Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. June 28, 2022.

Editorial: Right now, Illinois is a pro-choice state. Springfield should make sure that doesn’t change.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade essentially places the question of abortion legality in states’ hands. Already, seven states with so-called trigger laws have abortion bans in effect, instantly closing down medical providers. More states are poised to enact bans soon.

For other states, however, the fate of abortion rights rests with state legislatures — and the political makeup of those legislative bodies. The results of midterm elections in November may well determine whether a pro-choice state remains as is, or becomes one more jurisdiction where women are deprived of the right to make their own reproductive health decisions.

In Illinois, where abortions remain legal, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called for a special session later this summer to “further enshrine our commitment to reproductive health care rights and protections.”

Among the measures likely to be considered is legislation that would safeguard Illinois abortion providers from legal action from states that restrict or ban the procedure. Another measure, already passed in the Illinois House, would ensure providers would not lose their licenses in this state if they were disciplined by other states that prohibit abortion.

Those are sound, sensible steps to take by a state committed to taking on the role as a safe haven for abortion access for women living in states where the procedure is banned. But Illinois cannot stop there.

Changes in who controls Springfield can lead to changes in state law — specifically, Illinois’ codification of abortion rights, known as the Reproductive Health Act. As it stands, Democrats rule over both the executive and legislative branches in Springfield. But nothing is static in politics, and a future Springfield run by enough conservative, anti-abortion politicians could jeopardize Illinois’ status as a pro-choice state.

Also weighing in the balance is the future makeup of the Illinois Supreme Court. Democrats hold a slim 4-3 majority, but two seats are up for election in November. As Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on the day of Roe’s overturning, “We are one Supreme Court justice away in Illinois from having a very different conversation… We cannot afford to go back.”

There’s a long-term way to help firewall Illinois’ right to choose. What also should be on the upcoming special session agenda is an earnest, reasoned discussion about the viability of a state constitutional amendment codifying abortion rights in Illinois. As soon as the November general election, Democrats could place on the ballot an advisory referendum gauging Illinoisans’ willingness to enshrine the right to choose in the state constitution.

Illinois would not be alone. Residents of California will be able to vote to add abortion rights to their state’s constitution on their midterm ballots.

If the advisory referendum gets strong backing in November, that could set the stage for an all-out push for a state constitutional amendment that bestows a sense of permanence on Illinois’ right to choose. A proposed amendment to the state constitution needs approval from at least three-fifths of voters in the referendum, or a majority of voters participating in that election.

A woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions shouldn’t be subjected to political trade winds. Before the high court’s majority ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, “the government could not control a woman’s body or the course of a woman’s life: It could not determine what the woman’s future would be,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent. Now that Roe has been set aside, Illinois must safeguard its adherence to the tenet of pro-choice by shielding it from future vulnerability to political agendas, regardless of whether that threat is imminent or more distant.

Illinois doesn’t hold sway over what lawmakers do in other states. But it can and should decide its own trajectory when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. It would be shortsighted to think that right is already fortified from the prospect of future administrations bent on its eradication. Now is the time to begin exploring the best way to ensure the right to an abortion in Illinois remains an immutable reality, no matter what party holds power.

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Chicago Sun-Times. July 4, 2022.

Editorial: Darren Bailey should release his tax returns

Bailey isn’t under any legal obligation to make his tax returns public. But if the state senator is serious about serving the public as governor, he ought to play ball.

A day after Darren Bailey secured the gubernatorial nomination for the Republican party, he took a page out of his supporter Donald Trump’s playbook, saying he wouldn’t release copies of his income tax returns.

“Right now, I see absolutely no reason in doing that,” the downstate state senator told the Sun-Times’ Tina Sfondeles last week. “I don’t see that as a qualifier.”

Trump was equally dismissive in 2016 when he said he wouldn’t release his tax returns because he was waiting for an IRS audit to be completed — which, even if true at the time, did not stop him from releasing the returns.

