Illinois Issues

July skies are fiery over a Union artillery position on the northern end of  Cemetery Ridge, the center of the Union line, where it joins Cemetery Hill north of the copse of trees. This position is overlooking the broad valley down to Seminary Ridge.
Robert Shaw / WUIS/Illinois Issues

One of the more misleading myths about the Gettysburg Address is that it was not properly appreciated by the audience who heard it or the readers who soon afterward saw it in newspapers. In fact, many of the 15,000 assembled at Gettysburg were profoundly moved. Edward Everett, who delivered the main oration just before Lincoln delivered his “few appropriate remarks,” noted that the president’s handiwork was “greatly admired.” And so it was.

Although the search for a way out of the state’s public pension mess has been the focal point in Springfield for the past two years, it’s not the only fiscal question mark looming over Illinois’ political landscape.

But unlike the years-long build-up that led to the slow-motion pension train wreck, this potential debacle has a timeline that’s crystal clear. On January 1, 2015, the first phase of the state’s temporary 2011 income tax increase will expire, potentially blowing a projected $2.2 billion hole in the state’s revenue stream.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

If you are trying to keep tabs on the race for governor in Illinois, online social media platforms are some of the best places to do it. 

Louis Kosiba
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Editor’s note: I am forgoing my column this month to instead publish a piece by Louis Kosiba, executive director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Primarily because state law requires municipalities to contribute to their employees’ retirement annually, the Municipal Retirement Fund is in much better shape than other public pension funds in Illinois, where lawmakers and governors have repeatedly skipped payments or only made partial contributions. — Dana Heupel 

Jamey Dunn 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

After a shooter took the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., policymakers at the state and federal levels called for a re-evaluation of many things. Gun laws, school security and behavioral health treatment topped the list.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.”

That refrain, oft-repeated at ballparks across the land in bygone days, may take on new meaning when voters go to the polls a year from now to elect a new Illinois House of Representatives.

With the deadline still weeks away for filing petitions to qualify for the March primary ballot, the House seems on pace to set a record for voluntary turnover in the first election after redistricting.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

After the media frenzy at the 1930s trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, the American Bar Association enacted policies barring radio, newsreels and photo cameras from trials. Federal and state courts followed suit. For more than 70 years, reporters could only use pen and paper. But as technology changed, states began to allow electronic media into their supreme, appellate and circuit courts.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

Officials involved with health care in Illinois say a bad economy, job layoffs and the high cost of medical insurance contributed to thousands of Illinoisans going uninsured in recent years — and one study asserts that nearly 5,000 Illinoisans died between 2005 and 2010 because they didn’t have health insurance. 

Key Metrics for All Properties
Illinois Association of Realtors

Five years after the real estate market collapsed and the country fell into the Great Recession, Illinois’ housing market is showing signs of recovery.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I have never understood why same-sex marriage isn’t an issue that more political conservatives would support. After all, for a philosophy that stands on the principle that government should intrude as little as possible in citizens’ lives, what could be more intrusive than regulating behavior among consenting adults in their own homes?


Jamey Dunn 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Pat Quinn may be a fan of Squeezy the python, a cartoon character created to educate the public about the state’s growing pension liability, but his administration has put another mascot out of work. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Officially, it’s “Sec. 18-8.05. Basis for apportionment of general State financial aid and supplemental general State aid to the common schools for the 1998-1999 and subsequent school years,” in the statute books.

More familiarly, it’s known simply as the “state aid formula.”

By either name, it’s the prescription by which the state doles out billions of dollars each year to public school districts across Illinois to help pay education costs for more than one million children from kindergarten through high school.

Murphysboro Republican Rep. Mike Bost’s rant went viral on YouTube and made Late Night with David Letterman.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Willie Sutton reputedly said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was.

That kind of stark mathematical logic also could explain why Illinois’ political system has, more than ever it seems, turned its back on that oddly defined region we call “Downstate” to focus almost exclusively on “Chicagoland.”

As Sutton might say, with painful obviousness, it’s because that’s where the money is. And the votes.

Medical Marijuana
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For U.S. Army veteran Jim Champion, the signing of Illinois House Bill 1 into law in early August eventually could mean relief not only from the side effects of the pills he takes for multiple sclerosis but relief from the fear of doing something illegal.

Champion, a resident of Somonauk, was among a handful of citizen lobbyists who spent years trying to persuade the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn to make Illinois the 20th state in the nation to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

Since 2009, government agencies in America have lost more than 94 million records containing citizens’ information. 

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

OK, children, today’s class is a lesson in problem solving. We all know the state of Illinois owes a big pot of money to its workers for their retirement savings — as much as $100 billion — but it doesn’t have enough to pay them. That’s our problem. So, let’s make it fun and discuss it.

