Understanding Illinois: “Rome is Burning”

•January 18, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Reader alert/warning—another state budget impasse column!

There are reports that Illinois State Senate leaders from both political parties are close to unveiling a tax increase proposal that would raise about $5 billion a year to address the lack of a balanced state budget.

Unfortunately, this alone will not get the job done. Bitter medicine, probably undrinkable to most, is required to rescue the state.

Our lawmakers have never contemplated actions—all politically painful—of the magnitude the economists suggest will be necessary.

I recently wrote a piece for the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois, a business group, in which I review a paper by state budget experts David Merriman and Dick Dye.

The two economists say the state has a $13 billion gap between $73 billion in annual expenditures and $60 billion in revenue. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: Spending Time Waiting on Party Line News

•January 18, 2017•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

Most of my class of ’64 would be approaching their seventh decade of life at this time. That is to say that we’ve lived quite a long time and are still participating in the game. We have our eyes and ears open and still learning.

Solomon said that the eyes are never full of seeing and the ears never full of hearing; however, the instruments by which we see and hear things have considerably modified.

Most of the news today is seen in vivid, high definition color on TV. However, there was a time in our lives when some of it didn’t arrive via television and none of it by social media.

Back in our day there was the party line telephone system which we all shared with equal contempt. The contempt we shared was for the lack of privacy and ready accessibility to the phone line when we needed it, not for what we gleaned from our neighbor’s conversations.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Social Services Under Fire for Neglecting Those in Need

•January 11, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

A recent Chicago Tribune series reveals more than a thousand possible cases of abuse and neglect at certain group homes in Illinois since 2011, some resulting in deaths of those served.

What’s new? I have been reading of exposés about poor care of our infirm populations by the state of Illinois rather regularly over the half-century that I have been observing Illinois public life.

It will probably always be thus—because of the constant tension between cost and care, the complexities of serving folks such as the developmentally disabled and the inability of policymakers to shape up our fragmented, dysfunctional state management of social services.

I recounted earlier to readers a startling experience when I was first elected to the Illinois House as a naïve 26-year-old way back in 1968. Read More

Job Shadowing My Way Through the News Progress

•January 11, 2017•

By Madison Uhlrich
OVHS Shadow Student

When I was a little girl, I loved to flip through National Geographic magazines and look at the photographs. I wanted to take photographs like those, too, photographs that would affect people.

I was very particular with my photography and with my academics. Practicing setting up fake photo-shoots in my backyard increased my interest.

But I knew it would take the best grades in the best classes to get me closer to my eventual career objective, traveling the world taking photographs that tell a bigger story. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Nowlan Riles Readers with Rauner Piece

•January 4, 2017•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Several readers sharply disagreed with my recent column that took Gov. Bruce Rauner to task for his budget strategy, even criticism from a savvy, insider Chicago Democrat who said I was too tough on the governor.

I have apparently failed to differentiate for readers between Rauner’s objectives, which I support, and his strategy, which I believe has failed. I subscribe to the old Will Rogers adage: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

I wish now I could have taken back that column before I sent it out, because I committed a cardinal sin of opinion writing: I didn’t propose an alternative strategy, which I offer herewith.

Let me stipulate that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has been in that role way too long and must go.

Indeed, Madigan may suffer many of the dastardly faults Rauner has leveled at him, though he is not quite alone the antichrist.

Over his tenure as speaker there have also been three Republican governors. It was also Republican legislative leaders who in the 1990s, when in power relatively briefly, changed the rules that gave Madigan, who simply continued those rules, many of his near-dictatorial powers. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Held Hostage—Year Three and Counting

Nowlan•December 28, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

At the risk of tiring readers (so what’s new, they muse) at holiday time, I turn yet again to the Illinois state budget impasse, the most important visible problem facing the state.

I continue flummoxed in efforts to understand the efficacy of the strategy(ies) Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is employing in his all-out war to force nemesis House Speaker Mike Madigan to knuckle under, so the guv can figuratively plant his booted foot in triumph on the breast plate of a prostrate Madigan.

For two years, Rauner has been holding a state budget solution hostage, as if it were somehow akin to Madigan’s first-born, demanding that Madigan accede to a “turnaround agenda” of popular, business-friendly changes.

