an hour from $87.76 in 2015, redoubled its recruitment efforts and was approved as a health shortage site so its psychiatrists can qualify for a federal school loan repayment program that rewards doctors who treat underserved populations.

But “even with these added incentives, we continue to face challenges in recruiting and hiring permanent staff,” Duncan said in an email. This spring the department will start offering telepsychiatry, connecting patients to psychiatrists via video conference, to ease the crunch.

At St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, CEO Charles Holland said it has been extremely difficult to recruit psychiatrists as it expands its mental health services.

In response to growing need — driven in part by more patients with drug-induced psychosis landing in the emergency room — the hospital three years ago opened an outpatient mental health clinic and next month will expand its inpatient mental health unit to 60 beds from 40.

Her daughter's epilepsy was under control, but then their insurer stopped covering the drug: 'It’s devastating.' »

But the hospital, which serves a primarily low-income population on Medicaid, has found that many young psychiatrists with medical school debt choose to work at more affluent hospitals that can afford better pay, or at academic centers where they can spend part of their time on research, said Chief Operations Officer Roland Abellera.

St. Bernard considered hiring a staffing agency to help but can’t afford the $30,000-per-doctor finder’s fee, Abellera said. The hospital is instead moving toward using more nurse practitioners to prescribe medication and plans to offer telepsychiatry, he said.

Doctors say insufficient psychiatric services in the community have driven more mental health issues into emergency rooms, where psychiatric patients increased 42 percent between 2014 and 2017.

At Presence Resurrection Medical Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side, many such patients arrive late at night, after the clinical crisis workers have gone home, causing long delays in their transfer to an appropriate facility because the evaluation has to wait until morning, said Dr. David Bordo, regional medical officer.

“It’s probably the worst place to spend the night because of all the stimuli,” he said.

In October the hospital launched a telecrisis pilot program that connects those patients, via tablet, to a crisis worker staffing the overnight shift at another facility, to get the transfer paperwork started. It used the system more than 70 times during the last three months of 2017, Bordo said.

Central DuPage Hospital, which recently expanded its substance abuse unit in response to rising opioid-related visits, started a pilot telepsychiatry program last April to cover weekend shifts, said Allison Johnsen, manager of business and program development at the hospital. It has two of its psychiatrists patch in from home to conduct consultations via a tablet brought to patients’ bedsides.

The program, which Johnsen says has been well-received by patients, helps with recruitment because it offers doctors flexibility and lightens their load.

“Physicians coming out of medical school are looking for more work-life balance,” Johnsen said.

Pipeline of doctors

Meanwhile, the supply of new psychiatrists is growing.

The number of U.S. medical students matching into psychiatry residencies rose to 982 this year, representing 5.5 percent of all matches, up from 681 students, or 4.2 percent of all matches, five years ago.

A mom watched her daughter, 24, die from alcoholism. Now, hospitals are rethinking liver transplants for these patients »

Dr. Daniel Yohanna, interim chair of the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry, attributes the growing interest in part to more scientific evidence of psychiatry’s effectiveness.

“It reduces the stigma around psychiatry, both for students and our colleagues in other areas," Yohanna said.

At University of Chicago’s medical school, 10 students in the 2018 graduating class are pursuing psychiatry, a record for the school, which typically sees five or six, said Dr. Michael Marcangelo, the school’s director of medical student education in psychiatry.

The most important reason for the rise, Marcangelo said, is that “psychiatry is the last field of medicine that really pays a lot of attention to people as people.”

“The rest of medicine is becoming very technical,” he said. “A lot of people who go into medicine want to work closely with patients.”

Grossman, the student whose experience at the women’s mental health clinic helped shape her interest in psychiatry, said psychiatry is “not necessarily what you think of when you enter medical school.” But she soon discovered that she was drawn to learning about the psychosocial aspects of patients’ cases.

Earlier this month on Match Day — the day all U.S. medical school students find out where they will do their post-graduation residencies — Grossman sat among her classmates in a crowded lecture hall, her finger poised at edge of her acceptance envelope and ready to rip when the countdown was done. The letter inside revealed she had matched into her first-choice psychiatry residency, at Massachusetts General Hospital, sparking big hugs and high-fives all around.

Grossman hopes to specialize in treating women managing mental illness during and after pregnancy, ideally in an academic medical center so she can also do research and teach.

Addressing the shortage

While interest in psychiatry grows, demand is growing faster. For two consecutive years, psychiatry has been the second-most requested search assignment at staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, after family medicine, and is the most difficult specialty to fill, Singleton said. A decade ago, psychiatry was ninth on the list.

Where and what psychiatrists end up practicing after their four-year residency ends matters most in addressing the shortage, said Dr. Sidney Weissman, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Many decide it is in their financial interest to go directly into private practice rather than continue collecting a resident stipend for a fifth year as they train in a subspecialty where the need is most dire, such as geriatric or child and adolescent psychiatry, Weissman said. He advocates letting psychiatrists train in a subspecialty in their fourth year of residency to make it more economically viable.

“Psychiatry has to look at itself to rethink how we do business,” Weissman said. “It needs to relook at how we train people, how long is the training and what we expect them to do.”

