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Springfield: Stop the Destruction of Police Misconduct Records

Mon, 2016-05-09 15:32
Chicago paid out $642 million for cases of police misconduct from 2004 through 2015. More recently, in April 2016, the city authorized a $6.5 million payout for two cases of egregious police misconduct.

Now, more than ever, the public is scrutinizing the Chicago Police Department, or CPD. But Chicagoans and watchdogs face a major hurdle when it comes to keeping an eye on bad actors within the force - that's because the Chicago police contract mandates that CPD destroy disciplinary records. What's more, the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, actually filed a lawsuit in 2014 to prevent the release of records more than four years old and destroy decades' worth of records, arguing CPD officers would experience "public humiliation and loss of prestige in their employment" if the information came out.

The Illinois General Assembly had the opportunity to consider four bills during its spring session that would have banned the destruction of disciplinary records. Two of those bills, House Bill 6266 and Senate Bill 2233, showed some movement this legislative session, and there's still a chance the issue could come up for a vote before session ends May 31 if politicians want it to.

Records are crucial in preserving officer integrity

Already, the contract between the FOP and CPD requires the department to destroy disciplinary files within five or seven years, even though an officer may still be on the job and displaying a pattern of misconduct during that time. In spite of this provision, CPD has kept records dating back to 1967.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into CPD following first-degree murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke for shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the 2014 FOP lawsuit to destroy records stalled. Van Dyke was accused of misconduct 20 times, according to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, or CPDP. One brutality complaint alone cost the city $530,000 in damages and legal fees, according to city data dating back to 2011. Despite this, none of the complaints against Van Dyke resulted in disciplinary action.

According to available data, however, most Chicago police are good actors, doing difficult work in a challenging climate. Officers with more than 10 complaints account for just 10 percent of the Chicago police force, according to CPDP data published by CBS Chicago. And that 10 percent of officers accrued 30 percent of all complaints, with an average nearly four times higher than the number of complaints per officer throughout the rest of the force.

Yet it's nearly impossible to fire that small contingent of bad actors from the city's police force.

Why?

It all goes back to the CPD contract.

The CPD contract protects bad cops at the expense of the public - and good officers

The CPD contract's mandated destruction of disciplinary records essentially tells leadership to disregard wrongdoing after that misconduct reaches its contractual expiration date. But identifying patterns of misconduct is crucial in preventing erosion of community trust, as well as wrongdoing that ends in grievous harm and million-dollar settlements.

That's not the only part of the contract that gets in the way of protecting the public and allowing officials to remove bad officers from the force. The contract also allows for:

  • Delays in investigations: Officers can get up to a 48-hour delay once a disciplinary interview is requested (for non-shooting complaints).

  • Notice regarding interviews: The manner of interview is highly regulated, and officers are informed of the procedure and investigators ahead of time.

  • Transcripts of previous statements: Officers receive copies of their previous statements before being re-interviewed.

  • False statements and video evidence: It's nearly impossible for officers to be found guilty of a false statement violation; if an officer makes a misstep, he's allowed to see video footage and fix his statement accordingly.

  • Polygraph protections: Officers can refuse polygraphs and get access to interview questions prior to taking a polygraph exam.


These examples show how the contract rigs investigations to protect officers from discipline. Provisions such as these stand in the way of police accountability and effective investigation of officers. CPDP data show that 95 percent of the 56,384 allegations available from 1967 to present were found "unsustained."

It's time to reform the CPD contract

CPD's current contract expires in 2017 - an excellent opportunity to adopt a better contract that removes discipline from bargaining and enhances transparency.

More than anything, Chicago needs reforms to restore faith in its police force. In the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, tensions between the police and the community are strained; and the public is especially skeptical of the union, given that the FOP hired Van Dyke after he was stripped of his police powers.

Even before contract negotiations begin, state lawmakers have an incredible opportunity to prevent the destruction of vital police misconduct records.

Illinois General Assembly members can pass HB 6266 and SB 2233, both of which would prevent the destruction of invaluable police records going forward.

After that, next steps should focus on how the contract handles police discipline. Chicago would be wise to follow New York's lead - discipline and disciplinary procedures cannot be part of collective bargaining in New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties, and for the New York State Police.

Without reform, Chicago's police force can't regain the public's trust - and taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for the bad behavior of the officers the contract protects from consequences.

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Top 25 Illinois School Districts That Spent the Most and Least Per Student in 2015

Mon, 2016-05-09 11:03
With the latest school funding reform effort coming to a halt, we took a look at fiscal year 2015 data to get a sense of how much is spent on Illinois students and how those figures differ among school districts.

The average operating expense per pupil in Illinois during the 2014-15 school year was $12,824, according to the most recent data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

This figure takes into account district expenditures like transportation costs, instructional costs and student resources, among other things.

The amount spent per student can vary greatly depending on a school district's location because of differences in property taxes and cost of living, as well as the type of district. For example, the average cost per high school student in 2015 was $16,494, while elementary school districts spent $12,182 per student. Spending also tends to be higher in districts with more property tax wealth. As shown in the chart and map below, some of the districts with the highest operating expense per pupil are more than double the statewide average.

Using the board's 2015 figures and the Illinois Report Card, we've sorted out the Top 25 school districts that spent the most and least per student. In order to provide some context, the chart shows each district's total operating expenses, total number of full-time teachers and their average salaries, average administrator salaries, student-to-administrator ratio, percentage of low-income students, and academic performance indicators such as graduation rates and PARCC scores (click here to see PARCC participation rates for each district).

Statewide averages

  • Operating expense per pupil (OEPP): $12,824

  • Average teacher salary: $62,609

  • Average administrator salary: $100,720

  • Pupil-administrator ratio: 173:1

  • PARCC: 33 percent

  • Graduation rate: 86 percent

  • Low-income students: 54 percent




Here are the 25 school districts that had the highest and lowest operating expense per pupil in 2015.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 10 best states for working moms

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What's Going To Happen With Illinois' Income Tax?

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:50
This week's "Only in Illinois" starts with a flashback to the Jan. 2, 2014, "Only in Illinois" in which I made a prediction about the future of the Illinois income tax.



At the time, the big question was whether the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn would make the 2011 temporary income tax increase permanent. That increase, passed in the waning minutes of a lame-duck session in January 2011, raised the personal income tax rate in Illinois from 3 to 5 percent. The intent was to erase a mountain of unpaid bills that had the state many months behind in paying its creditors before the rate fell to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, and then 3.25 percent on Jan. 1, 2025.