That might otherwise make sense, except that Madigan obviously cares more about his political power than about Illinois.

Insiders say Rauner’s real strategy is to play a multi-election “long game” aimed at taking control of the Illinois General Assembly.

That is sure a legitimate political objective, yet not one a budget resolution can await.

I worry that Rauner as well as most lawmakers and certainly the Illinois public all fail to appreciate the staggering magnitude of what will be necessary to straighten out the state’s finances.
Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: The Christmas Season of Today

GintherBy Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

Most folks think of Christmas as a season rather than a single day because the spirit of Christmas spans several weeks with the decorating, shopping and celebration.

Nevertheless, there are so many enjoyable activities to attend, both secular and sacred, that the time passes in a whirlwind. The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, doesn’t come close to covering the season anymore. The preparations start earlier each year. It has been said for many years now that the day after Thanksgiving Day is the busiest shopping day of the season.

Notwithstanding, we see the stores preparing for sales several weeks prior to that. Frosty the snowman, Rudolph and Santa Claus are already appearing in advertisements in catalogs and magazines before Halloween. As a matter of fact, as I write this article our local stores are already stocking Christmas décor and gift items, and it’s a month before Halloween.

The excitement in the air and on the faces of busy shoppers as the shopping season kicks off spreads throughout the country. If we have some snow on or before Christmas Eve, it seems to fuel wintry thoughts of the season even more.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Bicentennial Planning Underway for Homegrown Illinois Celebration

Nowlan•December 21, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The state of Illinois has at long last started thinking about a bicentennial celebration for Illinois, admitted as a state December 3, 1818. [Next door, the State of Indiana devoted seven years to planning for its 200th birthday, which Hoosiers have been celebrating this year.]

Gov. Bruce Rauner has appointed sports marketing whiz Stuart Layne (Mariners, Celtics, others) to staff the 40+ worthies the guv recently named to a bicentennial commission.

Given the short time available, Layne needs our help, and we across the 1,200 or so communities of Illinois can sure use his.

The state has less than no money, so Layne hopes to attract corporate sponsorships that will pay for such as major touring historical exhibits, in return for the opportunity to link companies to the people of Illinois.

I am a little uncomfortable allowing, say, Anheuser-Busch to take credit for our state’s greatness. But, hey, this is a brave new world where governments, especially ones that are broke, are often being shorn of what some see as, at best, collateral responsibilities.

I guess we should take help where we can get, and be thankful. Read More

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

•December 21, 2016•

It’s been 119 years since Virginia O’Hanlon sought the truth about Santa from the New York Sun.

In over a century, the lives of children — and their parents— have increased in complexity by a factor of ten.

Man landed on the moon, communism rose and fell, countries changed names and borders, Elvis begat Jagger, who in turn led to “gangsta rap”. The kidnap and murder of children, which made world headlines for the Lindbergh family, now touches the lives of hundreds of families annually. Children begin learning at ages two and three about “stranger danger,” AIDS and sexual abuse.

The age of innocence is gone. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Teacher Shortages Reflect Turmoil In Education

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The teacher shortages popping up around the country, especially in poor rural as well as troubled urban districts, probably reflect the consequences of turmoil that has beset education since the scathing “A Nation at Risk” report in 1983 that declared American public schools were failing.

A recent survey by the Illinois association of regional education superintendents found that 60 percent of reporting school districts had staffing difficulties this past year and 16 percent had to cancel classes due to shortages of qualified teachers.

My rural district has had a deuce of a time finding a Spanish teacher and has resorted to an online offering to provide its single foreign language. Industrial arts, agriculture and “home ec” slots are also hard to fill in rural areas, while bilingual and special ed teachers are hard to come by in urban districts.

The situation will get worse. Enrollment in teacher ed programs nationally has dropped from 691,000 in 2009 to 451,000 in 2014.

Illinois State University in Normal has always been a major producer of teachers. ISU administrator Amee Adkins reports that graduation of newly minted teachers at her university has declined from 1,000 in 2009 to 750 this past year, and that similar reductions are the case across the 55 teacher ed programs in Illinois.

Prosperous suburban schools with good teacher pay, often averaging $100,000 ($110,000 for New Trier High faculty in Winnetka), will have few problems finding faculty.  Read More