Concerns about a psychiatrist shortage often point to compensation, which, though handsome and rising, is less than many other specialties. Starting annual salaries for psychiatrists range from $239,000 to $272,000, compared with a range of $429,000 to $529,000 for radiologists and more than $600,000 for orthopedic surgeons, according to Merritt Hawkins. Internal medicine, pediatrics and family practice also pay on the lower end and face doctor shortages.

Psychiatric services also are reimbursed by insurance at lower rates than other medical procedures, which could be why about 40 percent of psychiatrists practice in cash-only private practices, according to the National Council Medical Director Institute.

Medicaid rates are particularly low, which makes it tough to get psychiatrists to work with high-Medicaid populations, Lindsey said.

Community clinics historically have relied on other funding to round out psychiatrist incomes, and say state funding cuts have hurt those efforts. Illinois’ proposed 2019 budget allocates $47 million less for mental health than it did the prior year, according to the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.

The crunch is forcing some providers to rethink how they provide services.

Turning Point, an outpatient mental health center in Skokie, had received a private foundation grant to hire a part-time advanced practice psychiatric nurse — a position that can prescribe medication — but abandoned the search after repeated recruitment efforts failed.

“The demand for people with those credentials is so huge, and when we had interviews it was a matter of them having other options,” said CEO Ann Raney. It remains a sorely needed position at the center, where about half of the 1,300 people it serves annually take medication, she said.

Turning Point renegotiated the terms of the grant and instead used it on administrative support for the existing psychiatric staff members, so they can spend less time on paperwork and more seeing patients, Raney said. The facility also is limiting psychiatric services to only patients who prove their commitment to therapy, because it doesn’t have the staffing to handle more.

“That’s the tragedy,” Raney said. “We could do so much more if we had more people.”

Cook County Jail had to scramble when it lost 11 of its 15 psychiatrists in 2011, after a federal program that provides student loan assistance to physicians who work in underserved areas removed all county and municipal correctional facilities from its approved site list.

It has since replenished its psychiatric staff by boosting salary offers and talking up the perks of working at a jail, such as the administrative staff that takes care of the billing process so psychiatrists can focus on the patient, said Dr. Claudia Fegan, chief medical officer at Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which operates the jail’s health services.

Legislation to address the state’s psychiatrist shortage is in the pipeline.

A bill introduced in the Illinois House in February aims to lift Medicaid reimbursement rates for psychiatric treatment by tying them to higher Medicare rates. Another calls for creating a Behavioral Health Education Center, administered by a state university, with psychiatry residency slots plus internships for other mental health professionals who would be placed in underserved communities.

Meanwhile, a state law passed in 2014 allows licensed clinical psychologists with advanced, specialized training to prescribe certain medications to treat mental health disorders. About 150 psychologists are undergoing the extensive training required to apply, many of them in hospitals in central and southern Illinois where they will stay and practice, said Beth Rom-Rymer, who led the movement to pass and implement the legislation when she was president of the Illinois Psychological Association.

“There is tremendous interest,” Rom-Rymer said. “Psychologists are very enthusiastic about being able to gain these skills and broaden their authority.”


Morning Spin
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

It was a flip of the script when Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam called on newly minted Democratic challenger Sean Casten to debate him.

In the typical back-and-forth over how many debates to have in a campaign, it's usually the challenger who calls for a lot of them, and then tries to berate an incumbent or front-runner for dodging.

This week, though, Roskam challenged Casten to a couple of broadcast debates and joint appearances before newspaper editorial boards, saying "our country faces great challenges, and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the issues and offer solutions to solve those challenges."

Casten replied Thursday, asking for more debates and needling Roskam over declining to do in-person town hall meetings.

"These types of candidate events are simply standard practice in any major campaign," Casten said in a statement. "Next, I expect Roskam to 'challenge' me to shake hands with voters, walk in parades, and kiss babies."

Casten emerged from Tuesday's seven-way primary in the northwestern and western suburban 6th Congressional District. His challenge to Roskam is expected to be a heated one because Democrat Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump there in 2016, even as Roskam won a sixth term by 18 points.

What's on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be in Puerto Rico, making stops in San Juan and Loiza.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner will have a campaign event in Downstate Millstadt.

 From the notebook

*On the "Sunday Spin:" Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson's guests will be Better Government Association Director of Investigations Bob Secter and University of Illinois political scientist Christopher Mooney to talk about the primary results and the campaign ahead.  "The Sunday Spin" airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN-AM 720. 

 What we're writing

*Despite pop tax debacle, Preckwinkle prevails across the board on election night.

*Mayor Emanuel attacks rival Garry McCarthy in web video that features Trump calling McCarthy "phenomenal guy."

*Contractors that want city work would need to have sexual harassment policies in place, under new Chicago plan.

*New car-sharing pilot program moves to full City Council.

 What we're reading

*After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations.

*More people are seeking out mental health care, but psychiatrists are in short supply: "It's getting worse."

*Toys R Us founder dies days after chain's announced shutdown.

Follow the money

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.

Beyond Chicago

*Trump national security adviser out.

*Trump attorney resigns.

