Understanding Illinois: Will Illinois Let a Good Bicentennial go to Waste?

Nowlan•December 9, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

To paraphrase Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, we should not let a good bicentennial go to waste. But we may.

The Prairie State celebrates its 200th birthday in 2018, which is like the day before yesterday in planning terms, according to Perry Hammock, executive director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. The Hoosier State celebrates its milestone in 2016, and state leaders have been hard at work on it since 2011.

Almost two years ago, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn appointed a bicentennial commission that includes former governor Jim Thompson and other distinguished Illinoisans. But the group has never met, and with the ongoing budget stalemate and abundant political conflict affecting the state, any commission action and funding for its work are uncertain at best.

We have to get cracking on this, and it looks as though it will require private efforts to get matters off the ground.

The Indiana commission has been meeting regularly for four years. The state has committed $28 million for bicentennial projects, and a staff of four plus many college-graduate interns has stimulated upwards of 800 “legacy projects” across just about every city and hamlet in that state.

Every Indiana county has a volunteer coordinator. The commission’s website receives more than one million impressions a month and, says Hammock, “We’ve got the buzz going across the state.” Read More

Thinking About Health: Medicare Makes It Easier for Doctors To Offer End-of-Life Counseling

•December 2, 2015•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

What a difference six years makes!

In 2009 at the height of the debate on the Affordable Care Act, New York’s former lieutenant government Betsy McCaughey appeared on television and made this startling remark: “Congress would make it mandatory-absolutely require-that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”

McCaughey said the proposed law would help the elderly learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care…all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.”

Her remarks, though false, played well in the media. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin showed up on TV to talk about “death panels” that she and others claimed would ration care at the end of life.

“No death panels” became a rallying cry for opposition to the health law. A man I interviewed at a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart that summer brought up the so-called death panels. “If people are going to die, he [Obama] is going to put them to sleep,” he told me. “It’s like Soylent Green (a 1973 science fiction movie). That’s his health plan.”

Another man I met outside a church in Scranton told me, “I am against a panel of doctors telling you when you can live and die.” When I explained that wasn’t what the law would do, he said he didn’t believe me. Read More

Understanding Illinois: State Suffers from Rauner-Madigan Machismo

Nowlan•December 2, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan are taking themselves way too seriously over the state budget impasse—and in the process (or lack of it) they are seriously messing with the lives of seniors, the mentally ill, domestic abuse victims, and college students.

We can help resolve the stand-off by putting pressure on our local lawmakers to force their leaders to craft a budget now—if the lawmakers have the courage to stand up to their bosses.

I participated this past week on a panel discussion in Aurora on the future of Illinois with a savvy ex-legislator, a veteran political writer, and a budget expert. Their prognoses for the state’s future were grim.

The ex-lawmaker said he didn’t think the budget stalemate would be resolved until after the November 2016 election, which would mean a year-and-a-half without a state budget! He thinks lawmakers will not be persuaded to vote for the tax increases necessary to balance the budget until they are safely re-elected.

The budget expert—a moderate Republican—said that $8 billion in annual new revenue would be needed, at least for a few years, to balance the budget, pay off old bills and provide a stable, predictable fiscal future.

Eight billion dollars is the equivalent of an increase of two percentage points—from 3.75 to 5.75 percent—in the rate of the individual income tax, not that this is the only way to raise such revenue. Read More

Thinking About Health: Obamacare Policyholders Question Rising Deductibles

•November 25, 2015•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Is health insurance really affordable?  That’s the question thousands of Americans who signed up for policies under the Affordable Care Act are beginning to ask as third year open enrollment gets underway.

A few weeks ago a 63-year-old woman, a reader of these columns, contacted me about the health insurance policy she had bought through the Illinois exchange. She lost her coverage after her husband died and had been uninsured for nearly two years before Obamacare came along.  She had some health problems and worried, she said, that she was “playing the odds.” She was just the person the law was intended to help.

Realizing she could lose everything if she had a serious illness, she signed up for a Blue Cross Blue Shield bronze plan, the kind with the lowest premiums and highest deductibles. Her monthly premium for the first year was an affordable $93 because her low income—about $25,000 a year working part time at an insurance agency---qualified her for a tax subsidy of $451.

The catch, of course, was the $6,000 deductible. She also had to pay the full price of her drugs, which didn’t count toward the deductible, although once other medical bills exceeded the deductible, drugs were covered in full. She didn’t use the policy because she didn’t “have $6,000 lying around” for some recommended tests.    Read More

Understanding Illinois: Stemming the Population, Wealth drain from Downstate

Nowlan•November 25, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

How do we stem the erosion of population and wealth from downstate Illinois?

Illinois lost 50,000 persons between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There has been an even sharper net out-migration during the period (more people moving out than moving in), which has been covered up largely by high birth rates among Hispanics in the state.

The libertarian (very small government) Illinois Policy Institute has been blaming this all on high taxes. The IPI fails to note, however, that nearby Minnesota, with its much higher income taxes on the wealthy and even colder weather, grew by three percent during the period. The IPI work reflects “analysis” shaped by ideology rather than objectivity.

In fact, Illinois has seen a dramatic shift in our population makeup going back to the 1960s. In a 1982 article for Illinois Issues, demographer Cheng Chiang estimated that Illinois had a net out-flow of up to 900,000 whites in the 1970s alone.

