Understanding Illinois: A Proposal to Fund State Pensions Fully—and Save $2 Billion a Year

Nowlan•July 20, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

A thoughtful friend of mine has an idea that would fully fund Illinois pension obligations—and save more than $2 billion a year in annual state spending.

The State of Illinois will appropriate $9 billion this year, and each year far into the future, for pension funding. This is fully 28 percent of all state general funds revenue of about $32 billion!

Much of this $9 billion is an attempt to “catch up” in pension reserves.

My friend David Eisenman would spend just $6.74 billion.

Policy analyst Eisenman of Champaign has degrees in physics from Harvard and the University of Illinois. As a young man, he served in the initial, and highly respected, Illinois Bureau of the Budget, created by Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie (1969-72).

Background: Over the years, our state has faithfully paid the pensions promised to its retirees.

Illinois has been faulted, however, for failing to set aside an investment nest egg (pension reserve) that would by itself be large enough to fund all future pension promises made to current and past employees. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: Someday I’ll Take a Visit to Someday Isle

Ginther•July 20, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
News Progress Columnist

Have you ever heard of Someday Isle? It actually exists. It is a resort on Coral Bay, St. John US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

Conversely, you know it as a phrase in this form, someday I’ll… The phrase has been finished in a million different ways depending on one’s future intentions, but for most it seems an elusive destination or a fantasy about something they wish to do, someday.

One thing is certain. Someday Isle keeps hope alive, and hopes for the future makes life worth living. We all want to believe that at some point in the future, the possibilities exist for the consummation of a dream or the accomplishment of a goal. Without hope, we perish.

For some of us, those goals or dreams are accomplished, but they are immediately supervened upon by loftier enticements. The soul’s search never terminates at Someday Isle, but, instead, is unappeasable. It cries out, “There is still time to accomplish more. Here is another dream to pursue.” So, we press on with renewed enthusiasm. Read More

Remember When? 7-13-2016

Compiled by Bekki Ferguson-Stevens

25 Years Ago This Week

Lovington High School senior Andy Kidwell and junior Joy Gale will attend the Midwest Yearbook Experience Workshop July 7-10 at Millikin University in Decatur. Tidwell is the son of Dave and Julie Kidwell, and Gale is the daughter of Tom and Sarah Gale.

Denise Jean Piatt of rural Sullivan, a seventh and eighth grade math teacher, is one of 30 math teachers selected for the second year of a two year project funded by the National Science Foundation, the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Southern Illinois University.

Degrees have now been officially awarded to 1,243 spring semester graduates at Eastern Illinois University.Several area students are among the spring graduates. They include Sullivan residents Patty Jean Linville, Shelly Jo Richardson, Caprice A. Scherer and Robbie Lee White. Others include James B. Underwood of Bethany; Jamison Taylor Boyd of Lovington; Jody Lynn Schmitt of Gays; Wendy Sue Kersey of Windsor;  and from Arthur Jeffrey S. Johnson, Jill S. McDonald and Joseph Messmate.

Toby and Wes Bolsen, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Willis Bolsen of Lovington, will exhibit Angus cattle at the 1991 National Junior Angus Show July 17-20 at State Fair Park in Milwaukee, Wis. Both boys are junior members of the association and will be among 421 young Angus breeders who have entered 862 head in the show. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Mortality Circles Although Facing 75 is Easier from a Distance

Nowlan•July 13, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Thoughts of turning 75 in a few weeks recall to me the provocative article by oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel, “Why I Hope to Die at 75” (Atlantic, Oct. 2014).

I entered politics in my early 20s so most of my friends from that era were older and have been biting the dust with regularity. Mortality is circling round.

At the distance of age 57 when he wrote his article, Emanuel was in good health. He thinks by 75 he will have led a full life. After 75, he says, for the vast majority of us creativity and productivity are shot or in sharp decline.

He reports that about half of those living at age 80 have a functional limitation, either physical or mental or both. Emanuel thinks the older years are not the golden years.

Emanuel observes that a century ago we dramatically cut the death rate and infant mortality via clean water and sanitary sewer systems. In the 1930s and beyond, we accomplished more of the same with vaccines for infectious diseases.

But today, he says, most of our health care efforts are focused on the over-60 crowd that suffers expensive chronic problems with heart, lungs and the Big C. He says this hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process.

Emanuel opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide so he doesn’t plan to take his life. Read More

Garden Changes Lead Plants to Reach Maturity

KimForColumnBy Kim Riedel
NP Gardening Columnist

June has been a great month in the garden with the flowers blooming, early vegetables coming on and the harvesting of berries. It is nice to have a bouquet of flowers that have come from your own garden to take to a friend or a neighbor to brighten their day. I have been watching the fruit in the trees grow larger and the clusters of grapes enlarging while I am planning the garden that I would like next year. I am planning to add more grass, widen the walkways through the raised beds and open up the area a bit more…even though that means that I need to thin out some of my plants.

With gardens that have not been weeded for a while, make sure you get the weeds before they flower; once they set seed, you can be pulling the plants coming from that seed for years. Always check for insect damage to keep ahead of the pests. To reduce garden pests, try ladybugs and lacewings. An adult ladybug can eat almost 400 aphids a week, and their larvae eat more. I really like keeping praying mantis around my garden to keep the pests down.