*Ocean garbage patch three times as big as France.

*How the Las Vegas gunman planned the massacre.

Raise your hand if you voted for the neo-Nazi
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12)

It wasn’t democracy’s finest hour. On Election Day, the sole Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District was a Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi. And he got more than 20,000 votes. Ugh.

Ideally, Arthur Jones would have received no votes because he deserves no support. But even one vote – his own – would have been enough to win Tuesday’s primary because he ran unopposed. Instead he got 20,458. The Cook County Clerk’s Office reports that 70 percent of suburban voters in the district pulling a Republican ballot checked his name.

We blame a lack of situational awareness. Republicans didn’t bother to recruit a legitimate candidate because the district is gerrymandered to elect a Democrat. So Jones waltzed in and now is set to run on their ticket in November against incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski. This embarrassment is on Republicans. Let both parties stay awake during future filing periods to prevent unsavory characters from hijacking their good names.

Most voters didn’t intend to support Jones, we’re certain. They voted the party line and automatically filled in the box next to his name. Why research an unopposed candidate? We wish they had paid more attention to news reports. If they feel a little chagrined, they ought to.

The lesson here is democracy is imperfect. But it’s also self-correcting, 3rd District residents. This November: Vote Lipinski. All of you.

Rauner as broken record: Madigan isn't the only issue in this campaign
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Candidates--Statewide (12)

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s sputtering finish in Tuesday’s primary didn’t inspire confidence among even his most loyal Republican voters that he can conquer Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker in November. Rauner squeaked out a victory over state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton by about 3 percentage points. It was no mandate.

Rauner heads into the general election limping from that bruising. Many Republicans — and, naturally, Democrats — criticize his inability to move his agenda through the legislature. “Four more years” can be a tough sell when the last three-plus have been marred by gridlock.

Rauner does, though, understand the urgency of Illinois’ fiscal crisis. He recognizes the legislature’s anti-employer bias, and the resulting impact on jobs and outmigration. Illinois lost population each of the last four years, finally slipping behind Pennsylvania, which became the nation’s fifth-largest state. “Make no mistake, we are in a competition and the states around us are winning at our expense,” Rauner said in his February budget address. “They have out-legislated us and now they outgrow us.”

Rauner has proposed pro-business reforms to reduce workers’ compensation costs. He called for a freeze on property taxes and has tried to stand firm against the costly demands of organized labor. He has offered a prescription to reverse the exodus of businesses and residents from Illinois. What is Pritzker’s prescription? See our companion editorial for more on that crucial and thus far unanswered question.

The trouble with Rauner isn’t his agenda. It’s his inability to advance it and his accurate but repetitive excuse for failing to do so. In an editorial four months ago titled “Stop griping, Governor, and make your case,” we made ours: Rauner needs to ease off his blame crutch — House Speaker Michael Madigan — and expand his own case for re-election.

We aren’t claiming success. During a recent news conference, Rauner mentioned Madigan’s name 31 times in less than 13 minutes. The Ward Room, WMAQ-Ch. 5’s political blog, posted a mashup of his remarks and it is something to behold. Madigan, Madigan, Madigan.

A more complete strategy for Rauner during the next eight months should include selling his own ideas for rescuing and reforming Illinois. Compare those ideas with Pritzker’s. The contrast is ripe.

Pritzker favors a graduated income tax as a fairer way to drum up revenue. Rauner opposes a graduated tax and says it would only accelerate the exodus of residents from Illinois.

Pritzker opposes the school choice program, currently being rolled out, that provides state tax credits to donors of private school scholarships. Rauner signed the bill creating the program and wants to expand it.

Pritzker opposes efforts to offer new state employees 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of defined benefit pension plans. He is heavily backed by labor unions and surely more bendable to their wishes — a list that only grows. Rauner supports 401(k)-style plans for new employees and has resisted the demands of public employee unions during contract negotiations.

Pritzker supports tighter gun control measures. Rauner vetoed an overreaching bill that, beyond federal oversight, would require gun shops to also be state-licensed.

Pritzker supports legalizing recreational marijuana. Rauner opposes it.

These are issues on which Illinois voters deserve a full debate between now and November. Rauner can provide the contrast. He can try to build support for his agenda. Instead, he seems obsessed with a singular talking point: Madigan.

That might have helped him get elected in 2014. But nearly four years later, it’s a strategy that should be revisited and soon. Why? Broken records don’t sell.

Republican voters will rally around Rauner
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |   Frank Griffiths, Northbrook
Rauner, Bruce

To me, John Kass’ recent column suggests, “Cut off your nose to spite your face.” Is that what our feckless Illinois Republican Party wants?

I don’t know much about political strategy other than that the “ins” want to stay in and the “outs” want to become “ins.” That said, I cannot imagine that Jeanne Ives’ supporters would vote for J.B. Pritzker over Gov. Bruce Rauner, or that they would stay away on Election Day rather than vote for either one. Both possibilities would lead to the very thing for which Ives supporters condemn Rauner: liberal social policies. Not to mention higher taxes to support unfettered spending and a continuation down the rabbit hole for Illinois, engineered by the Democratic majorities in the Illinois House and Senate.