“There’s nothing to learn from them,” he said at the time. Fake news.

Yet personal tax returns can reveal critical information voters should know before casting their ballot: conflicts of interests, charitable donations, income and wealth and other financial information. All of which is useful to know when deciding on a candidates who, if elected, will control taxpayers’ money.

No, Bailey isn’t under any legal obligation to make his tax returns public. There are no requirements for candidates and elected officials to do so. But if Bailey is serious about serving the public as governor, he ought to play ball.

Traditionally, since at least 1976, every Illinois gubernatorial nominee has released their tax returns before the November election. Similarly, every president since Richard Nixon — except for Trump — released their full tax returns too, or in Gerald Ford’s case, a tax summary. It may not be the law, but it is the norm and an entirely reasonable expectation among voters.

Transparency and accountability are what many voters seek in their leaders. When Illinoisans hear that Bailey is resisting both, many may wonder if he has something to hide.

During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner released their two-page tax cover sheets instead of their full returns, which would have included schedules filed to claim exemptions and charitable donations, Sfondeles reported.

Bailey said he doesn’t care about Pritzker’s tax records and calls his Democratic challenger “an out-of-touch and elitist billionaire.”

When discussing Pritzker, Bailey — who acknowledge he’s a millionaire — has said, “The people of Illinois are going to understand the truth.”

But by not publicly sharing his tax returns, Bailey is burying the full truth himself.

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Champaign News-Gazette. July 3, 2022.

Editorial: Candidates not talking about pensions, but they should be

The pink elephant in the corner of the room deserves at least some mention during the 2022 campaign.

Retirees’ checks keep arriving every month, but a recent report issued by the Illinois Auditor General shows the state’s five public-pension funds remain woefully underfunded.

Funding rates for the five systems range from 17% to 42.2% , meaning they each have less than half the money necessary to meet their obligations

That’s not a surprise to those familiar with Illinois’ pension realities. But those on the outside looking in need to understand why it is that state officials say they are meeting pension obligations while, knowingly, not meeting their pension obligations.

It’s a matter of verbiage.

State officials note with pride that each year they are making “statutorily” required pension contributions. That may sound good. But the pensions are falling behind because state officials are not making “actuarial determined contributions.”

At least that’s the phrase the auditor general uses to describe the funding level financial experts say is necessary to keep the funds from growing deeper in debt.

According to the auditor general, between 2018 and 2021, the state’s statutorily required contributions ranged from $7.7 billion to $9.8 billion.

If the state had made the payments actuaries said were necessary, their contributions would have ranged from $11.8 billion to $13.9 billion.

Over those four years, the state shorted the pensions fund by $4 billion-plus each year. Over the past 10 years (2011-2021), the state underfunded the pensions by $24.6 billion.

That’s a much bigger problem than the 10-year number suggests.

Why? Making up for shorting the fund requires much bigger contributions to make up for lost investment opportunity created by the original short payment.

Filling the $24.6 billion hole will require payments several times larger, the longer the state waits, the higher the payments will be.

In other words, this is a dynamite just waiting to explode. Maybe it will never go off as state officials continue to muddle along. But when and if it does, disaster will ensue for members of the funds for teachers, judges, state employees, state university employees and judges.

For the time being, the legislators’ pension system is in the most trouble. It’s just 19% funded.

The rest — teachers (42.5% funded), state university employees (43.9% funded), state employees (41.1% funded) and judges (42% funded) are hardly well off but still significantly stronger than the legislators’ fund.

Illinois has serious financial woes, chief among them its five public pensions. Using government accounting standards, they are roughly $130 billion in debt. Using accounting standards required for the private sector, the cumulative debt is much higher.

This is bad news, which makes it a big issue in this election year. So far, few candidates for legislative or state office have said much about it.

But they should. And if they don’t, voters should ask them how they plan to address this looming disaster.

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