Illinois Issues

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

When I started working at the state Capitol as a Public Affairs Reporting intern, I never would have imagined that I would be writing this column.

A key point in the PAR program comes in the fall when the interns are matched with their bureaus. It is exciting and nerve-wracking. Classmates and friends become competitors. Who will end up at the Chicago metro papers? Who will the Associated Press pick? While many of my classmates dreamed of the fast-paced atmosphere of a daily paper’s Statehouse bureau, I had a clear top choice in my sights: Illinois Issues

Christopher Z. Mooney
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the November 2014 general election, Illinois voters will have a fairly rare opportunity: to weigh in directly on very significant changes in policy. In California and many other states, voting on initiatives and referenda is a routine sideshow in the electoral circus. But in Illinois, statewide voting on policy questions is rare. In the past 20 years, this has only happened four times. But this year alone, Illinois voters could face up to four ballot measures to amend the state’s Constitution.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois has some 6,500 units of local government — a great many more than any other state in the nation. A pattern of overlapping jurisdictions, pyramided taxing powers, fragmented public services and divided responsibility has pervaded Illinois and caused a complex and complicated tangle of governments at the local level.

Is this a recent observation from some academic think tank, offered as Illinoisans this month face paying the first installment of the property taxes that sustain most of the 6,500-plus governing bodies?

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, celebrate after the House approved the measure.
Illinois House Democrats

It was May 31, 2013, and the cause of same-sex marriage rights was gusting through America like a spring squall. Public opinion had recently swung around on the issue so dramatically that it took even its long-time proponents by surprise. The earlier trend of states outlawing gay marriage had completely looped back on itself in the 2012 elections, with an unbroken string of states’ voters — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — either approving same-sex unions or declining to outlaw them. Perhaps even more important, the U.S.

  If you hate negative political ads, you may want to turn off your television and spend this summer outside. 

Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner are facing off in a race that is expected to break campaign-spending records in the state. The contest will likely draw national interest and money, and much of the resources on both sides will be spent on television advertising.

John Roberts with his son Billy in a photograph taken shortly before the Homer Glen teen’s death because of a heroin overdose in 2010. Roberts subsequently co-founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.
John Roberts

Not too long ago in the small town of Coulterville, police responded to a heroin overdose call. Once they arrived on the scene, all officers could do was wait out the more than 12 minutes it took for an ambulance to arrive.

In this rural area about 35 miles southeast of Belleville and home to about 950 people, ambulance response times can take eight to 14 minutes, says police Chief Jason Schlesinger. “It would have been a lot better” if his officers could have acted right away, he says. “That time lapse can cause death.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS - Illinois Issues

 Illinois is in a funk. It’s clear.

Last month, a Gallup survey found by a wide margin Illinoisans are less trusting of their state government than residents of any other place in the nation. 

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The U.S. Supreme Court last month issued a decision that opens the door for wealthy donors to give more to candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs). The ruling could have broad implications for the future regulation of campaign spending on the state and federal level. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the Illinois General Assembly girds for what everyone hopes will be the final month of its spring session, the spotlight is on a handful of high-profile issues, topped by crafting a budget for the 2015 Fiscal Year that starts July 1.

Key to budget-making, of course, is whether lawmakers heed Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for keeping in place current income tax rates, now scheduled to roll back on January 1. Allowing the rates to drop dramatically would lead to “extreme and radical cuts” in education and other core state services, the governor warned in his March budget address.

An upcoming film about the late author and former Illinois State University professor David Foster Wallace opted not to film in the Bloomington-Normal area and instead chose Michigan, reportedly for the state’s more generous tax breaks.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Robots from space attacked Chicago, blowing up buildings and vaporizing residents as they ran through the streets. A mad villain flipped a semi-trailer end over end and blew up a hospital. Two blues men drove through a suburban mall, crashed into the lobby of the Richard J. Daley Center and caused a pileup of police cruisers while tearing around the city on a holy mission. 

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Flora Johnson, chairwoman of Executive Board of SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, in January answers questions about Harris v. Quinn.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana

Editor's Note 2/10/2015: Since the original publication of this article, the U.S. Supreme ruled in favor of Pam Harris, who is paid through the Medicaid program to care for her disabled son at home. The opinion categorized some home caregivers as “partial public employees,” whom the court said could not be required to pay dues if they opted not to join a union. The ruling was seen as narrow at the time because it did not overturn the 1977 opinion Abood v.

Gone are the days a candidate can make a campaign appearance before a friendly crowd of party faithful, nearly a year before an election, and think his remarks will fade from memory as fast as the mass-produced fried chicken or roast beef the audience was likely served during the event. 

Gone are the days a candidate can make a campaign appearance before a friendly crowd of party faithful, nearly a year before an election, and think his remarks will fade from memory as fast as the mass-produced fried chicken or roast beef the audience was likely served during the event. 

Maureen Foertsch McKinney headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS - Illinois Issues

Odds are, if a child doesn’t experience good parenting, schooling in early development programs and care for mental illness or other health care needs, he or she will face arrest for a violent crime.