Sure, Ives made the Republican gubernatorial primary a close race. But now, it should be Republican vs. Democrat in November.

— Frank Griffiths, Northbrook

Will candidates commit to keeping campaigns positive?
Chicago Tribune
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |   Alice Marcus Solovy, Highland Park
Candidates--Statewide (12)

So now the campaigns ramp up. How about if all the networks refuse to air attack ads? Rather, they will only air political ads where a candidate touts his own strengths and plans instead of slamming the other guy.

Also, since the two major candidates for governor have a lot of money to throw at this race, how about they put some of it into places in the state that need help? A new youth or senior center with one of their names on it would be a much better use of that money than a nasty ad. It would also leave a lasting legacy, win or lose.

I realize that both candidates already have been publicly philanthropic, but there's still a need out there.

— Alice Marcus Solovy, Highland Park

The flawed math of restructuring, and why it matters
Daily Egyptian SIUC
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |   By Vicki Carstens - Vicki Carstens is chair of the linguistics department at SIU
Education--Higher (37)

Chancellor Montemagno has proposed a major restructuring of academic programs at SIUC, eliminating all departments and reorganizing disciplines as divisions within schools. As part of the Article 9 process, affected units received Program Change Proposals which stated that restructuring will lead to significant savings across the campus:

“… we anticipate that implementation of the overall reorganization plan will result in approximately $2.3 million in permanent (projected) administrative cost savings. These savings, which will accrue from elimination of administrative positions (e.g., fewer dean positions, elimination of department chair positions) will allow us to invest in our people and programs,” the Program Change Proposal: School of Social Science and Multicultural Studies, reads.

In recent months, the chancellor has backpedaled on this claim of savings, and for good reason.

Through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry, individuals at SIU obtained a memo detailing the calculations on which it was based. The relevant portion is reproduced below.

These figures paint a shockingly false picture of the math of the present restructuring plan, as I will explain below. Our university is in a vulnerable state, making it attractive to believe in someone who claims to have a vision that will lead us back to financial health. But the above calculations suggest that the chancellor’s claims should not be trusted.

1) Associate deans. Savings for eliminating associate deans are estimated at $943,000. The IBHE database lists nine associate, interim associate, and acting associate deans. Their average salary is $122,598 (total $1,103,382). If we assume that there would be savings of around $40,000 apiece upon their return to regular faculty (which seems like quite a bit, probably too generous), the total savings comes to only $360,000 per year, not the estimated $943,000.

Perhaps the chancellor assumed a slightly smaller number of associate deans, and intended that they would all drop off the payroll altogether. But this is not possible. Demoted associate deans will return to their positions as full-time tenured faculty.

There is another serious issue, assuming that the intention is to eliminate all associate dean positions (as we must, to make sense of the large size of this claimed savings). The entailment is that the twenty new school directors will do the work not only of forty-two chairs, but also of all the existing associate deans. This seems wildly unrealistic.

2) Deans. The reduction from eight deans to six is valued at a savings of $370,000 per year. That’s $185,000 savings apiece on two deans. But in reality, the compensation that can be eliminated for each dean is only his/her extra months on clock and a percentage salary increase for the job, since the deans would return to regular faculty. The savings is therefore likely closer to $50,000 apiece, for a total of $100,000.

3) Directors’ compensation. From the miscalculated potential administrative savings, the cost of directors’ compensation was subtracted, estimated as fifteen stipends, consisting of 15 percent salary increases, for a total of $300,000. Divided between fifteen proposed directors, this represents $20,000 apiece, which is 15 percent of a salary of $133,350. But very few faculty earn base salaries of $133,350, an amount which exceeds the average salary of associate deans and department chairs working 11 to 12 months per year. The estimate therefore seems completely arbitrary.

And though 15 percent is a nice raise, the total of $300,000 does not take into account that directors will need to work more than nine months a year. Department chairs currently receive raises of 10 percent for taking on administrative loads, plus compensation for the months they work beyond the faculty’s standard of nine. School directors will have greater administrative loads than the department chairs they are intended to replace. The total calculated for their compensation should therefore have been much higher — for fifteen directors, at least $550,000 — and since we are by now up to twenty schools, closer to $800,000.

Conclusion. The chancellor put in writing specific claims about the finances of restructuring that are demonstrably false. Perhaps this was through carelessness about millions of dollars and the people and programs they fund, or perhaps it was by design, to provide selling points for his preferred course of action. In either case, it bears on an important question that confronts us: should we trust him to make enormously consequential decisions for our campus?

Citigroup puts restrictions on gun sales
Freeport Journal Standard
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   Associated Press
Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46)

Banking company hands down rules to clients and business customers

NEW YORK — Citigroup put new restrictions on firearm sales by its business customers, the company said Thursday, making it the first bank to announce changes to its policies in the wake of the school shooting in Florida.

Citigroup will require its clients and business customers not to sell a firearm to anyone who hasn’t passed a background check or anyone under the age of 21. They also will not allow its customers to sell what are known as bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. Businesses who do not comply with these new restrictions will have their Citi banking relationship eventually wound down.

