Charles N. Wheeler III

Analyst

The director of the Public Affairs Reporting (PAR) graduate program is Professor Charles N. Wheeler III,  a veteran newsman who came to the University of Illinois at Springfield following a 24-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wheeler covered state government and politics for the Sun-Times since 1970, when he covered the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention. For the last 19 years of his Sun-Times tenure, Wheeler was assigned to the newspaper’s Statehouse bureau. During that time, he was elected to 16 consecutive one-year terms as president of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association and served for many years on the PAR program and admissions committees.

Since 1984, he has written a monthly column for Illinois Issues magazine, which has won five Capitolbeat awards for magazine commentary/analysis. In 2006, the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association inducted him into The Lincoln League of Journalists, which honors men and women who have provided exemplary service to other journalists and to daily newspapers published in Illinois. In 2013, he was chosen as the Journalist of the Year by the Journalism Department at Eastern Illinois University.  He is also a regular on the panel for State Week, WUIS' weekly political analysis program that airs on public radio stations across Illinois.

Before joining the Sun-Times in 1969, Wheeler served more than three years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Panama. He is a graduate of St. Mary’s University, Winona, MN, majoring in English, and received a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Wheeler draws on the talents of many UIS faculty with expertise in such fields as public budgeting, political science, and communication, as well as professional journalists and state officials, to present students with a well-rounded program to bridge the academic and professional areas.

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Declaring a state goal “that all people be free from poverty,” Illinois four years ago created a special panel charged with developing a strategic plan to reduce extreme poverty in Illinois by 50 percent or more by 2015.

The timing could not have been worse.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Should Illinois have a graduated income tax?

The Illinois legislature certainly thought so, and so did the governor, a little more than eight decades ago. Facing decreased revenues as spending pressures mounted, a special session of the Depression-era 57th General Assembly approved a graduated tax on net incomes, and Gov. Louis L. Emmerson, a Republican, signed the measure into law February 22, 1932.

Within months, however, the Illinois Supreme Court killed the new income tax, ruling that its graduated rates violated the revenue provisions of the 1870 Constitution.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Might they be amenable to casting politically difficult votes on contentious issues such as budget cuts or Medicaid and pension reforms if legislative leaders and Gov. Pat Quinn can hammer out compromises?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the first election following legislative redistricting would offer voters a wide array of choices, as veteran lawmakers retire and droves of ambitious wannabes scramble to capture voters’ allegiance in newly minted districts.

But conventional wisdom would be wrong, at least for the 2012 election season.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Gov. Pat Quinn readies the FY 2013 state budget he is to unveil in a few weeks, the conventional wisdom seems to be that Illinois is in really bad shape, a financial basket case about ready to go belly up.

The lamentations are led by the usual suspects, Republicans trying to gain partisan advantage for this year's elections and hyperventilating editorial writers who need to stop, take a deep breath and get a grip on reality.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Has the time come for Illinois to reconsider the manner in which it selects its judges?

The question seems timely: A campaign finance reform task force is weighing public financing for judicial elections, in part to counter a generally held public view that campaign contributions affect courtroom decisions. Meanwhile, dozens of candidates for judicial posts — from the Illinois Supreme Court to circuit court — are scurrying to raise money for next year’s primary and general elections. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Since the outgoing General Assembly increased personal and corporate income tax rates in January, lawmakers have been at great pains to show how business-friendly they really are.

In the spring session, for example, the legislature approved a compromise workers’ compensation measure that sponsors said would save business up to $700 million, mostly by reducing payments to doctors and hospitals that treat injured workers.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The litany was depressingly familiar: overcrowded, understaffed, with limited access to medical and psychiatric treatment, rehabilitative services, education and jobs for inmates.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the last couple of years, Illinois has adopted an impressive — by historical standards, anyway — array of ethics reforms.

Campaign contribution limits, a ban on pay-to-play contracting, new conflict-of-interest and economic disclosure requirements for members of state boards and commissions, independent procurement officers and purchasing monitors, stronger whistle-blower protection, tighter revolving door prohibitions and more. It’s a lengthy list, tailored closely to the kind of questionable behavior that has one former governor in federal prison and another on his way.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Slowly but steadily, Illinois’ fiscal fortunes appear to be on the road to recovery after two years of falling revenues and unprecedented budget deficits.

The prognosis — one of guarded optimism — emerges from a review of recent reports from the legislature’s fiscal agency and from state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. The encouraging signs include:

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Is legislative productivity becoming a trend in Illinois?

Building on the impressive record compiled by the 96th General Assembly during its two-year tenure that ended in January, current lawmakers fashioned a budget based on expected revenues, significantly changed teacher tenure and evaluation rules and revamped the state’s workers’ compensation system — all in the first five months of the 97th General Assembly.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For the typical Illinois legislator, long-range planning usually means thinking about the next election. Struggling this spring to fashion a new budget, though, lawmakers found themselves worrying about the one after that, too.

