Unless you’ve been living in the Deep Tunnel, you’ve probably heard the State of Illinois is facing a daunting public employee pension crisis, and Chicago — mainly its schools and municipal government — is tiptoeing around similar fiscal land mines that could blow up in the faces of retirees and taxpayers.
Bruce Rauner, the ultra-wealthy former venture capitalist, is a bigger mystery than Gov. Pat Quinn, and apparently his camp would rather keep it that way.
Parents from Ames Middle School address the Chicago Board of Education about the possible closing of their school on Dec. 18, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Sun-Times
The scrap heap of Illinois history is piled high with long-forgotten government reports. Many of them deserve their fade into tattered obscurity, but occasionally a research effort merits a bright spotlight. And that’s the case with an incisive, hard-hitting task force study — released in June by key members of the state’s General Assembly — on last year’s controversial, contentious and traumatic closing of 50 Chicago public schools, mostly in minority communities on the South and West Sides.
Lobbyist and lawmakers gather along the "brass rail" outside the House and Senate chambers during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield in May. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)
The Capitol in Springfield is where elected officials allocate most of our state tax dollars, make major decisions that affect our lives, and manage a government wracked with chronic fiscal and ethical problems. But Springfield is also a small media market where, despite hard work and good intentions, there aren’t enough news resources to hold our state officials sufficiently accountable. The BGA is setting up shop.
The Better Government Association urged Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a bill that would’ve watered down FOIA, which he did. | AP Photo
Citizens and media outlets typically haggle with government officials when their requests for documents are denied. Some adjust their submissions or ask the Illinois Attorney General to step in or simply give up. We take `em to court, because we won’t tolerate attempts to abuse or weaken the state’s open records law.
Remember the ominous “Doomsday Clock” with its symbolic “countdown” to a global disaster like nuclear war, and more recently, climate change? It’s also a useful way to consider another potential disaster much closer to home: Government meltdowns at all levels over the daunting challenge of funding retiree pensions and medical benefits, and providing basic programs and services, without imposing huge tax increases that drive businesses and individuals out of Illinois, or massive layoffs and draconian spending cuts that hurt people.
One of our jobs at the Better Government Association is to look for warning signs that suggest trouble may be on the way. And with that in mind, I point to a recent BGA investigation that sounds the alarm at a number of Chicago-area fire departments, but not because there’s an actual blaze. This alert is sparked by a growing and potentially troubling trend in emergency service that requires victims of car accidents to help fill municipal budget holes. It’s known as a “crash tax,” and it’s quietly showing up in more and more communities as fire departments struggle to make ends meet.
The Emanuel administration apparently made enough progress in wringing illegal politics out of hiring, firing and promotions at City Hall to finally shed the yoke of a court-appointed monitor who’s been policing personnel decisions for the past decade.
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