“We don’t have the perfect solution but we have come to the conclusion that we must do our part to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to do harm,” said Ed Skyler, executive vice president of global public affairs at Citi, in a blog post.

The restrictions apply to Citi clients with credit cards backed by Citigroup or bank with the New York company, be it traditional banking services or activities like raising capital.

Citi will also be reviewing any banking relationships it might have with gun manufacturers, the bank said in a statement Thursday.

Several companies have made changes to their policies in recent weeks following the Parkland school shooting. Delta and United airlines have ended their discount programs they offered with the National Rifle Association, and retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they would no longer carry assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Michael Madigan’s political operation sued for alleged retaliation against sexual harassment accuser
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop
Sexual Harassment (96) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
A woman who filed a federal lawsuit against the Democratic Party of Illinois and House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operations wants to find evidence of who knew of the alleged sexual harassment, when they knew about it, and how they handled it.

Former Madigan campaign worker Alaina Hampton filed the lawsuit in federal court Wednesday. She claims Kevin Quinn, a high-level Madigan political operative, made numerous unwanted sexual advances. After reporting it internally, Hampton’s attorney, Shelly Kulwin, said Hampton, who was successful enough to be a paid staffer, was then unwanted.

“So the notion that she would suddenly not be someone that they would have wanted to work on that campaign, immediately on the heels of her reporting this conduct, seems to us, in our view, to be strong circumstantial evidence,” Kulwin said Thursday at a news conference in Chicago.

Kulwin said he will seek additional evidence through the discovery process, including internal memos and text messages.

“Text message discovery, emails, and what did the defendants know and when did they know it,” Kulwin said. “That’s part of the case.”

The suit alleges that around August 2016, Quinn started the “severe and pervasive sexual harassment” with repeated calls, some late at night, dozens of text messages, including one telling Hampton she was “smoking hot.” The unwanted text messages continued on a regular basis despite Hampton repeatedly telling Quinn she wanted only a professional relationship, not a romantic or sexual one, according to the lawsuit and copies of text messages included in the court filing.

“U will not even permit me to buy you a beer,” Quinn asked via text at one point after being turned down several times.

“When you first asked, you phrased it in a way that pertained to work, I thought it was professional. I work closely with Marty often for political things, so I’m sure you can see why I would only want to have a professional relationship with you or anyone at the ward office,” Hampton responded in a text.

“Why just a professional relationship?” Quinn asked.

“I won’t mix my professional life with my personal life,” Hampton said.

“Understood. If I were not involved with the ward would u grab a drink with me,” Quinn asked.

“I have always seen you in a supervisor role. I don’t see you in that way,” Hampton said.

In a later text exchange, Quinn wrote “I apologize. Not trying to big foot you . Just trying to do my job [...] I apologize. Your a hotb beautiful smart women. Sorry for The interaction [...] Here is the reality. I like you very much in so many 0ways. I think about you all the time. Please let me know you do not feel the same. Thanks[.]”

Hampton replied: “I need you to stop. I have dedicated a lot of time to this election cycle and I will continue to do so, but I need to be able to do my work without you contacting me like this. I’m not interested. I just want to do my work.”

In later texts, Quinn continued to ask to take Hampton out for a drink.

Madigan let Quinn go last month, the day after the Chicago Tribune interviewed Hampton for a story on her claims. Hampton said she personally told Madigan of Quinn’s behavior back in November in a letter. Madigan’s spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Madigan’s attorney said last month there was an internal investigation. Kulwin said he wants proof.

“Let’s see it,” Kulwin said. “What was this internal investigation that led you to conclude that everything was OK or not OK? What was your response to the investigation? Who participated in this investigation? Who was interviewed in this investigation? Because to our knowledge the investigation was a 40-minute chat in a Starbucks.”

While it’s not part of the lawsuit yet, Kulwin said the legal team is aware of people trying to dig up dirt on Hampton.

“There were questions raised about phone calls being made trying to dig up dirt on Alaina,” Kulwin said. “They were calling her male colleagues and asking what type of bars she goes to, who does she know, who does she have a relationship with. Outrageous stuff.”

The attorney said he plans to investigate those issues further.

“I can’t say it was directed by anybody yet,” Kulwin said. “I can’t say it was sponsored by anybody yet. We don’t know that at this time and I’m not saying that. We just know it happened and we know who did it, we believe, and we’re going to look into that during our case.”

While the Chicago Tribune said Hampton is seeking $350,000, Kulwin said that will be determined at a later date through the legal process.

“These type of lawsuits can help other women feel comfortable in coming forward,” Kulwin said. “And also hopefully will be instructive to employers not to engage in this conduct and to know how serious it is.”

Hampton said it’s been very difficult in dealing with the aftermath of her accusations being made public, but she is seeing some positive movement of more people coming out to tell their stories of sexual harassment.

“I have people reach out to me just as a support system because they have stories similar to mine,” Hampton said, “and I’m happy to be that person to listen to people who have a story to tell.”

Census: Southern Illinois losing population faster than rest of state
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   By Cole Lauterbach
Demographics, Census, Statistics , Economy (34)
Residents are leaving Southern Illinois counties in droves as the state continues to shrink.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last December that Illinois is shrinking. Now, the agency is revealing where Illinois is shrinking the most.

