Understanding Illinois: The Looming Public Unions Strike

NowlanMay 27, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

From my distant vantage point, I foresee as inevitable a first-ever strike in July by state of Illinois public employee unions.
There is just no way to bridge a chasm wide as the Grand Canyon between feisty GOP governor Bruce Rauner, who is probably spoiling for a strike, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is the lead union in negotiations with the state that are on-going to replace a contract that expires July 1.
I think Rauner wants to make a national name for himself as the governor who toppled the unions from their comfortable perches. He cannot do so in the union-friendly Democratic legislature so he will seek to break the backs of the unions via the collective bargaining process.
If successful, he would indeed become a national political figure. Read More

LTE: 5.27.15

Cherry Picking Scripture

There are a few scriptures in the Bible on homosexuality and hundreds on heterosexual relationships, marriage and behavior, yet some local churches strangely choose to cherry pick those scriptures that focus on homosexuals instead of the broader community of relationships within their own church. Why is that?
It seems bizarre that Jesus died on the cross so that a few people could turn that cross into a weapon against a few. Instead of using his life and sacrifice as a guide, they’ve turned their Bible into a sword. Instead of focusing on lending a helping hand to those in need, they choose to use divisive and destructive rhetoric that perpetuates hatred and animosity. Why is that? Read More

Understanding Illinois: Stop Kicking the Can Down the Road

NowlanMay 20, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest
Columnist

There is no way to sugarcoat the bitter pill that Illinois taxpayers will have to swallow this summer if we are to put the state onto a path of long-term fiscal stability and predictability, characteristics that are critical to persuading business to locate and expand here.
As you have read, the Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that policymakers cannot wiggle out of responsibilities to meet state pension obligations that are underfunded to the tune of $100+ billion.
Illinois has started to fill that pension hole by appropriating $8 billion a year for that purpose, which is about $7 billion more than would be the annual cost if the state had a fully-funded pension system (on a $32 billion general funds budget). Read More

Growing Up in Sullivan: The Mulberry Tree and the Day of the Bumblebees

GintherMay 20, 2015

by Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

Until recently I had never seen a mulberry bush, but just because I’d never seen one I hadn’t ruled out the possibility that they may exist. Having reasoned that they must truly exist, because a couple of children’s nursery rhymes specifically say “bush” instead of “tree”, I ventured to the internet to settle the conflict. There I found that in fact there is a variety called a bush. As a matter of fact, I found several varieties of mulberry trees and bushes. That said, I had one particular tree in mind. For several summer seasons in my early childhood, I spent quite a few days under a mulberry tree eating the berries. As I recall, they had to be fully, drop dead, ripe or they were a little sour to the taste. So, once one found a fully ripe one nothing else would do and you passed over any that were not fat and dark purple. Read More

Local Government Units Trying to Become Less Accountable, Less Transparent to Taxpayers

DeRossett2smMay 13, 2015

by Dennis DeRossett
Guest Columnist

As state government scurries to fill a projected $8 billion deficit in the 2016 fiscal year budget, it would seem to make sense to move beyond successful compromises and proven solutions already in place and instead focus on issues that truly have a significant impact on the state’s finances.
At least you would think so given the seriousness of the fiscal crisis.
But that’s not the case with some elected officials and local government lobbyists that represent the more than 7,000 taxpayer funded units of government in Illinois. Behind-the-scenes efforts are currently taking place that would reduce their obligation of accountability and transparency to taxpayers, all under the guise of the state’s financial crisis. It’s a “smoke-and-mirrors” attempt by local governments at a time of fiscal crisis where Illinois taxpayers would end up on the losing end. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Water, Water (not) Everywhere

NowlanMay 13, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Illinois has been hemorrhaging residents to sunny California and the Southwest for decades. But today California lacks the natural infrastructure to support its nearly 40 million residents, most of whom live on the desert.
A study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reports that California is probably in for a mega-drought that will last 30 or more years.
Will a reverse migration back to the water-rich Midwest unfold? Probably not right away, but it could in the decades to come, if we plan for it.
Just last year, 400,000 acres of California farmland were taken out of production, which represents in area more than twice my small Stark County, north of Peoria.
Always a big deal, water is becoming a really big deal now that it cannot be taken for granted.
And Illinois has a lot of water, an abundant supply until at least 2050, if it is well managed, according to Vern Knapp, the senior hydrologist at the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois.
The sources of our water in the state vary. Lake Michigan provides the lion’s share of the water used by the public in populous northeastern Illinois. Most of the rest of the water for central and northern Illinois comes from shallow underground aquifers. Read More

May is Here and So Are Hopes for a Great Gardening Year

KimForColumnMay 6, 2015

by Kim Riedel
N•P Columnist

At my annual plant exchange that took place this past weekend was a fellow garden enthusiast from Neoga who was full of gardening experience and information that was so interesting to me. I could have sat there for hours and just listened with thoughts going through my head of what I would love to accomplish in my own garden. Another fellow master gardener (from Coles) was also a participant and heard from one of her friends (an MG from Douglas) that there was a master gardener in Sullivan who dealt with raising worms. I was surprised to hear that because…that was me! I took her around and showed her the worm art on the walls and the buckets I had used to raise the worms. It was really exciting actually getting to know others that have the same interests that I have and swapping stories back and forth of experiences that we have had. Read More

LTE: Re: Mr Nowlan’s April 22, 2015, item about “Is America Becoming a Dependent Society?”

May 6, 2015

I have observed over the years that when one political party wants to curb these kinds of abuses by getting a handle on this out-of-control spending and trying effect legislation to help in this area, we see something happen. This political party gets severely demonized not only by the opposing political party, but by the media, Hollywood, and academia, all jumping in to call those trying to bring about positive change as heartless and haters of the poor and minorities, and on and on the heated rhetoric goes. Many people and families do need necessary help, and it’s great America can afford this as they most certainly should be helped. Read More

Understanding Illinois: What’s Brewing Under the State Capitol Dome?

NowlanMay 6, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

As the physical symbol of a state that contributed A. Lincoln, 285,000 soldiers (35,000 died) and immense provender for the triumphant Union cause, the Illinois Capitol was built to generate “shock and awe” among visitors, as state archivist David Joens puts it.
And it does to this day. Started in 1867 and completed two decades later, the capitol’s dome rises 361 feet, higher than the U.S. Capitol. The inner dome soars 233 feet above the first floor.
Visitors risk vertigo as they crane their necks upward toward the 9,000 pieces of stained glass that are embedded in the captivating, illuminated dome, which is capped by a five-foot rendition of the state seal.
But for those who are plying their trade of state politics and government during the present hectic legislative session, there is no time to admire the fancywork. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Why Can’t They Be Like Me?

NowlanApril 29, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
Outside Columnist

I travel the state a lot. On Amtrak, from western Illinois into Chicago’s Loop, I pass from left-behind rural towns and through new middle-class housing tracts on the suburban fringe.
Next come older, wealthy suburbs like Hinsdale and farther on the mostly Hispanic towns like Cicero and Berwyn. After that it is the mean streets of poor, black and Hispanic Chicago before reaching the golden, gleaming city center on the lake.
These varied worlds don’t communicate much with one another. Few in tony Hinsdale have in their world view the poor, often violent black neighborhoods not far to the east.
When I was a child after World War II, there were more vibrant farm market towns and small cities and fewer suburbs than today. Read More