I extrapolate that two million or more whites left the state on a net basis between 1970 and the present. This has been offset by the inflow of Hispanics and Asians and by natural births, so Illinois has grown, but slowly, since.

In effect, we have been exporting population to other states, often to states with no income tax and sunny warmth such as Florida and Texas, while we have been importing residents from other nations. Read More

Hanging On To The Things That Make Me Feel Young

MikeBrothers•November 18, 2015•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

Hanging on to the things that make me feel young

As far back as I can remember I have loved things that go fast.

From taking my little metal cars and trucks around the dirt track under the maple tree in my front yard to putting my foot to the floor of my hot rod 1965 Chevelle as a teenager, the thrill of the motor head remains inside me.

A couple of weeks ago Trevor’s two and a half year old twins were playing outside when I drove up.

Whenever I’m around, I let them “drive” my truck. One stands in the seat behind the wheel while the other sits in the passenger seat turning every switch and knob to the maximum.

After the drive, I was wrestling Lyla out of the truck as Landon walked around to the front and stopped.

I told him it was time to go inside, but he stayed.

“I want to see the motor,” Landon said, with his sister chiming in immediately.

Had they inherited my motor head affliction? Read More

Understanding Illinois: Breaking the cycle of family disarray

Nowlan•November 18, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I have written before in this space about my concerns over the fraying, even unraveling, of The American Family. After talking recently with 15 school social workers in my rural area, I am more distraught than ever.

How do we break the cycle of one generation after another of single mothers unable to meet the needs of their children? I have a thought or two, but such probably won’t go down easily with some readers.

I also worry that the influential “one percenters” along the prosperous lake shore north of Chicago, comfortably insulated from social mayhem elsewhere, have no clue about what is going on in small town Illinois where, ironically, many of their parents and grandparents grew up.

The school social workers I met with work for a cooperative of eight small town and rural school districts with maybe 7,000 students total, mostly white, non-Hispanic.

Extrapolating from figures for my own rural county, I am guessing that half the children in the cooperative come from single-parent families. In one district, in a small, once industrial town, 75 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches; in the other districts, 40-50 percent or more is typical.

We didn’t have social workers when I was growing up in this area in the 1950s, not that things were idyllic back then.

Why do we need them today, I asked the mostly young, female social workers?

After a slow start, the social workers poured out their concerns. Read More

Farm Bureau is Gearing Up for Annual Meeting

•November 11, 2015•

By Tyler Harvey
Douglas-Moultrie Farm Bureau Manager

As many of you are well aware, the 2015 harvest is mostly wrapped up for the year. With the weather we have had over the last two months, farmers have tirelessly been working to get the crops out before the weather breaks.

As of Sunday, November 1, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has the Illinois corn and soybean crop at 96% harvested. This comes to no surprise with the early start most got this year.

Last year at this time, corn was at 74% harvested and soybeans where at 80% harvested. Even with the crops out, farmers will continue to work on fall tillage, tiling, and application of anhydrous ammonia when the soil conditions are appropriate.

On a state level, the Illinois Farm Bureau is gearing up for its annual meeting in Chicago the beginning of December. The annual meeting is where the grassroots policies that get brought up at a county farm bureau level throughout the year get voted on by delegates from around the state.

It is amazing to watch hundreds of delegates sit down to discuss and vote on so many policies that have their roots from a county level. There will also be an awards night when county farm bureaus will be recognized for their hard work from the year.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: There must be a better way to deliver services

•November 11, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Years ago a friend of mine wanted to title a book of his, “Everybody cares but nobody knows,” but his publisher nixed the idea.

What he meant was that most of us want to help people in real need, and society tries to do so through a bewildering array of charities and government programs. Yet nobody seems to follow the persons helped to know if we do any long-lasting good.

So it is in Illinois. We have a byzantine social service apparatus that seems designed to befuddle and exasperate both the people in need and taxpayers alike. I have a few ideas to make sense of it all, which might appeal to conservatives and liberals alike.

First, some background.

Throughout American history, the poor were helped, unevenly at best, I’m sure, by a mix of local churches and charities, and in Illinois, by township supervisors who administered (and still do) what used to be called “poor relief” or general assistance. County governments provided Spartan room and board for the elderly poor at “county farms.”

State governments warehoused the “insane” and the mentally infirm, those who couldn’t be handled at home or in the community, in large institutions far off the road, behind immaculately manicured lawns, far out of sight. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Could be Player in GOP Presidential Race

Nowlan•November 4, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

For the first time in four decades, Illinois Republicans may well be players in the presidential sweepstakes at our March 15 primary.

In 1976, GOP primary voters gave Gerald Ford a big win in Illinois over Ronald Reagan and thus helped Ford beat the California governor by a nose later at the party’s convention. Ford went on to lose to Jimmy Carter that November.

Since then, the nomination has been locked up long before the Illinois primary. This time around is likely to be different.

First, the GOP has a number of well-funded candidates divvying up the likely votes, with most registering in single digit percentages in the polls.

Second, GOP National Committee rules have been changed for 2016 so that in primaries up to March 14, delegates are to be allocated on a proportional, rather than winner-take-all, basis.

This means that if Donald Trump or Ben Carson wins the most votes in a primary, with say 25 percent of the total, “The Don” or Dr. Ben would receive delegates only equal to about their percentage of the vote. As a result, no candidate will pile up most of those early state delegates.

The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries take place in February, followed by the “Super Tuesday” or “SEC” primaries March 1, when most southern states go to the polls. Read More