But the state was making little headway on its fiscal status even with record tax revenue coming in. If the rates were allowed to decline as scheduled, the state would lose around $1.8 billion in FY 2015 and more than double that amount in years to follow. There was a strong belief that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly soon would make the 2011 rates permanent.

With the governor's race at the time just getting under way, I predicted the General Assembly would take no action on the temporary tax increase until after the 2014 gubernatorial election. If Quinn was re-elected, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate would extend the higher rates and make things easier on themselves and the newly re-elected Democratic governor. If a Republican won, they'd let the tax rates drop and let him deal with the fallout.

The latter scenario played out, and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner urged the General Assembly to allow the 2011 rates to sunset as scheduled.

From Rauner's perspective, the financial trouble caused by losing a hefty chunk of tax revenue would pressure Democrats to bargain with him on issues like workers' compensation, property tax relief, term limits, redistricting reform and -- at the time -- establishing right-to-work zones.

Also, even though the Democrats had not made the higher tax rates permanent during Quinn's last months in office, they passed a budget that assumed they had. Rauner knew coming in that the Democrats' FY 2015 budget was $1.6 billion out of whack, and that created an opportunity to force negotiation.

The Democrats, too, saw an advantage to letting the tax increase expire. Rauner had pummeled them for irresponsible taxing and spending throughout his campaign. If he believed he could pass a balanced budget with roughly $4 billion less revenue in FY 2016, they were willing to let him try.

What should have happened in all this is that Rauner and the Democrats -- which is to say, Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan -- should have come together a year ago and hammered out a budget that mixed cuts and saving with the tax increases that both sides had said was necessary.

What happened instead was Rauner in June 2015 vetoed almost all of the budget proposal Democrats sent him. He said it was $4 billion out of balance and he had no choice but to veto it. For their part, Democrats had said all along their budget was imbalanced and asked Rauner to work with them on cuts and revenue. Rauner said he would not do so until the Democrats passed reforms he said are necessary to restore Illinois' economy in the long-term,

Thus, we've got a state operating with no budget and spending far more than it's bringing in. The total could reach $10 billion by June 30, according to Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger.

Then, in February, Rauner issued his budget plan for FY 2017. He admitted it was $3.5 billion out of balance and urged Democrats to work with him to find cuts and revenue to balance it. But first, they'd need to pass some of his reforms. The Civic Federation, in an analysis released this week, said Rauner's budget actually is out of balance by more than $3.5 billion.

So now we have the absurd situation of both sides having submitted wildly out-of-balance budgets, both sides having admitted that a tax increase will be needed to close the gap but neither side willing to say a word about what state income tax we'll be paying next April.

In January 2014 it was pretty easy to predict what would happen with the Illinois income tax the following year. There were only two choices. This year I'm making no predictions, but I do some explaining on this week's "Only in Illinois."

You can also listen to the podcast here or through iTunes:



NEXT ARTICLE: 1970 Con-Con research assistant explains why Illinois has a flat income tax rate

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May the Force Be With You...Or, Maybe Not

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:38
Despite the relentless efforts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration, it appears the Lucas Museum may not have its debut here in Chicago--at least not at this present moment.

Friends of the Park (FOTP) often mocked as "friends of the parking lot"(you'll see the significance of this a little further down), is a non-profit organization that gate keeps and preserves parks throughout Chicago. They have been in a locked horns battle with Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to build the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront property.

According to the Lucas Museum's website, it will be a barrier free museum where artificial divisions between "high" art and "popular" art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling. But there's only one problem, FOTP does not think the museum should be built on lakefront property.

Currently, the site is a parking lot.

Yes, it is literally a parking lot, settled between Soldier's Field and McCormick Place.

It's not a park.

No landmark status. Not even grass.

It's a parking lot that does not get used a majority of the year.

So let's examine this for a moment, shall we?

George Lucas, the multi-billionaire creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was willing to write a check for over $700 million to leverage a $1.2 billion bond sale to kick start the project. The loan payment would be made with funds generated by the museum, making the risk nearly zero for taxpayers.

You read that right; No taxpayer funds needed to build the museum. No risk to taxpayers, with the largest contributor to building costs being Lucas, himself. There is a golden opportunity for the cash strapped city of Chicago to generate revenue, without raising taxes. Am I missing something here?

In my opinion, Mayor Emanuel got this one right.

This museum will be built; either in Chicago or some other city. Why not build something that will create construction jobs and many permanent jobs as well? What is the harm in building this museum?What's the real motive behind Friends of the Park?

Kyle Hillman, a former board member of Meetings Professionals International, a social media consultant and community organizer had this to say;

"Losing the Lucas museum is unfortunate because it will genuinely hurt the dedicated workers in the service area who need the city to invest in new tourist attractors. However, the utter collapse of Choose Chicago should be a greater concern. Chicago can't afford to lose momentum; our city relies too heavily on service industry to help people move into the middle class. We can live without Lucas, but we can't continue to disinvest in tourism and conventions."

Choose Chicago is the tourism bureau that's charged with marketing and attracting tourist and major conventions. The board is made up of business and civic leaders as well as a few elected officials. Under the leadership of CEO Don Welsh, Choose Chicago was able to increase visitation to Chicago significantly.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and Choose Chicago faced a financial hardship when Springfield withheld $7.2 million due to budget crisis. Welsh, consequently, had to lay off nearly 25 percent of the employees. And just a few months ago, Welsh left Choose Chicago to become CEO of the Washington D.C based tourism advocacy group called, Destination Marketing Association International.

Needless to say, tourism is an important factor for Chicago. It is a way to raise funds without "nickel and dimming" the taxpayers.

When it's all said and done, the court battle between Mayor Emanuel's administration and Friends of the Park, is all over the utilization of a parking lot.

In ten years, I hope we won't be celebrating the time we almost got the Lucas Museum, like we are this year, with the Olympics....we have to do better.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

May the Force Be With You... or, Maybe Not

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:25
Despite the relentless efforts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration, it appears the Lucas Museum may not have its debut here in Chicago -- at least not at this present moment.

Friends of the Park (FOTP) often mocked as "friends of the parking lot" (you'll see the significance of this a little further down), is a non-profit organization that gate keeps and preserves parks throughout Chicago. They have been in a locked-horns battle with Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to build the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront property.

