•May 24, 2017•

That one word perfectly sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability Capitol politicians have inflicted on Illinois by their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for two years.

As the state’s credit ratings have been repeatedly downgraded, as residents sought greener pastures elsewhere, as community colleges and universities have been gutted, as businesses closed up shop and as social service agencies turned away the most vulnerable residents, elected officials have failed to do their job and show political courage to make the necessary painful decisions.

Who they blame is determined by whether a D or R follows their name. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to blame. No, it’s Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Don’t forget the decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected, not what was fiscally prudent.

The finger-pointing has gone on for far too long.

The state’s fiscal problems have created a crisis throughout Illinois — except in the state Capitol. Maybe the dome deflects the misery that permeates the rest of Illinois. But it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the House and Senate, and the governor, bears for the atrocious state of the state. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Term limits now! “Throw the Bums Out”

•May 24, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

If there is no comprehensive full-year state budget by the May 31 end of legislative session in Springfield, I am seriously considering creation of an Illinois political action committee to be called “Throw the Bums Out.” The stated purpose would be to defeat all state legislators, of both parties, as well as Gov. Bruce Rauner.

For three years now, the governor and lawmakers have blatantly failed in their constitutional responsibility to adopt an annual state budget, the fundamental task of any government, or business, for that matter.

As a result, the horrendous pile of unpaid bills and wreckage in higher education and elsewhere have also piled onto our state’s near-laughingstock reputation across the nation for corruption and government dysfunction. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: The Preakness – Second Race of the Triple Crown

•May 17, 2017•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

Known as the Second Jewel in the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing, the Preakness Stakes is held on the third Saturday of May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The distance for this race is one and 3/16 miles and is the shortest of the three races in the Triple Crown with the longest being the Belmont Stakes at one and ½ miles. The Kentucky Derby, the first of the three races, is just 1/16 of a mile longer than the Preakness, at one and ¼ miles or 10 furlongs. There are eight furlongs in a mile, just in case you’re doing the math, so, a 16th is one half of a furlong.

With the Kentucky race in our rear view mirror we move on to this second race where the Derby winner, “Always Dreaming,” will try to make it two out of three in his endeavor to be a Triple Crown winner for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Preakness will decide if there will be a chance for another three-race winner. Of course, winning the second race keeps the adventure alive if you won the first. If the Derby winner also wins the Preakness, the suspense and excitement grow as we anticipate the Belmont Stakes, the final contest of the three races. That final race will be held on June 10 this year at Belmont, N.Y. It will be a disappointment to many if the chance ends with this second race, but with a purse of one million dollars, the winner will be just as happy to go home with the money even if his horse was never in contention for the Triple Crown.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: “Politics of blame” Game Diminishes Us All

•May 17, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I fear that the 2018 election contests for governor and legislature, already underway, will be ugly, brutal affairs. Unprecedented millions of dollars will be focused laser-like on convincing voters that the opposition bears all the blame for the incredible mess the state is in, with nary a sou spent on discussion of constructive, though painful, options for getting us out of our mess.

If I am right about this, we will all come out of the process feeling a little grimy and less positive about our state. All this during our bicentennial celebration.

My fears are based on three factors that will combine for a toxic brew.

First, voters are at present blaming Gov. Rauner, House Speaker Madigan and state lawmakers in roughly equal doses, from what I gather. I recently finished teaching a short-course on Illinois politics at Bradley University to 65 “mature” citizens in a lifelong learning program.

After discussing our budget problems, I asked these generally well-educated, successful folks whom they blamed for the mess. With a tad more of the blame pinned on long-serving Democratic House speaker Mike Madigan, the class members otherwise spread the blame across all the elected officials in rather equal dollops, saying in effect, “a pox on all of their houses.” Read More

Understanding Illinois: Trying to Restring the Ties that Used to Bind

•May 10, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I mix in quite varied circles. One day I might be helping at my rural hometown food pantry, and the next, enjoying my home away from home, the Union League Club of Chicago, a 23-story country club in the heart of the city.

When I was a boy 60 years ago, I like to think there were some ties, maybe quite loose, I admit, between rich and poor in a nation then largely of small towns and cities. I worry that those ties have been mostly severed.