Cook County, with about 5.2 million people, is by far the most populous county in Illinois. It lost the most people too, having seen more than 45,000 people on net head for the door from July of 2016 to July of 2017. But, the largest percentage of the locals are leaving downstate counties.

“Those losing population the most rapidly appear to have been more commonly located in the southern portions of Illinois,” Census Demographer Molly Cromwell said.

At a negative 2.7 percent growth rate, Alexander County lost the highest portion of its population. Some 176 people left the county of 6,500 in 2016. Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum wouldn’t comment on his county’s population losses because he lost his primary challenge Tuesday. Election winners weren’t available Wednesday.

The other counties that had the highest percentage of residents leave weren’t far away. McDonough (-1.8), Pulaski (-1.7), Gallatin (-1.6) and Marshall (-1.4) counties saw more rapid population declines than other counties in Illinois.

The largest total loss of population outside of Cook County was Peoria, which lost a net 3,100 people last year.

“I knew there was a significant exodus but I didn’t think it was that high,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said. Machine maker Caterpillar’s downsizing, Ardis said, is likely to explain a lot of the decrease.

Ardis stressed that state and local pension burdens are also driving people and businesses out of his city.

“What we really need to do as a state is get our fiscal house in order,” he said. “We have a lot of interest from companies that would be interested in relocating or adding to their business in Peoria but the concern is that higher [debt] in Springfield.”

Other notable areas that saw net population decreases include: McLean County (-1,305), Champaign County (-913), Adams County (-448) and Winnebago County (-2,122).

The counties that gained population followed jobs. Most of the collar counties saw small net outmigration but a total gain in population from 2016.

Cromwell said the national trend of population movement from northern and northeastern states to southern states has continued.

Maricopa County, Arizona, added the most residents last year of any county in the nation, growing by more than 76,000 in 12 months.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pension-cost shift concept draws opposition
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop
Pensions (70) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Manar, Andy--State Senate, 48 , McCarter, Kyle--State Senate, 54 , McSweeney, David--State House, 52
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed four-year pension cost shift to local schools and universities – a key part of his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year – has garnered mixed reactions from lawmakers across the aisle, but the controversial plan is likely dead already.

Rauner's nemesis, House Speaker Mike Madigan, backed a similar plan in 2012 that ultimately failed. Rauner's plan calls for moving the cost of pension payments from the state to universities and local school districts over four years. However, the proposed pension shift is a non-starter for some in the governor's own party. State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, joined with the Illinois Education Association to gather widespread support for a resolution opposing any shift.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said he’s confident lawmakers will come to terms on various aspects of the governor’s proposed budget before the May 31 deadline. He said Rauner’s budget is on better footing than previous proposals.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said that’s because of the massive income tax increase lawmakers imposed over the governor’s veto.

But, Manar said the cost shift is a large sticking point.

"It’s a large moving part of his proposal,” Manar said. “It involves several hundred million dollars and is, of course, very controversial.”

During his budget address, Rauner said the four-year cost shift will save the state’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“Our budget proposal shifts costs closer to home,” Rauner said, “so people can question expenses and deal with them more directly. Now, they have no incentive to manage costs because the state picks them up no matter what they are. When they are responsible for paying the bill, there will be plenty of incentive to lower costs.”

McCarter supports the overall cost-shift concept because the local school districts that set pensions need to contain their employment costs locally rather than have taxpayers statewide cover big salaries and expensive benefits.

“In my business, if I was to hire somebody and give them a salary and send them to an unrelated party that’s to determine benefits, I’d be one of the dumbest business people in the world. I determine the salaries, I determine the benefits, because I have to contain my costs,” he said.

McCarter said local governments should have to do the same.

However, Rauner’s proposal goes too far, too fast, McCarter said.

“Do it over an eight-year period,” McCarter said. “Gradually build that in, let them react to the new challenge.”

The shifts of pension and healthcare costs to the employer will save the state $696 million this year, Rauner has said. His plan would be phased in over four years.

“The cost shift is the biggest hurdle right now for the governor's [budget] proposal,” Manar said.

McCarter said opponents are scared the cost shift will increase taxes locally, something he said no one wants.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House have joined House Resolution 27 that opposes a pension cost shift. That measure spearheaded by McSweeney says it’s “the opinion … that the proposed educational pension cost shift … is financially wrong.”

That resolution has been referred to the House Rule Committee despite having nearly 70 state Representatives as cosponsors.

Illinois House again trying to create taxpayer funded workers’ comp company
Illinois Watchdog.Org
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop
Workers' Compensation (97) Fine, Laura--State House, 17
After failing to override the governor’s veto of a similar bill last year, Illinois House Democrats are again trying to create a state-funded workers’ compensation company, but businesses most impacted by the state’s high costs say the plan is not what they’re looking for.

Earlier this month, the House Labor and Commerce Committee passed state Rep. Laura Fine’s bill that would create a workers compensation insurance company using $10 million from a state fund.

Fine, D-Glenview, argued the measure will help bring rates down by having a competing entity that’s a nonprofit.