According to the Lucas Museum's website, it will be a barrier-free museum where artificial divisions between "high" art and "popular" art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling. But there's only one problem, FOTP does not think the museum should be built on lakefront property.

Currently, the site is a parking lot.

Yes, it is literally a parking lot, settled between Soldier's Field and McCormick Place.

It's not a park.

No landmark status. Not even grass.

It's a parking lot that does not get used a majority of the year.

So let's examine this for a moment, shall we?

George Lucas, the multi-billionaire creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was willing to write a check for over $700 million to leverage a $1.2 billion bond sale to kickstart the project. The loan payment would be made with funds generated by the museum, making the risk nearly zero for taxpayers.

You read that right; No taxpayer funds needed to build the museum. No risk to taxpayers, with the largest contributor to building costs being Lucas, himself. There is a golden opportunity for the cash-strapped city of Chicago to generate revenue, without raising taxes. Am I missing something here?

In my opinion, Mayor Emanuel got this one right.

This museum will be built; either in Chicago or some other city. Why not build something that will create construction jobs and many permanent jobs as well? What is the harm in building this museum? What's the real motive behind Friends of the Park?

Kyle Hillman, a former board member of Meetings Professionals International, a social media consultant and community organizer had this to say;

Losing the Lucas museum is unfortunate because it will genuinely hurt the dedicated workers in the service area who need the city to invest in new tourist attractors. However, the utter collapse of Choose Chicago should be a greater concern. Chicago can't afford to lose momentum; our city relies too heavily on service industry to help people move into the middle class. We can live without Lucas, but we can't continue to disinvest in tourism and conventions.

Choose Chicago is the tourism bureau that's charged with marketing and attracting tourist and major conventions. The board is made up of business and civic leaders as well as a few elected officials. Under the leadership of CEO Don Welsh, Choose Chicago was able to increase visitation to Chicago significantly.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and Choose Chicago faced a financial hardship when Springfield withheld $7.2 million due to budget crisis. Welsh, consequently, had to lay off nearly 25 percent of the employees. And just a few months ago, Welsh left Choose Chicago to become CEO of the Washington D.C based tourism advocacy group called, Destination Marketing Association International.

Needless to say, tourism is an important factor for Chicago. It is a way to raise funds without "nickel and dimming" the taxpayers.

When it's all said and done, the court battle between Mayor Emanuel's administration and Friends of the Park, is all over the utilization of a parking lot.

In ten years, I hope we won't be celebrating the time we almost got the Lucas Museum, like we are this year, with the Olympics... we have to do better.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Liberating Black Women: The Fight to Save Chicago State and Fire Killer Cops

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:21
After 149 years of public education, Chicago State University escapes last month's deadline for closing -- but the university faces grave uncertainty past July 1. The state's refusal to act in a meaningful way is just an example of the Anti-Black actions and policies that are harming Black people in Illinois.

For months, the university, whose students are predominantly Black, has been in crisis due to Illinois' failure to pass a budget to provide funding for the school. At the end of April, CSU received partial funding of $20,107,300 under an emergency funding bill for higher education. This money only keeps the University open for the next four months and does not fund the approaching fall semester.

We will not stand for this. Pink slips have gone home to 300 staff members -- a full third of the school's employees -- and students' educational futures are in peril, as our billionaire governor, Bruce Rauner, is sitting pretty. We demand that our communities are invested in and that CSU be fully funded.

Our collective met with CSU students on April 25, 2016, days before the university's 358 commencement. We heard testimonies from students who are directly impacted by the looming closer of Chicago State. We listened to a young mother from the surrounding area talk about how CSU has given her the opportunity to provide a better future for her daughter. She will more than likely have to drop out of college if CSU closes because of higher tuition cost at other institutions, lack of child care, and the fact that Rauner also viciously cut the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and other financial aid. This mother's story is just one account.

At a symbolic ceremony, students this week burned faux degrees to represent the very daunting fact that they may never walk across the stage at a CSU commencement. As they gathered around the quad, Charles Preston, a CSU student just shy of graduation, said, "Tonight we take these diplomas to self-determine our own futures, burning them is a representation of the struggle that is going to happen after tonight." The crowd then chanted, "Save CSU, Black Education is good for our health, Save CSU budget or else!" We cannot let their academic futures burn in ashes.

Many people are to blame for the budget impasse and CSU's position, among them being Governor Bruce Rauner and Rauner-appointed Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education Reverend James T. Meeks and Rauner-appointed CSU trustee Reverend Marshall Hatch. It is disturbing to anyone who cares about Black life and public education that this is our reality in Chicago. Despite the faux-concern that many of our city and state leaders, both elected and undemocratically appointed, claim to have for Black Chicagoans, the efforts to provide for our well-being are minimal at best.

Just over 83 percent of CSU students are Black. 71.5 percent are women, and many are parents and nontraditional students. The school is ranked first in the state in awarding bachelor's degrees to Black people in the physical sciences, health professions, hosts unique projects like Emmanuel Pratt's Aquaponics Facility, a vertical farm that trains students in green entrepreneurship. Over the course of its existence on the South Side, it has provided thousands of students and community members with tools they need to survive in a world that does not believe in or provide options for Black people. The campus is used a space for community organizations, is the area's largest public library -- accessed by all community members, and the campus provides a safe space for South Side residents, almost all Black, to exist in a world that has never welcomed them.

As we fight for CSU's funding, we are fighting to get a killer cop off the city's payroll once and for all. Four years ago, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was murdered by off-duty police officer Dante Servin. Rekia was simply hanging out with her friends in a park. While Officer Servin still is being paid by the Chicago Police Department -- a Department that receives $4 million a day, nearly 40 percent of the Chicago budget -- we are fighting to keep open a public space. Clearly there is no regard for Black life in this city. CSU requires just $5 million a month to run, and we spend almost that amount daily on an institution that is killing our people.

The political system as it stands is a failure for Black people and it is especially harmful to Black women, whether we seek higher education or not.

Servin, if fired -- there is a hearing at the end of May to decide this, is likely to receive a pension that will be paid for by the tax dollars of Chicago and greater Illinois residents. When there is money for cops who murder but not for public education that benefits Black people, we see who our governing bodies truly serve.

It is undeniable that our current political system in Illinois is stacked against Black people at every level, and we see the ways that Black women in particular bear the brunt of this violence and then are forgotten. Shame on Illinois. We demand that the city and state Remember Rekia: stop wasting our tax dollars on police officers who kill and otherwise brutalize Black people and instead make full investments in institutions like Chicago State University. Our futures depend on it.