The reason for the altered perspective? A dawning realization that serious belt-tightening would be needed now to avoid either a fiscal meltdown or a vote to raise taxes three budget years hence.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois voters gave state Democrats an unprecedented opportunity in last November’s election: the chance to draw new congressional and legislative districts as party mapmakers saw fit, presumably to guarantee party majorities for the next decade.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Mention hot-button issues in Illinois politics, and what comes to mind? Abortion? Gun control? Tax hikes? All contentious issues, to be sure, but the most explosive fireworks this spring could come from Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to cut by almost two-thirds the number of school districts in the state.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Hoping to capitalize on negative reaction to the substantial income tax increase Gov. Pat Quinn signed in January, opportunistic politicians in other states launched high-profile efforts to lure business and jobs away from Illinois to their states.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a few weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to deliver to Illinois and our sister states detailed demographic breakdowns on the populace’s age, gender, race and other characteristics, virtually on a block-by-block basis.

The fruits of last year’s federal census, the vast amount of information will become the raw material for the decade’s most intensely political endeavor, drawing new district maps for the Illinois General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the 96th Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield early this month for its final days, an unusually crowded agenda could await lawmakers: gambling expansion, abolition of the death penalty, approval of medical marijuana, clean coal, maybe even a vote on higher taxes.

Even if none of these high-profile issues come to a vote before the new legislature takes over at noon on January 12, the outgoing General Assembly already ranks as one of the more productive in recent memory.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Republican tsunami that swept the nation last month was little more than a gentle comber when it reached Illinois. Indeed, one might argue the GOP wave did about as much damage to Illinois Democrats as the annual Nile flooding did to ancient Egyptians, who depended on the overflowing river to enrich their fields for the coming planting season.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Years ago, a group of legislative back-benchers dubbed themselves “The Mushroom Caucus.” The moniker was apt, they explained, because leadership “keeps us in the dark and feeds us horse [manure].”

If Illinois voters are feeling a strong sense of kinship with those old-time lawmakers just a few days after the November election, they certainly can’t be blamed.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the first 36 years after the Illinois Constitution took effect in 1971, state lawmakers introduced 829 resolutions proposing amendments to the new document. Exactly one of those would have given voters the power to recall elected officials, and that 1979 effort died in committee.

In contrast, in the four years following former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s second inauguration in 2007, legislators offered 161 proposed amendments, including 14 to add recall to the charter.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Ten years after former Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois, death penalty opponents say efforts to repeal capital punishment here are gaining momentum.

The guarded optimism is fueled in part by recent polling data they believe shows public support for capital punishment eroding, as Illinoisans reflect on a decade without executions.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Does the Illinois Constitution mandate that the state budget be balanced each year?

One’s initial inclination is to respond, “Yes, of course, it says so in the Finance Article.” But a quick check of the actual record in the four decades since the charter was ratified suggests the answer is a bit less straightforward.

The question gained new interest a few weeks ago after House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged to reporters that the spending plan newly minted by legislative Democrats was not balanced.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The fiscal fiasco otherwise known as state budget-making has a lot of Illinoisans searching for descriptive terms harsh enough to fully express their disdain for state legislators.

Lawmakers left Springfield a few weeks ago without accomplishing the only chore they really needed to do before their self-imposed May 7 adjournment deadline — fashion a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Can Illinois finish in the money in Round II of Race to the Top?

The answer could hinge on budget decisions that state lawmakers will make in coming days.

At stake is as much as $400 million to underwrite efforts to improve Illinois schools under Race to the Top, the education centerpiece of the Obama administration.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois faces its worst fiscal crisis in eight decades, a daunting challenge for the state’s purported leaders. So how have they responded?

In a word, abysmally. Indeed, the leadership deficit almost rivals the state’s dollar shortfall. Consider:

In his budget memo last month — at 21 minutes, too short and devoid of specifics to merit being called an address — Gov. Pat Quinn essentially punted.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois State Board of Elections will meet soon to officially proclaim the results of last month’s primary, thus ending (maybe) the latest, never-seen-before episode in the state’s storied political history.

Total liability $126.5 billion
WUIS/Illinois Issues

To say Illinois faces a hole in funding its public employee pension systems is like saying the Grand Canyon is an impressive ravine or the Mindanao Trench a good-size gully.

Indeed, “hole” is hardly an appropriate word. “Abyss” and “chasm” come readily to mind, with “bottomless pit” not too far away.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a few days, conscientious Illinois residents will bundle themselves up and trudge through midwinter weather to their nearest polling places, intent on doing their civic duty for the February 2 primary election.

Indeed, tens of thousands already have done so, taking advantage of an early voting period that opened before the Christmas lights were down and the decorations put away for another year.

One suspects many of them will be asking the same question: Why are we doing this NOW?

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Election Year 2010 dawns over Illinois, who can blame Republicans for being enthusiastic — maybe even salivating — over their prospects in November?

After being skunked in statewide elections four years ago — and losing two congressional seats in 2008 — the GOP seems to have good reason to be upbeat, thanks to Rod Blagojevich and the miserable record Democrats have compiled at the reins of state government.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Illinois made the Top 10 last month.

Not Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini, a disappointing 4-2 and unranked through the first six games of the young basketball season.

Rather, the Prairie State itself, tied for ninth with Wisconsin in a national ranking of states on shaky financial footing. The top spot went to California, so Illinois’ elevated status is nothing to brag about.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The new millennium has not been kind to many Illinois families who are struggling to make ends meet, pushing almost a quarter million more residents into poverty, researchers reported recently.

About 1 out of 8 Illinoisans — more than 1.5 million total, 526,000 of them children — were living below the poverty line last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. The poverty guideline, set by the federal government, was $21,200 for a family of four in 2008. 

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