Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. December 30, 2022.

Editorial: It should be law that you’re told about referendums proposals’ pros and cons

Are you really getting that information? Sometimes yes, often no -- but what if there were rules about that?

The last time you voted on a referendum, how well did you know or understand its implications?

Governments put referendums on ballots to seek all kinds of things. In the suburbs, tax increases beyond allowable property tax hikes are most common, as are bond issues -- borrowing money typically for large projects. Sometimes referendums are as grand as requests to amend the state constitution.

The referendums often come with significant information campaigns. But do you always get the pros and cons of the proposals?

What if it were required that you do?

As a matter of fact, for this year’s state constitutional amendment, it was required. The Illinois Constitutional Amendment Act states that a “a brief explanation of such amendment,” “a brief argument in favor of same” and “a brief argument against” shall be given to and published by the secretary of state in a pamphlet, which must be mailed to every household and be downloadable from the office’s website.

And so it was with this year’s statewide amendment on union bargaining rights. A pretty simple pamphlet was made with a one-paragraph explanation, one paragraph of arguments in support, and one paragraph of arguments against. Comprehensive? No. But something.

Now what if all governments presenting referendums had to do that? You might say it’s not necessary because many of those governments already do provide information on them. But there’s a rub in that.

Let’s say it’s a school district. The school district is allowed to distribute “information” on the referendum; it’s not allowed to campaign for the proposal -- which is to say, directly ask voters to approve it.

But the line is fuzzy. When Warren Township High School District 121 titled its pamphlets for its June referendum, in large, nicely designed type, “INVESTING IN OUR STUDENTS,” is that informing or campaigning? The pamphlets, to the district’s credit, do nicely quantify the tax increase, and their language is very careful. (Voters approved the tax hike.)

But when Batavia Unit District 101 provided information about its proposed $140 million request this fall to replace two schools and do other work, it said it would “issue school building bonds that coincide with the retirement of its existing debt, generating funding ... without increasing the bond and interest property tax levy.” That’s true, but what it didn’t say is that the property tax levy would decrease if the district didn’t take on the new debt. (The proposal was rejected by just 24 votes.)

A pamphlet like what the state requires with constitutional amendments could have provided the simple pros and cons. And we see other ideas locally and from around the country that ought to be considered. California lawmakers have proposed requiring disclosures of top donors in petitions for a referendum, then requiring disclosure of people, businesses or organizations supporting and opposing the measure. Idaho lawmakers proposed stating right in a referendum question what a supplemental tax levy would be spent on.

And check out the Arizona secretary of state’s 2022 “General Election Publicity Pamphlet,” required by state law; it provides bigger lists of pros and cons for all its statewide referendums (it had 10!). Such requirements would go a long way toward providing transparency and bringing more informed voting.


Champaign News-Gazette. December 31, 2022.

Editorial: Year brought another rich harvest in corruption cases

Illinois is No. 2, and that’s an embarrassing — and seemingly unending — shame.

When the end of the year draws near, it’s time for various accountings of where things stand.

This being Illinois, it’s altogether fitting and proper to turn our collective heads to the state’s and the city of Chicago’s reputation for corruption. Illinois is the second most politically corrupt state in the country behind Kentucky. Chicago is the most corrupt big city.

That’s why the 2022 calendar year proved to be another banner year for investigating, charging and convicting our selfless public servants at all levels of government.

Prosecutors have, for now at least, abandoned their practice of convicting and imprisoning former governors. But there are plenty of other big fish in the sea, as demonstrated by two major public officials awaiting trial on corruption charges.

They are former Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, for decades the straw who stirred the drink in Springfield politics, and Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, Madigan’s hugely influential counterpart in the city’s politics.

It will make no one feel better to know that one of Burke’s areas of huge influence was in selecting judges to serve at the circuit, appellate and Supreme Court levels. Without his influence, now retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke — his wife, by coincidence — never would have climbed to the top of the state’s judiciary.