#RememberRekia #SaveCSU #DontPayDante

-Kofi Adamola Xola
-Joan Fadayiro
-Imani Jackson
-Tess Raser


Photo credit: Shay Horse

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Putting Moms In Prison Punishes Their Kids, Too

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:10

CHICAGO -- It's been two months since 13-year-old Malik was able to give his mom a hug. He recently got the rare opportunity, but first he had to travel to a strip mall parking lot on Chicago's South Side, ride a bus for nearly three hours and then pass through security at the Decatur Correctional Facility in downstate Illinois.


"The hardest thing is not talking to her. She was a very funny person," Malik said of his mom, Latonya, whose legal representatives asked that her last name not be used to protect her safety. Latonya has been an inmate at Decatur for two years.


"I miss her jokes, her laughs," said Malik, who was dressed in a crisp white shirt and a small gold cross necklace for his visit on Saturday. "I miss everything about her."


Malik is among the more than 2.7 million American children with a parent in prison, according to the most recent Pew Charitable Trust figures. Put another way: If all of the nation's children with an incarcerated parent were a city, it would be the third-largest in the U.S.


Though nearly 1 in 28 American kids have a parent in jail, the problems facing separated families remain at best misunderstood and at worst ignored.


Despite perceptions about convicts -- especially incarcerated mothers -- Malik said his mom and most of the people at Decatur are not bad people.


But convincing prospective employers, landlords and policymakers of that fact is not so easy. 


Even the very reunification ride program that enabled Malik -- and several dozen children ranging from toddlers to teenagers -- to visit their mothers this weekend has been largely forgotten by lawmakers during Illinois' 10-month budget impasse.


Keeping mothers in touch with their families during incarceration is key to reducing recidivism and ensuring they can be successful and productive upon release, according to Collete Payne, a community organizer with Cabrini-Green Legal Aid, which is among the groups that facilitated the ride.


"I know for a fact, when you send women to jail, it divides the family," Payne said. "It hurts the whole community."



Though fathers remain incarcerated at a rate roughly 10 times higher than mothers, according to Pew, women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population.


Incarcerated mothers also report receiving fewer visits than fathers throughout their imprisonment, according to CGLA. 


"When women aren’t able to see their children, not only does it hurt their spirit, their children are the ones most affected," Payne said. Payne, who previously served time in Decatur, noted that her son's grades dropped when she was incarcerated but showed improvement when he was able to talk to her regularly. 


Children of incarcerated parents can struggle with a range of issues that include poverty, poor grades, behavioral issues and depression, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.


Even when mothers return home, the children aren't always able to immediately accept them. 


“I know I broke my children’s hearts over and over again with my mistakes, so I couldn’t just expect to jump into their lives and say ‘OK, I’m mom, I’m going to take over now,'” Payne said. "Women reentering society face a lot of rejection." 



When you send women to jail, it divides the family. It hurts the whole community."
Colette Payne, community organizer with Cabrini-Green Legal Aid


That rejection can manifest itself in the form of job and housing discrimination and social stigma, all of which make resuming parental mode and reintegrating even harder. 


"A lot of times you hear, 'if you've done the crime, you do the time,’ but the world needs to know that even though we’ve been incarnated -- which is supposed to be a form of rehab -- it’s damaging,” Payne said.


"And then they go back into the same community with no resources, no support, and have people who look down on us or our incarceration," she added. "If we don’t have that support, people will recidivate again, because that’s survival mode."


Mental health support, job opportunities and affordable housing are among the key issues prisoner and family advocates say returning citizens need to be successful. 


“You have the same challenges you went in jail with -- whether it’s suffering from a mental disorder or drug abuse or sexual abuse -- and if that’s not addressed when you’re [incarcerated], you can’t expect to come back to the community and have those issues be fixed," Payne said.  


"If those issues aren’t addressed, how are you supposed to function as a whole human being?"



Payne said she and other advocates are pushing for reform that would eventually allow women convicted of non-violent crimes to serve their time in their communities rather than at prisons that are so far away they involve costly and time-consuming measures for families to stay in contact. 


Simply lacking the money to make phone calls or visit a distant prison like Decatur is just one of the daily struggles Sheila Hatchett faces.


Hatchett accompanied her great-niece and great-nephew on Saturday's reunification ride to visit the children's mother in Decatur. Without the program, visits only happen when her car is in working order and there's enough money for gas to make the nearly 200-mile trip. Even a phone call requires a minimum balance of $25 in the inmate's account.


But the impact a visit has on the children is undeniable, Hatchett said. 


"[My niece's] daughter wakes up moping and crying -- this morning she woke up and jumped right out of bed." 



The children visiting the prison Saturday had roughly five hours with their mothers. In honor of Mother's Day, they were able to visit in the prison rec area and eat a meal prepared by the inmates.


Kamaya, 5, and Kristan, 2, saw their mother for the first time in prison on Saturday. Kamaya swung in her mom's arms, while her usually stoic younger brother cuddled with his mom.


On the return to Chicago, Malik was clearly happy with his visit, too. 


"I have her a big hug and a big kiss. I feel good that I went to go see my mom. I can't wait to see her again," Malik said. When it was time to go, she dispensed a little motherly advice.


"She told me to keep my head up and stay smart."

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

How Oreos Explain The 2016 Election

Mon, 2016-05-09 07:34

Last year, Michael Smith learned that his middle-class factory job on Chicago's South Side was headed to Mexico. The news stunned Smith. After all, his factory made an iconic American product: the Oreo cookie.


Soon, real estate mogul Donald Trump took an interest in Smith's plight. Every chance he had, the front-runner for the Republican nomination pilloried Mondelez, the snack conglomerate that produces Oreos, Ritz crackers and other treats, for its decision to offshore the 600 Chicago jobs. Trump vowed never to eat another Oreo again.


Then it was the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, defending Smith and his colleagues from the left. Supporters of the Vermont independent held a rally outside the Mondelez plant in Chicago, demanding that the factory jobs stay put. A Sanders surrogate called the layoffs "an all-too-typical story about greed."


Finally, Smith and his colleagues heard from Hillary Clinton. The factory workers got much more than just a shout-out from the presumptive Democratic nominee. In March, she personally visited Smith and six of his colleagues in an hour-long, closed-door meeting to talk about their layoffs. Clinton told the workers that she personally called Mondelez's CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, and urged her to keep the jobs in Chicago.