Democrats have argued workers’ compensation reforms in 2011 were supposed to bring costs down, but workers’ compensation insurance companies haven’t passed those savings down to employers.

Republicans, who opposed the bill, urged Democrats to show how the more than 300 workers’ compensation companies in Illinois are working with each other to keep costs high, and if they have evidence to present it to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Republicans also demanded to see the non-profit's business plan, which was not provided to them in committee.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President Mark Denzler said businesses are leaving Illinois for reasons other than there not being a tax-funded workers' compensation company.

“[Businesses] often times cite the high costs of workers’ compensation and what we’ve seen continuously from Democrats in the General Assembly are proposals that will actually increase the cost of workers’ compensation, not decrease it,” he said. “So, they make it more and more difficult every day for employers to do business in the state of Illinois.”

The proposal, House Bill 4595, would use $10 million of money Illinois businesses pay into a state fund for workers' compensation claims to compete with private insurance businesses. That fund currently has $28 million.

The measure is flawed, Denzler said.

“Should state government be in the business of using taxpayer money to compete with private business? I think the answer should be 'no,' ” Denzler said.

Denzler said a taxpayer-funded, non-profit insurer is not what manufacturers think will bring Illinois’ highest-in-the-Midwest work comp costs down.

“Not a single manufacturer has asked for a state fund,” Denzler said. “And what we’ve seen in other states where they have this often times the taxpayers have to bail out these state funds when they go insolvent.”

Montana’s state fund had to be bailed out during the late 1980s through a payroll tax on employers. Within a handful of years, the unfunded liability reached north of $400 million, leading to another payroll tax increase to cover the costs, according to a research document from the Montana state legislature.

Instead of creating a state fund in Illinois, Denzler said state policy makers should require proof of an injury happening on the job site and address medical fee schedules. He said Illinois has the highest workers' compensation rates in the region and eighth highest in the country.

Illinois budget deficit soared to a record $14.6 billion in fiscal year 2017
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   By Karen Pierog • Reuters
Bonds, Bonding, Borrowing, Debt, Credit Rating , Budget--State (8) , Comptroller (21) , Governor (44)
CHICAGO • Illinois' general fund budget deficit grew by 52 percent in fiscal 2017 to a record $14.6 billion as political feuding pushed the state deeper into the red, according to an annual financial report released on Thursday by the Illinois Auditor General.

The ballooning deficit, as measured on a generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) basis, underscored the cost of an impasse between Illinois' Republican governor and Democrats who control the Legislature. That tussle left the state without complete budgets for an unprecedented two straight fiscal years.

"(The audit report) shows the current political logjam is leading us to a bad place," said David Merriman, director of the Fiscal Futures Project at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government & Public Affairs.

The stalemate, which also pushed Illinois' unpaid bill backlog to a record $16.67 billion, ended last July when the legislature enacted a fiscal 2018 spending plan and $5 billion income-tax hike over the vetoes of Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year that ended June 30 showed the deficit more than doubling on a budgetary basis, to nearly $8 billion from $3.54 billion in fiscal 2016. Fiscal 2017 also marked the 16th straight year of deficits for the nation's sixth-largest state.

"This report makes clear that Illinoisans continue to pay the price for the state’s disastrous budget impasse, in the form of late payment interest penalties and a state government that is weakened at almost every level by the inability to pay its bills on time," said Jamey Dunn, spokeswoman for Democratic Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

Illinois' deep financial woes have left it with the lowest credit ratings among U.S. states.

It is also paying more to sell debt than any other state. The so-called credit spread over Thomson Reuters' Municipal Market Data benchmark triple-A yield scale was 208 basis points for Illinois' 10-year bonds on Wednesday. That is well above the 75 basis-point spread for New Jersey, another fiscally challenged state.

On a total assets versus total liabilities basis, Illinois also fared the worst among the 43 states that had released their fiscal 2017 annual audits by mid-March. The Illinois auditor's report showed the state at -$141.7 billion. Texas fared the best at a positive of nearly $102 billion.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based government finance watchdog, called the audit "another smack in the head" for the state.

"I hope reports such as this are a frank reminder of the need to have a budget," he said in an interview.

Rauner, who won a close race in Tuesday's Republican primary election for governor, proposed a $37.6 billion fiscal 2019 budget in February that included measures likely to hit a road block in the legislature.

Illinois Supreme Court won’t take up Rauner’s appeal of step pay case
State Journal Register
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Article  |   Doug Fink
Rauner, Bruce , Unions, labor (55)

The state appears to be on the hook for step pay raises for thousands of unionized state workers because of an Illinois Supreme Court decision this week.

The state’s high court said it will not take up an attempt by the Rauner administration to continue withholding step pay increases from workers who are supposed to receive them.

As a result, the Illinois Labor Relations Board will have to decide how to the state will comply with a lower court order that the step increases be paid.

A statement about the Supreme Court’s decision was posted on the website for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

The union and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration have been locked in a labor dispute since 2015 when the union’s last state contract expired. A separate lawsuit over whether the two sides are at impasse in those labor talks is still pending.