Many people may think that corruption in government is about money, jobs, perks and contracts. But it has a long reach and deep influence.

Madigan and Burke are the two big dogs on the feds’ hit list. But there are other influential players who bent the rules.

For example, the state’s two biggest utilities — AT&T and Commonwealth Edison — pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery scheme involving Madigan. Company executives face trial in connection with the long-running conspiracy by which Madigan put political associates on the companies’ payrolls in exchange for backing legislation the two powerhouses favored.

Lesser-knowns also felt the sting of indictments. Multiple members of the Illinois House and Senate are now — or soon will be — behind bars in connection with their illegal self-service.

A member of the Mayor Richard J. Daley family was convicted in a bank embezzlement scheme, the first time a Daley family member got his hand caught in the cookie jar.

Cook County municipal officials were charged and convicted in a continuing investigation of company payoffs in exchange for the installation of red-light cameras at busy intersections. Indeed, red-light cameras are — or should be — synonymous with corruption.

Many Illinoisans have gotten so used to the state’s sorry reputation for official misconduct that they joke about it. That’s better than crying, even if it’s not really amusing.

There’s a cost to corruption that would sober even the most inebriated among us.

Economists at the Illinois Policy Institute note the loss of faith in government that’s generated. But they also assert that public corruption “comes with social and economic costs” that “decrease(s) economic growth and disincentive(s) investments” in Illinois.

“While the most observable cost of corruption is bribes, corruption — both legal and illegal — also results in the misuse and misallocation of resources,” write IPI’s Orphe Divounguy and Bryce Hill.

Even more sobering is what common sense tells Illinoisans — there is far more shady conduct occurring than what the federal trial dockets reveal. That’s why convictions have no real deterrent effect.

Shifty pols compare the risks to the rewards and, inevitably, go for the gold. At least that’s what history shows they have done and, almost certainly, will continue to do.


Chicago Sun-Times. January 2, 2023.

Editorial: Bail reforms are still the right move

The Illinois Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo is a setback, but the state should continue on the road to a fairer criminal justice system.

The Illinois Supreme Court has decided to temporarily halt statewide implementation of the controversial new law ending cash bail, and we hope the court now moves swiftly to decide the matter.

Kankakee County Chief Judge Thomas W. Cunnington ruled last week that the section of the SAFE-T Act abolishing cash bail is unconstitutional. That prompted Attorney General Kwame Raoul to appeal the ruling on Friday to the state Supreme Court, which will now set a schedule for briefs and arguments on the appeal.

Prosecutors and sheriffs from 64 counties, including Will and McHenry, initially filed suit against the law.

Those prosecutors and sheriffs oppose the abolition of the cash bail system altogether, a sentiment shared by other Illinoisans. Some opponents have honest concerns about the impact of bail reform on public safety, while other are simply swayed against it by misinformation or scare tactics.

While the court decides the matter, it’s important to remember these key points:

For one, even with bail reform, judges retain the power to keep defendants in custody if they meet the criteria for being a flight risk or a danger to the community. And legislators recently took a smart step by amending the law to address critics’ concerns, including, among other changes, an expanded list of offenses for which suspects can be held in custody while awaiting trial.

(The Civic Federation has a comprehensive summary of SAFE-T Act amendments.)

In municipalities where cash bail reform has already been in place, including in Cook County, rates of pretrial re-arrests remain unchanged, according to an analysis released in September by the Center for American Progress. In fact, after bail reform was implemented in New Mexico and Yakima County, Washington, an even larger percentage of people completed the pretrial process without a new arrest.

Overall, “those who await their trial in the community are no more likely to be re-arrested after bail reform was passed than before,” the analysis stated. “Put simply, releasing more people has not led to higher crime rates.”

No one wants violent suspects who are likely to harm others released to the street. But no one should want a system that allows them to buy their freedom, leaving others to languish in jail solely for lack of cash.