"You could have felt the chill in the room when Secretary Clinton said she called Irene Rosenfeld," recalled Smith, a 59-year-old with five years at the plant. "That will be ingrained in my heart forever, wherever her campaign takes her."


This election cycle, bashing companies that offshore work is the one thing the candidates have been able to agree on. Mass layoffs like the ones at Mondelez aren't exactly uncommon, but Americans take notice when jobs making what's been called "America's Favorite Cookie" are relocated to Salinas. Voters see robust corporate profits going to executives -- Rosenfeld raked in $19.7 million in total compensation last year, and $21 million the year before, according to the company's proxy statement -- and stagnating or disappearing wages for everyday Americans.  


Trump has become the presumptive GOP nominee by stating ad nauseum that deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have devastated American workers -- even though the benevolence of free trade is part of modern Republican orthodoxy. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has hung in with Clinton in a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary by hammering home more or less the same trade message as Trump. And Clinton, viewed by many on the left as weak on trade, is now promoting a tax plan that would claw back tax breaks for companies that offshore jobs.


"Politics makes for strange bedfellows, doesn't it?" said Jethro Head, vice president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents 4,000 Mondelez workers in the U.S. "Although [Trump] doesn't have the facts right, he has the issue right. We're tired of losing work to Mexico. We're tired of American companies sending products from Mexico back here for us to consume. There's not six degrees of separation on this. It's not even a degree. Everybody knows somebody who's lost a job that's been offshored."


One day last year, a Mondelez plant manager in Chicago called a town hall meeting for all employees. According to Leonard Aiello, a mixer who made dough headed to the bake floor, the manager said the factory would lose several lines if the workers couldn't find a way to save the company $46 million annually on labor costs. That is, $46 million "in perpetuity," Aiello said. If they could sacrifice that much in pay and benefits, their jobs would stay, and the company would add more lines. If not, half the plant would be laid off the following year.


Aiello considered the offer "ridiculous."


"My own personal feeling was they were never going to put the lines here," said Aiello, a 57-year-old who had four years in at the plant. "What they wanted us to do and wanted us to agree to was not possible. It couldn't be done. I kind of got the feeling they thought we were stupid."


According to Head, the offer was indeed not realistic. Shaving $46 million a year would have equated to a 60 percent cut in pay and benefits for the workers, he said. And even entertaining such a demand could have weakened the union's bargaining position with Mondelez and others. In fact, Head believes that was the motivation behind the company's proposal. The union was about to start negotiations for a master contract covering Mondelez workers around the country. The company may have wanted to see if the union would signal its willingness to make concessions before they were even at the table.


In an email, Russell Dyer, a Mondelez spokesman, said that the company was operating "in a very challenging macro environment," and that it was focused on "improving the efficiency of all aspects of our business." He said Mondelez had pumped $450 million over the last four years into upgrading its U.S. manufacturing footprint, including adding new lines in New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois. He stressed that some Oreos would still be made at three other U.S. facilities, and that the Chicago plant would still employ 600 people.  


"Our Chicago bakery will continue to play an important role in our manufacturing network, remaining one of our larger manufacturing facilities in North America," Dyer said.


That's little consolation for the half of the factory being laid off. In interviews with five workers who already lost their jobs, a few clear themes emerged. They all viewed Mondelez as a healthy company that doesn't need to move the production lines to Mexico, except to pad its profits. And they blame their predicament largely on a generation of policymakers who they believe have encouraged corporations to offshore production in order to cut costs.


"How is this country going to survive if you keep taking all the good jobs overseas?" lamented Titus Banks, 52, who was among those laid off in March. "Why are the middle class cut out of being middle class, and the folks who are already rich are just getting richer?"


The term NAFTA is practically a slur among the Mondelez workers. The 1994 deal, signed by President Bill Clinton, loosened trade barriers between the U.S. and Mexico, enabling American companies to seek out cheaper labor south of the border, and produce cheaper goods for American consumers. Smith said that as much as he appreciated the visit from Hillary Clinton -- "I thought it was a real class act on her part" -- NAFTA was very much on his mind. "We were aware that it happened under her husband's administration," he said.


According to Smith, Clinton told him and the other Mondelez workers that she didn't succeed in getting Rosenfeld to reconsider the line closures. Clinton's campaign did not respond to questions about the call with Rosenfeld, or the meeting with the Mondelez employees. A Mondelez spokesman confirmed the phone call with Clinton, saying only that Rosenfeld "reinforced our commitment to the Chicago bakery and the U.S. market overall."


To Laura Martinez, Mondelez's move to Salinas reflects the broader disappearance of decent blue-collar jobs that can sustain families. For eight years, Martinez worked in a plant for Bake-Line, the cookie and cracker maker. She was laid off from that job, and went to work at a Wrigley plant producing gum. She was laid off from that job, too, and went to work at Mondelez eight years ago. In March, she was laid off once again. She said she now wonders if any good work remains in American food manufacturing.


"We have to pay the mortgage. We have to live," said Martinez, who is 52 years old and whose husband has bone cancer. "I'm already looking for a job, and a lot of companies only pay $12 an hour or $10 an hour. That's not enough."


The union has launched a boycott of all Oreos produced in Mexico, urging buyers to check the label on boxes to determine where they were produced. (The union does not discourage people from buying Oreos still made in the U.S.) The boycott has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 50 unions.


That makes for another case of strange bedfellows: The most prominent promoter of an Oreos boycott has been Trump. Organized labor on the whole has come out hard against the GOP front-runner and his brand of politics. And many of the Mondelez workers in Chicago happen to be Mexican-American, like Martinez. Trump has called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "criminals," and demanded that a giant wall be built on the southern border and paid for by Mexico.


Martinez said she harbors no ill will toward the Mexican workforce, especially as someone born in Mexico. "A lot of people there need jobs, too," she said. But she believes the workers there are paid at exploitative wages, while American workers like herself lose their wages altogether.


"They want to pay workers two dollars an hour, and still send the product back to the United States," Martinez said. "Well, how are we going to buy the product if we don't have jobs?"

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75 Illinois High Schools Among Nation's Most Challenging

Fri, 2016-05-06 09:25


Seventy-five high schools in Illinois rank among the nation's most challenging, according to the Washington Post.

The Washington Post's annual ranking assesses nearly 2,300 high schools across the U.S. based on a formula it calls the "Challenge Index" ratio, which is calculated by taking the total number of advanced placement, international baccalaureate and advanced international certificate of education tests administered at a given school in 2015 and dividing by the number of seniors who graduated that same year.