It has been great to have the rain that we have had the first of the month. It has really helped with the gardens and the lawns. If rainfall is less than one inch per week, make sure that you water your garden. When your garden is wet, it is best to stay out of it until it dries off a bit since certain diseases are easily spread if the plants are disturbed when they are wet. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Redistricting Reform Hangs on Court Action

Nowlan•July 6, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Only the Illinois Supreme Court stands between voters and the opportunity to strike back, constructively, at a state political system that has hung a huge pension albatross round our necks, brought us budget gridlock and, many think, has the state circling the drain.

The state election board has said the petition drive for a redistricting reform initiative has passed muster. The issue is now before the state courts as to whether the proposal is constitutional.

The 1970 state constitution provision for redistricting has not worked. The process has become highly political, with the party in power drawing lines to benefit incumbents.

[At present, for example, Democrats have majorities of three-fifths and two-thirds in the House and Senate, respectively, far higher than the typical split between the two major parties.]

The Independent Maps initiative has proposed a complicated process that would try to siphon off the partisan politics and give the job of drawing state legislative maps to an independent commission, rather than leave it with lawmakers.

[Independent commissions seem to be working effectively in Arizona and California.]

The provision in the Illinois Constitution that allows use of the citizen initiative for Legislative Article limits amendments to “structural and procedural” subjects. Read More

Thinking About Health: A “Breakthrough” Drug May Not Be As Great As It Sounds

TrudyLieberman-Photo•July 6, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

A story in The Guardian, a British news outlet that now has a publishing arm in the U.S., grabbed my attention. The headline read, “Treatments for cancers and Alzheimer’s on the verge of a breakthrough.”

Really? Now, I’ve written about this stuff long enough to know the word “breakthrough” is a red flag. Anyone who hears the word or sees it in print should be skeptical.

There are very few genuine breakthroughs, but there’s lots of enthusiasm for the term on the part of the media, physicians, academic medical centers and others who use it to attract attention to a product or a service. It’s a dandy marketing tool. Who wouldn’t want a “breakthrough” cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease?

Sure enough, the first paragraph of the Guardian’s story noted that new emerging treatments “may, in the next 10 to 20 years, transform the way people are treated.” Ten or 20 years doesn’t exactly sound like a breakthrough is imminent. But the word sure gets people to read the story and pay attention when they see advertising for the product.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: A Plan B to End State Budget Impasse

Nowlan•June 29, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

All I can see ahead for state finances is short and long-term harm for the state, which will be very difficult to repair.

Gov. Rauner obviously has no Plan B for his strategy of getting House Speaker Mike Madigan to knuckle under to his demands for a “turn-around agenda,” with which I am generally supportive.

I have a Plan B.

After more than a year without funding for food for prison inmates, electric power for state facilities all over the state, and even toilet paper for state employees, among many shortages, Rauner is desperate for some funding.

It would appear that Madigan derives personal satisfaction from letting Rauner—and all of us citizens—twist slowly in the wind by refusing to deal with the governor. Yet a friend of mine who knows the speaker much better than I do said, “No, rarely is anything personal with the speaker. Absolutely the only thing in the world he cares about in political control.”

[The speaker did pass a budget that is wildly greater than the revenues to pay for it, and even the Democrats in the Senate rejected it.]

Another good friend of mine passed along a telling story, this one about the Rauner team. Friend had been invited right after the 2014 election to sit down with Rauner’s top staff to talk about the transition into the new governorship. Read More

Illinois’ Budget Standoff Must be Resolved

•June 29, 2016•

Illinois’ budget standoff must be resolved, and must be resolved now.

For a year, our state’s elected leaders have engaged in what can only be called political malpractice.

Illinois is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a budget. For a year, because of that failure, it has stiffed small businesses, social service agencies and its higher education system, leaving them trying to operate without money they’re owed. State operations have been cobbled together through a patchwork of court orders, and the mounting backlog of money owed gets deeper by the minute.

On Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the state was on the verge of crisis, and that it would be an “outrageous, tragic failure” if schools don’t open on time this fall.

With all due respect, Governor, the state is already in crisis and the budget standoff has already been an “outrageous, tragic failure.”

As legislators return to Springfield today -- for the first time this month -- Illinois’ historic, serious problems have been made even worse by the failure to compromise on a balanced, long-term spending plan.

The political war between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan has been confounding and unconscionable. Rauner has insisted on passage of the so-called Turnaround Agenda, a series of pro-business measures, as a condition of the budget. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have seemed focused primarily on thwarting the governor. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Face to face with Bud Thompson

Nowlan•June 22, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I am giving readers a break from my rants about the destructive state budget impasse.

In that regard, I am hearing from savvy observers that the next real full-year budget may not come until after the 2018(!) gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Those contests will equate to a political Armageddon (a final battle between Good and Evil, depending upon your point of view). Such a delay in budgeting, the fundamental responsibility of those we elect, would be unforgivable.

Instead, I want to focus on the importance of face-to-face conversation in a world “AF” (After Facebook). In only a short decade or so, this social platform has become central to the lives of many of my friends and hundreds of millions worldwide.

The topic comes to mind following a recent visit to the postcard pretty town of Prophetstown (pop. 2,000), nestled along the Rock River between the Quad Cities and Sterling, where I wowed (he writes, modestly) the local Lions Club with a talk about Illinois.

I was invited by old friend Bud Thompson (probably nobody in the town knows his first name is Howard), who is the consummate community leader. Read More