The Rauner administration halted step increases in 2015 when the old contract expired. AFSCME, though, said labor law requires the old contract terms remain in force while negotiations continued, meaning the step increases should have continued.

Step increases are awarded to workers in the early stages of their careers. Depending on a person’s job, a worker can receive step increases for seven to 10 years. AFSCME said about 40 percent of the 38,000 state workers they represent qualify for step increases.

AFSCME filed a lawsuit seeking to force the administration to pay the increases. A state appeals court ruled in AFSCME’s favor and ordered the issue back to the ILRB for resolution. The administration asked the Supreme Court to step in, but the court has now refused.

Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said the issue is now out of their hands.

“We have argued and maintain that the state is not obligated to pay wage increases because the General Assembly has not appropriated sufficient funding,” Bold said in a statement. “It is now up to the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine an appropriate remedy.”

In the notice posted on AFSCME’s website, the union warns the administration may still try to delay awarding the raises.

“Rauner has claimed that the state cannot afford to pay the step increases and it is all too likely he will try to influence the Labor Board’s final order in that regard,” the statement says. “AFSCME will urge the board to act swiftly and to ensure that all state employees receive the step increases they are owed and deserve.”

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said that because of the legal procedures involved, the step raise issue isn’t likely to be formally back to the ILRB until sometime in May. After that, the board will have to set a schedule for resolving the issue, he said.

“We’ll do whatever we can to encourage proceeding swiftly,” he said.

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

Number of phone calls from campaigns ridiculous
State Journal Register
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Letter to Editor  |   Lynn Friday
Election Issues (not candidates) (39)

OK, enough is enough, politicians! I received more than seven computer-generated calls as of 2:30 p.m. on Election Day, regarding either getting out to vote or whom to support.

Leave me the heck alone. I’ve been receiving political campaign calls four, five or sometimes six times a day Sunday (leave me alone on Sundays) through Saturday for the last three months or so. Those of us who voted have made our decision and don’t need to be hounded to go do so.

Check the voting rolls records before putting someone like me (who votes every time, primary or general election) on your computer-generated call list to go do so. I don’t need prodding nor do many other responsible citizens.

Lynn Friday


Thumbs down to apathy on Election Day
State Journal Register
Friday, March 23, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board
Election Issues (not candidates) (39)

The editorial board of The State Journal-Register offers this week’s thumbs up/thumbs down:

Thumbs down: To the depressingly low turnout Tuesday for the primary election.

Of the 131,964 registered voters in Sangamon County, only 30,985, or 23.48 percent, actually cast a ballot in the election, according to unofficial vote totals from the county clerk’s office. It wasn’t much better statewide: Chicago reported about 31 percent turnout, while Cook County had about 29 percent turnout in the suburbs (minus Chicago).

For all the complaining people do about politics, not even a quarter of registered voters in Sangamon County could find the time to cast a ballot. And it’s not like they only had Tuesday to do it: Early voting started in early February. So did grace period voting, where you can register (but have to cast a ballot at that time) after the normal registration deadline has passed.

Voting is the most basic civic duty we have to do. And with the amount of bellyaching many are doing these days about our elected officials, you would think more people would turn out to have a say in who will make decisions at the county, state and federal levels. Yet when they have a chance to make their voice heard, too many stay at home. It’s disappointing, to say the least.

Thumbs up: To the estate of the late Charles and Irene Kreher for making a generous donation to Lincoln Land Community College.

LLCC has received an $18 million endowment from the two Macon County farmers that will benefit the college’s agriculture program. Interest from the $18 million fund will be used to support scholarships and a number of improvements for the agriculture program. The couple’s family farm also has been donated to the school. A tenant farmer will continue to run part of the farmland, but some of the Krehers’ farm will be used for experiments by Lincoln Land students.

The need for agriculture education is great: A Purdue University report predicts the United States will need 57,900 new workers in agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences, but that U.S. colleges and universities will only produce 35,400 qualified graduates, according to a news release from LLCC. The more that can be done to train and provide the workforce necessary to keep our farms thriving, the better.

Bill Harmon, LLCC agronomy professor and ag program coordinator, described the gift as “beyond ‘once in a lifetime,’ it’s in the realm of ‘I can’t believe this is really happening.’” We too thank the Krehers for thinking of the LLCC community when graciously deciding how to share their wealth.

Thumbs down: To the continued practice in Illinois of having to publicly declare which political party’s ballot you want when voting in the primary election.

Other states allow voters to register for a party before casting a ballot; that person is silently handed a ballot upon arriving at their precinct to vote. But in Illinois, you do so publicly, at the polling place, where others can overhear. It’s also considered public information, so if requested an election office can divulge who voted for which party during a primary.

It’s clear political parties pull voter rolls: Just check out who sends you campaign literature in the mail. One of the main concerns we have about this process is that it can color how people behave. Here in Sangamon County, for instance, there are thousands of state employees. Could they possibly be pulling a ballot for a certain party because they don’t want to have loyalty questioned? If they pull the ballot of the party different from their boss, will they worry their chances for advancement will diminish?

Voting is one of our most basic rights in this country. No one should worry that how they vote could affect his or her standing with an employer.