A ratio of at least 1.00 means a school had as many tests in 2015 as graduates, but only 10 percent of the roughly 22,000 public high schools in the U.S. reached that standard and earned a spot on the list, according to the Washington Post.

More about the methodology:

We do not include any magnet or charter high school that draws such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country. This year, that meant such schools had to have an average SAT score below 2023 or an average ACT score below 28.5 to be included on the main list.

The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests. It does not work with schools that have no, or almost no, average students. We put those schools on our Public Elites list.

Following are the Top 25 most challenging high schools in Illinois, along with each school's national rank, the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career -- referred to as equity and excellence (E&E), the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for subsidized lunch and the Challenge Index ratio.

*Denotes private high school

25. Grayslake Central High School | Grayslake

  • National Rank: 858

  • E&E: 50.7%

  • Subs. Lunch: 12%

  • Challenge Index: 2.732


24. J.S. Morton West High School | Berwyn

  • National Rank: 852

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: 81%

  • Challenge Index: 2.742


23. Highland Park High School | Highland Park

  • National Rank: 843

  • E&E: 80%

  • Subs. Lunch: 10%

  • Challenge Index: 2.753


22. Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep* | Waukegan

  • National Rank: 769

  • E&E: 25%

  • Subs. Lunch: 88%

  • Challenge Index: 2.904


21. Buffalo Grove High School | Buffalo Grove

  • National Rank: 758

  • E&E: 46.8%

  • Subs. Lunch: 16.2%

  • Challenge Index: 2.924


20. Elk Grove High School | Elk Grove

  • National Rank: 705

  • E&E: 48.1%

  • Subs. Lunch: 33.5%

  • Challenge Index: 3.014


19. Libertyville High School | Libertyville

  • National Rank: 668

  • E&E: 53.4%

  • Subs. Lunch: 5.5%

  • Challenge Index: 3.093


18. Hinsdale South High School | Darien

  • National Rank: 667

  • E&E: 43.1%

  • Subs. Lunch: 32.2%

  • Challenge Index: 3.098


17. Prospect High School | Mt. Prospect

  • National Rank: 642

  • E&E: 56.7%

  • Subs. Lunch: 9.7%

  • Challenge Index: 3.145


16. Universal School* | Bridgeview

  • National Rank: 579

  • E&E: 76%

  • Subs. Lunch: 32%

  • Challenge Index: 3.306


15. Hinsdale Central High School | Hinsdale


  • National Rank: 533

  • E&E: 59.3%

  • Subs. Lunch: 8%

  • Challenge Index: 3.422


14. Riverside Brookfield Twp High School | Riverside


  • National Rank: 526

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: n/a

  • Challenge Index: 3.431


13. John Hersey High School | Arlington Heights

  • National Rank: 517

  • E&E: 100%

  • Subs. Lunch: 12.7%

  • Challenge Index: 3.451


12. J.S. Morton East High School | Cicero


  • National Rank: 489

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: 94%

  • Challenge Index: 3.626


11. Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School | Chicago

  • National Rank: 467

  • E&E: 30%

  • Subs. Lunch: n/a

  • Challenge Index: 3.626


To see the Top 10 most challenging high schools in Illinois, click here.

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How The NRA Is Making Bank Off Of Urban Gun Violence

Thu, 2016-05-05 17:02



Chicago’s long-standing bad rap on gun violence drew fresh attention in the first months of 2016 when early numbers suggested that the city was facing one of its worst homicide rates in years. 


Throughout the decades-long debate over the city’s seemingly intractable gun violence problem, there's little consensus on what's behind the scourge; citizens have blamed everything from gang members to gun regulation to scrutiny of the police. In his new documentary, filmmaker Robert Greenwald suggests a different root cause: the NRA. 


In the recently released "Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA," Greenwald explores how the lucrative gun industry and the powerful gun lobby puts profit over people by scuttling legislative efforts to address even the most common-sense gun law reforms.


"There’s a profit motive here,” Greenwald said. "Many of these parents are paying a terrible price for it.”


The film eschews policy experts and talking heads in favor of those who have been directly affected by gun violence. Among them is Pam Bosley, a Chicago mother whose 18-year-old son, Terrell, was shot on the steps of his church en route to choir practice.



Bosley's name is one of several -- like Hadiya Pendleton, Jonylah Watkins and most recently, Tyshawn Lee -- that have become shorthand in national headlines for Chicago's gun problem. Yet the pervasive nature of the killings has done little to shift the national dialogue around guns.


Particularly in Chicago, Greenwald said the NRA and other gun lobbyists have long exploited racial stereotypes to shape perceptions of urban gun violence by talking in coded terms that tie the problem to “thugs” or “gun runners.” 


“They talk about Chicago being the Wild, Wild West and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a strong racial bias that’s not stated overtly,” he said.


Father Michael Pfleger, the city's most politically active Catholic priest, takes exception to the way the NRA and its pro-gun sympathizers characterize Chicago's gun violence victims.


"Some of the things they say about our kids -- being gangbangers and whatnot -- it's unbelievable," Pfleger said during a March screening of the film at his St. Sabina church on the city's South Side. 


The false narrative that urban gun violence is exclusively "gangbangers shooting gangbangers" is just a convenient excuse to not empathize with the problem -- and it lets people wave it off as unrelated to the efforts of the gun lobby, Pfleger said. 


"The NRA has been a master at convincing people 'guns make you safer,'" he said. "Until we connect the dots that what happens on the South Side, or Newtown, or to Gabby Giffords can happen anywhere, anybody is a target." 





Greenwald brought his film to Plfeger's church, where more than half of the attendees at the screening raised their hands when asked if their lives had been touched by gun violence. 


"We want to connect personal pain with public policy," Greenwald said. "It’s important to connect them to the fact that legislation would have stopped Pam’s son from being shot on the steps of the church."


Bosley repeatedly has said that there was no accountability following Terrell's death. Last year, Bosley and the mother of another shooting victim filed a lawsuit against three suburban gun stores. They argued the stores don’t adequately regulate gun sales near the city-suburb border with Chicago, where gun laws are comparatively stricter.


"If her son had had an accident on a rusty nail, there would be more possible accountability," Greenwald said. "But a lethal weapon? There is no accountability. No legal or moral repercussions." 


The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.