Does anyone know how much $100 billion is? Ty?

“It’s as much as all of the members of the Civic Committee have in all their piggy banks.”

That’s a good guess, Ty, but it may be even more than that. Patrick?

Jamey Dunn 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois Department of Corrections is in the early stages of rolling out a new systemwide policy that advocates say could be one of the biggest reforms in the agency in recent history.


Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

After watching Illinois government and politics for more than 40 years, one might reasonably assume that he or she has seen it all.

One — or at least this one — would be wrong.

On returning home from the Wisconsin Northwoods, I discovered not one but two new cases that stretch the limits of belief — one an unprecedented abuse of gubernatorial power, the other an amazing display of legal treachery.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Across the world, the drilling process referred to as "fracking" has caused controversy. Some say it brings heavy profits with the oil and natural gas it extracts from far underground. Others say it's caused pollution, contaminated water... and even initiated earthquakes. It's an issue Illinois residents have been largely untouched by - until now, as fracking has recently begun in the southern part of the state.

Flickr/U.S. Military Academy at West Point

The economy has proven difficult for many.  But one group in particular, returning veterans, is finding it especially hard to locate work.  Meredith Colias of Illinois Issues magazine wrote about the problem in the latest edition. 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, joined environmental group representatives to decry the S.S. Badger’s polluting of Lake Michigan.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Standing on the Lake Michigan overlook at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — a wooden deck perched 450 feet above the lake’s steel blue water — it’s evident why the northern Michigan park was voted “the Most Beautiful Place in America” in 2011.

The panoramic view of towering sand dunes that plunge into pristine beaches, which then melt into a seemingly endless expanse of water, is breathtaking, hypnotic. 

Protesters seeking a moratorium on fracking in Illinois stationed themselves outside the governor’s office.
Jamey Dunn / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The effects of horizontal high-volume fracturing are as of yet unknown, but the battle over it in Illinois has caused deep rifts among environmental and community activists. 

“Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” chanted protestors after Senate Bill 1715 was approved unanimously by a House committee in May. The bill went on to pass in both the House and Senate by wide margins. The measure was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Glen Lake from Sleeping Bear Dune
Robert Pahre / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Though Illinois is not famous for its mountains, it has other pleasures. As a westerner turned midwesterner, I decided to bloom where I’m planted. I’ve learned to appreciate both the Great Lakes and the prairies. Although Illinois does not have a nonhistoric national park, neighboring states with natural national parks surround it. All of these are national parks, though the names sometimes sound otherwise — national lake shores, national monuments and the like.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

New data on beach closures and health advisories demonstrate a need to end the dumping of raw or partially treated sewage into the Great Lakes and waterways that feed them, say U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Illinois Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Daniel Lipinski.

Jamey Dunn 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

While most of the focus on environmental issues this legislative session was on fracking, conservationist groups quietly celebrated the passage of a bill that would potentially open up more land in the state for recreation.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Everyone knows Illinois has the largest pension debt and worst credit rating in the nation, right? So obviously its elected officials, especially Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, have to be absolute bozos, folks who should be sent packing at the earliest opportunity.

That’s been the clamor since lawmakers adjourned the spring session on May 31 without cutting pension benefits for public employees, a din raised particularly loudly by editorial boards, online commentators, and folks firing off angry (and often ill-informed) letters to the editor.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon
WUIS/Illinois Issues

History shows the political winds can change dramatically in Illinois.


Just ask Sheila Simon.

Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, had a well-known pedigree but little statewide exposure when she was drafted to run for lieutenant governor in the 2010 election. 

“It was not,” Simon says, “something I’d spent a lifetime planning on.” 

A doctor examines a patient at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in  Chicago’s Loop.
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

After automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester caused a week of delayed and canceled flights that annoyed travelers nationwide, Congress quickly passed legislation to fix that problem. 

Brian Clauss, director of The John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center, trains pro bono attorneys.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a sluggish Illinois economy, one group is finding it surprisingly difficult to find work: veterans of post-9/11 conflicts.

Because the federal government invested millions of dollars into their training, one would think experienced combat veterans would be ideal candidates to fill jobs. But when they leave the military, many find themselves struggling to find work, taking lesser paying jobs or any menial work where they can find it.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I ran into a friend at a conference recently, a former journalist whom I greatly respect. “You know,” he said to me, “you guys need to do something on how the state treats its employees — what that does to morale, productivity, that sort of thing.”

He’s right, although we have dealt with that subject several times, among the most recent being an essay by Robert Bruno in the September 2012 Illinois Issues. But the idea bears further examination.