A tragedy for the child and the victim or victims. But the long-range consequences of the child’s situation touch the rest of society. Those costs are tangible and will grow exponentially. 

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Earth Day rolls around later this month, Illinois has some reason to celebrate. The state has the most communities buying only renewable energy out of any in the nation. 

In Illinois, 91 local governments have opted to allow their residents access to 100 percent renewable electricity, by either buying it directly or buying credits intended to fund renewable projects. More than 1.7 million people live in those 91 communities. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Guess what? 

State tax cuts don’t improve economic growth.

No, that’s not an April Fool’s Day zinger.

Rather, it’s the conclusion of a report issued last month by the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children, a nonpartisan advocacy organization for the state’s youngsters (Poor Finances, Uncertainty about Looming Revenue Collapse Threaten State Economy).

Boy, Christopher Valdez
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For years, they’ve shuffled across Illinois’ front pages, a parade of tragedy.

There was Christopher Valdez, 4, of Chicago’s southwest side, whose mother’s boyfriend allegedly beat him to death in 2011. Earlier, Christopher’s mother had been convicted of abusing him, but the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the courts had nonetheless allowed him to remain in her home.

  Taxes suck.

That, it seems, is the only truism. Nobody wants to render unto Caesar. But, at least in Illinois, Caesar needs to get re-elected, and so stuff can get complicated.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

When historians look back on this time, they might well refer to it as the “Age of Food.”

Food appreciation is a hobby. Chefs are rock-star famous. Grocery stores carry exotic items once only available in restaurants. Blogs are devoted to every kind of cuisine. “Food porn” glamorizes images of food. In fact, so many people call themselves “foodies,” some chefs and critics are shunning the word.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When I came to Springfield 22 years ago, I didn’t expect that I would still be here when I retired. I was simply looking for a place to land in the Midwest after a stereotypical midlife crisis so I could be closer to my son, who had moved from California to Indiana with my former wife.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

On the federal level, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Schedule 1 drugs are considered to have a high risk for causing dependency and no acceptable use as medication. Other drugs classified as Schedule 1 include LSD, heroin and ecstasy. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Once upon a time, a veteran political reporter asked a simple question of his cub sidekick. “Young man,” intoned the legendary newsman, “What do you think of the Illinois legislature?” The rookie answered with all the insight gained during a couple of weeks on the Statehouse beat. “I can’t believe I have to live in a state where the laws are made by such a bunch of bozos!” he declared indignantly. “Young man,” responded his mentor, “no matter what you may think of them, never forget that every one of them is here because the folks back home voted for them over anyone else.”

Valinda Rowe is the spokeswoman for the all-volunteer IllinoisCarry.Com, a Second Amendment rights group.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A December 2012 federal court ruling overturning Illinois’ ban on carrying firearms in public set the stage for what has been a year-long conversation about guns in the state. The issue brought citizens, clergy members, victims’ family members, volunteer advocates and lobbyists to the Statehouse in droves to hold rallies, give speeches and testify before committees. 

Bruce Rauner
WUIS/Illinois Issues

If there’s a common observation regarding Gov. Pat Quinn’s future, it’s this: He’s one darn lucky guy.

We know the story: He faced the most formidable of challengers — the well-financed and personally popular Lisa Madigan as well as Bill Daley, who comes from another big Chicago family name with plenty of connections. 

Kent Redfield
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the final weeks of 2013, Illinois was among more than 20 states tripping over each other like eager suitors to woo a new Boeing production plant for its 777x airliner. The aerospace giant had put out word that it was abandoning its Washington state production plans over labor disputes and would consider the presentations of any states that wanted a shot at it. It said it would decide in January 2014 which state would get the estimated 8,500 jobs and other economic windfalls associated with the project.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project is on a mission to capture digital images of every document written by or to the nation’s 16th president during his lifetime. It also intends to transcribe those documents, annotate them and publish them in a free online database.

So far, the project has scanned more than 97,000 documents from more than 400 repositories and 190 private collections in 47 states and six foreign countries. The staff expects the Papers to encompass more than 150,000 documents when complete.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Communities on the southeast side of Chicago have borne the brunt of industrial pollution for decades. In recent years, community pushback has led to positive environmental developments. But residents now find themselves in the middle of a battle over piles of petroleum waste that are coating their homes and businesses in black dust. 

End and Means: Illinois Should Examine Its Revenue Structure

Feb 1, 2014
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Has the time come to overhaul Illinois’ venerable (outdated?) revenue structure?

The question is more than academic, given the daunting challenge for Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly to craft a balanced budget for next fiscal year with some $2 billion less in receipts due to the partial rollback of the 2011 income tax increase.

Classie Poe says East St. Louis even has few fast-food jobs
Robert Loerzel / WUIS/Illinois Issues

In some pockets of Illinois, where one in every three people live in poverty or close to it, the need is visible in the landscape: empty lots where buildings once stood in Cairo; abandoned houses marked with X’s in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood; families living in ramshackle trailers in Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

When a September meeting of one of Illinois’ many obscure government oversight commissions turned into a discussion about the proper seasoning blend for making hot dogs, it served as yet another reminder that there are problems with the state’s revamped rules for purchasing goods and services.

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