It’s hard to think rationally when your paycheck is written by the devil.
Robert Greenwald, filmmaker


Outside of Chicago, Greenwald's film argues that people have lost their lives due to the gun lobby’s efforts to remove any hindrance to buying firearms. Because of the NRA’s opposition to firearm regulation — including gun storage laws or waiting periods — the film argues children have been injured in gun accidents, domestic violence victims have been killed by abusers, and overall, everyone has easier access to deadly weapons.


"In any one of these tragedies, in any one of these incidents, take away the gun and look how different the situation is,” Greenwald said. 


Data indicates that the NRA remains so steadfastly successful in its mission that even the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in the 2012 Newtown school shooting couldn't slow its efforts. Nationwide, states actually trended toward weaker gun laws in Newtown's wake. 


"The NRA has made us think they are all-powerful. Really, they are just the mouthpieces of these companies that have the money to buy members of Congress," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has an F rating from the NRA on pro-gun issues. 


Fledgling and struggling politicians are especially susceptible to the NRA’s powerful draw, Greenwald said.


"If you're a politician and you align with the NRA, you know you’re going to be well-funded and you’re going to have passionate people behind you," the filmmaker said. 


"It’s hard to think rationally when your paycheck is written by the devil," he added. "Not that money explains everything, but the money certainly does distort one’s perspective.” 


The famously secretive lobby wasn't always that way, Greenwald said. 


"A shift happened around 1971 or 1972; there was a sort of a takeover by a more radical faction," Greenwald said. "Instead of hunters and conservationists, [members] were lobbying for the gun companies." 


The film names Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, as one of the gun advocates who orchestrated the shift. (Greenwald noted LaPierre and other NRA leaders were “not really interested” in talking to him about the film.) 


Greenwald said he hopes the film, which can be screened for free, will help build the kind of momentum that eventually prompted life-saving regulations in the once-untouchable tobacco and auto industries. 


"The solutions are so varied and so simple in some cases that it’s truly mind-boggling," Greenwald said. "We’ll look back on this, our grandchildren will look back on this, and wonder that this even existed."

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Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz

Thu, 2016-05-05 15:51
"The people are being reduced to blood and dust. They are in pieces."

The doctor who uttered these words still thought the hospital itself was a safe zone. He was with Doctors Without Borders, working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government forces were engaged in hellish fighting and civilians, as always, were caught in the middle. The wounded, including children, had been flowing in all week, and the staff were unrelieved in their duties, working an unending shift.

Their week ended at 2 a.m. last Oct. 3 when - as the world knows - a U.S. AC-130 gunship began strafing the hospital, the crew apparently acting on the mistaken belief that this was a Taliban compound. The strike lasted for an hour, continuing even though the humanitarian organization contacted the Pentagon and pleaded that it stop.

A total of 211 shells hit the hospital. The Intensive Care Unit was wiped out. Every patient in the unit except for a 3-year-old girl was killed, some burning to death in their beds. A total of 42 people - patients, staff and doctors - died because of this lethal mistake.

One of the dead was Dr. Osmani, the young doctor quoted above, who had just begun ophthalmology training in Kabul but still worked at the MSF facility in Kunduz on weekends, according to an eyewitness account by Kathleen Thomas, another doctor there, an Australian, who survived.

"Our colleagues didn't die peacefully like in the movies," she wrote last month in The Guardian. "They died painfully, slowly, some of them screaming out for help that never came, alone and terrified, knowing the extent of their own injuries and aware of their impending death. Countless other staff and patients were injured; limbs blown off, shrapnel rocketed through them, burns, pressure-wave injuries of the lungs, eyes and ears. Many of these injuries have left permanent disability. It was a scene of nightmarish horror that will be forever etched in my mind."

Some mistake.

This is all news again, of course, because the U.S. government, having investigated the incident, has just released a 3,000-page, mostly classified report, uh, exonerating itself. This comes as no surprise.

Well, it admitted the bombing was an unfortunate mistake and 16 military personnel involved in the incident have received "administrative actions" as punishment. Also, since the tragedy, the U.S. has made "condolence payments" to the victims: $6,000 to families of the dead, $3,000 to the injured.

It seems to me all this requires a moment or two of profound silence, as we try to absorb both the tragedy and the absurdity of these events, which unite in a sort of horrific shrug of indifference to the predictable consequences of war.

The New York Times, for instance, informs us: "Still, the release of the investigation's findings and the announcement of the disciplinary measures were unlikely to satisfy Doctors Without Borders and other human rights groups, which on Friday reiterated their calls for an independent criminal investigation."

Of course Doctors Without Borders will not be "satisfied" with these findings, as though, my God, any finding or any action whatsoever by the U.S. military - gosh, the payout of six grand per dead Afghan or the stern punishment of a few scapegoats - could bring balance and resolution to the horror Kathleen Thomas describes. Just the use of that word - "satisfied" - trivializes the infliction of suffering, whether intentional or merely recklessly accidental, beyond comprehension.

But this is the language of war, as spoken by those who wage it and those who uncritically report it: a language of implicit moral relativism.

The same Times story, describing the report's account of what happened, explained: "The aircrew appeared to be confused by the directions from the Americans on the ground in the minutes leading up to the attack. At one point, the crew was told it would need to hit a second target after the strike it was about to commence, and 'we will also be doing the same thing of softening the target for partner forces,' that is, Afghans."

This is the reality: An action that wound up killing 42 hospital workers and patients -men, women and children, some of whom were burned alive in their beds - was instigated in order to "soften the target" . . . which is nothing less than linguistic exoneration of murder. Or rather, pre-exoneration.

And this is war. This is what the United States allots 54 percent of its annual discretionary spending - some $600 billion - to perpetuate. I'm quite certain this money would be unspendable, and the game called war would be unplayable, if it weren't for the linguistic pre-exoneration that removes all humanity from those who will die (think: collateral damage) and all responsibility from those who will kill.

But with the exoneration solidly in place, anything goes. Every side in war plays with the instruments of hell. The Times also recently reported that war zone hospitals everywhere are more vulnerable than they've ever been and the "rules of war" seem to be in tatters.

Maybe this is because war can't be contained by "rules."

For instance, not only have there been six attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, Syria - perpetrated by both government and rebel forces - in the past week, but also: "In 11 of the world's war zones, between 2011 and 2014, the International Committee of the Red Cross tallied nearly 2,400 acts of violence against those who were trying to provide health care. That works out to two attacks a day."

What might "satisfy" Doctors Without Borders or the maimed and grieving victims of the Kunduz tragedy? In my view, nothing less than an American commitment to global demilitarization.