The all-volunteer food pantry does a fine job of providing almost bounteous food stuffs once a month to 60 families, which range in size from one to eight, the last a household of three generations. This represents almost 10 percent of the area population.

A faith-based food bank in Peoria and a non-profit operation in the Quad-Cities make deliveries once a month in 18-wheeler trucks to food pantries like ours. The food is often top-of-the-line over-stock or near-expiration stuff donated by big box grocers and food manufacturers. Read More

Understanding Illinois: The Pols Won’t Do It, So You Balance State Budget

•May 3, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

As we enter a third year without a state budget, I turn to readers to close a gap of about $9 billion between state expenditures of $72 billion (hard numbers difficult to nail down, as no budget) and annual revenues of about $63 billion.

There are of course two ways to do this: cut expenditures and/or increase revenues. Nearby I lay out a necessarily compressed and incomplete set of prominent, quite real budget options. Can you select among the options to come up with $9 billion in actions that would close the budget gap?

I am hoping many readers will at least try. The layout will undoubtedly prompt questions, which I would try to answer, if you emailed me. There is, unfortunately, neither time nor technical expertise on my part to make this exercise interactive.

I want to encourage summary responses from readers, whatever they are—to my email address below. What would you do if you were in charge? Read More

Understanding Illinois: Let’s Bring Back Gov. Jim Edgar

•April 26, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The state many of us hold dear is being wrecked by elected officials of both parties. I say, let’s sweep them all off the table and bring popular, effective former governor Jim Edgar out of retirement.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is into his third year without ever having proposed a credible balanced budget, with nothing on the horizon.

Rauner has also talked about the need for a big infrastructure program as well as education finance reforms, both badly needed. Yet he has never proposed anything for either. Budget, infrastructure, education—that’s pretty much what state government is all about.

And the collateral wreckage is incalculable. Higher education is imploding, non-profit social service agencies are undergoing a die-off, business investment is tanking because of fiscal instability and uncertainty, and people across Illinois are in a deep funk about their state, which probably encourages flight.

It is surprising that after a successful career doing deals in the private sector, Rauner is an abysmal failure at deal-making in Springfield. Read More

Letter to the Editor 4-26-2017

Solar Companies Soliciting Area Land Owners

Dear Editor,

Many landowners have received solicitations from solar companies, including Cypress Creek Renewables.

The lease agreements that accompany these solicitations represent long-term obligations for landowners and tenants; usually at least 20 years. Consequently, these leases must be taken seriously. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Population—So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya’

•April 19, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The modern American is restless. He moves around, toward good things like jobs, opportunity, warmth, family members, safety. It has been thus since our founding.

What, if anything, can or should be done about the movement of people out of Illinois?

Illinois has been losing white people on a net basis since the 1970s, maybe earlier, since the home air conditioner made the South livable.

This loss has been papered over by the “natural increase” (births over deaths) within our state. This gave us small population increases, until recently.

According to recent Census Bureau estimates, Illinois (12.8 million residents) has lost population annually for the past three years, 38,000 in 2016, more than any state in the nation. Even the metropolitan Chicago area, with its supposedly ever burgeoning suburbs, lost population this past year.

What’s going on? Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: The Great Iron Horse-Icon of Early American Travel

•April 19, 2017•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

This was the iconic name for the old steam locomotive. When they first came on the scene of American history, horses still powered nearly all machinery and were the primary mode of transportation. “The Great Iron Horse,” and the steel rail could move more passengers and freight over long distances at higher speeds than a twenty-mule team. The steam engine became as much of an icon in the early days of America and the unsettled west as the horse and cowboy.

In previous articles, I’ve written about the romance of railroading as it pertained to the various jobs performed by both men and women in the daily operation of a railroad. However, the trains themselves contributed much to this nostalgia. In the not too distant past, trains had identities and personality, if you will. When streamliners were eloquent, schedules were frequent, and fares were less expensive than for airliners, America traveled coast-to-coast and border-to-border on passenger trains. The names of those trains became as familiar as the names of family members. Some will remember, The Panama Limited and The City of New Orleans, two famous trains operated by the Illinois Central Railroad. Read More