This is called atonement.

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

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Budgeting for Outcomes

Thu, 2016-05-05 14:04
More and more states are now contending with budgetary shortfalls: Illinois, New Jersey and Oklahoma are just a few examples. Deficits typically occur not when states tax too little, but rather when they spend too much. Why is it that state governments find it so hard to live within their means?

One possible reason is the budgeting system itself: legislators start with their current budget, account for new caseloads, add several new programs and then adjust for inflation. The result is called the new "baseline budget." Any spending below that new, higher baseline is deemed a "budget cut" - even if total government spending rises year over year.

Under this system of baseline budgeting, little attention is paid to how funds are spent, or whether in fact those expenditures are making a positive difference in the lives of state residents. Meanwhile, rising health care and retirement costs for state workers are crowding out rival funding priorities. Illinois, for instance, will soon have to spend more on teacher retirement benefits than on classrooms.

Given today's fiscal realities, state lawmakers would do well to consider fundamental reforms to how they write budgets. Instead of letting a baseline of spending rise year after year, legislators should instead budget for outcomes. This would entail identifying the most vital, core functions of government - then budgeting and measuring for results against those stated outcomes.

Instead of effectively leaving state budgets on "auto-renew," legislators must ensure that all government spending is aligned with a limited, manageable number of identified goals. This does not mean legislative micromanagement of state government. Rather, multi-agency "results teams" should be given wide latitude to find more effective ways of delivering services to constituents, as long as the state's goals are being met.

Programs that fail to deliver results should then be thoroughly reviewed. Often, competition and market forces can be harnessed and channeled, enhancing quality while reducing costs. Consolidation of various programs might also be warranted, resulting in the more efficient delivery of services.

Invariably, redundant or obsolete programs will be uncovered. If they are not in alignment with spending goals, they can and should be eliminated altogether, freeing up scarce resources for other, more vital services.

In 2003, budgeting for outcomes allowed Washington State to close a $2.4 billion deficit, without raising taxes. In today's era of revenue crunches and swelling pension costs, more states and localities should consider utilizing this powerful fiscal tool.

Bob Williams is a senior fellow at State Budget Solutions, a project of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. He served five terms in the Washington State legislature.

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I On Exceptional Living: Alzheimer's Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala

Thu, 2016-05-05 05:27

PHOTO FROM THE COLLECTION OF IRENE MICHAELS

With spring comes the annual Alzheimer's Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala which attracts hundreds of guests recognizing the breakthroughs and commending developments made when it comes to combatting Alzheimer's. This year's theme, "Time Is Of The Essence," also honors the more than 210,000 Illinois residents and 5 million Americans living with the disease. All of the proceeds raised through the event support the Alzheimer's Association's care, care support and research programs. The spring festivities in Chicago include a performance by the CoverGirls violin show and live music by Orchestra 33. Jon Harris of ConAgra Foods will emcee the event, held at the Hilton Chicago.

June D. Barnard, co-chair of the Chicago gala committee says, "Funds raised at the Rita Hayworth Gala to benefit the Alzheimer's Association provide hope for a future treatments and eventually a cure, and a lifeline for families who need support and guidance as they face this disease today. For people living with Alzheimer's diseases and their family members, time is truly of essence. Last year's efforts generated an astounding $1.3 million, thanks to the generosity of individual donors and corporate sponsors.

Under the guidance of Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who created the Rita Hayworth Galas to pay tribute to her legendary mother Rita, the organization has now raised over $68 million through the galas held in Chicago, New York and Palm Beach. These funds, along with other contributions, help the Alzheimer's Association work on a global, national and local level to enhance care, raise awareness, advance research and offer support for those affected by the disease.


RITA HAYWORTH, PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES.

This year's Rita Hayworth Award, presented by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, goes to Dr. Lisa Genova for bringing awareness of the disease through her bestselling book, Still Alice. In addition, the Family Philanthropy Award honors the Cantore Family while the Corporate Award is presented to Loren Shook representing Silverado Care.

"We are pleased that there is an Alzheimer's Association dedicated to directing critical Alzheimer's research and providing care and support to families, thus hastening the possibility of a cure, treatment, and prevention, while ensuring resources for those impacted are available in our local communities," said Joan and Paul Rubschlager, presenting sponsors.

The Alzheimer's Association explains that, "Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Although Alzheimer's has no current cure, treatments of symptoms are available and research continues. [...] Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing."

In most recent Alzheimer news, The New York Times just presented the story of Geri Taylor and her personal journey and battle with the disease. The article also reports that, "Every 67 seconds, with monotonous cruelty, Alzheimer's takes up residence in another American. Degenerative and incurable, it is democratic in its reach. People live with it about eight to 10 years on average, though some people last for 20 years." The Observer also reported that scientists were testing an antibody, "which could slow plaque buildup in the brain, one of the causes of memory loss," and a possible new treatment in stopping the disease before it even starts.

Help is available. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or a related dementia, the Alzheimer's Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support. Don't hesitate in contacting them for help. Call the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit their website at ALZ.org

[The New York Rita Hayworth Gala, now in its 33rd edition, will be held Tuesday, October 25 at Cipriani 42nd Street. Last year's event raised over $2.2 million for the Alzheimer's Association.]

For more of Irene follow her at I On The Scene

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Opinion: Trying to reboot Illinois without bashing it

Wed, 2016-05-04 11:48
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Matt Dietrich


Thumbs-up to Margie's Candies, not so much for dad's website.

In the department of "kids say the darnedest things," I offer this unsolicited quote from my 12-year-old son:

"Dad, I looked at your website and all it does is give a big middle finger to Illinois."

Oh, these kids today.

Yet as happens so often when one gets a perspective from a fresh set of eyes -- even those of a 12-year-old -- this remark caused a much-needed bit of soul-searching. Obviously, you don't start an operation called Reboot Illinois with the intent of celebrating Illinois government. But neither did we start Reboot Illinois as a clearinghouse for all things negative about Illinois.

While informing about areas where Illinois needs improvement -- mainly regarding state finances, jobs, schools and corruption -- is central to our mission, it's not our mission. The commentary, graphics, guest views and videos we provide are intended not just to inform, but to motivate action. At minimum, that means getting involved in the political process by registering to vote and voting. At best, it means direct involvement in effecting change by, in the most obvious example, contacting your elected officials.

We even created a tool, Sound Off, devoted to that purpose. Enter your address and Sound Off will look up your representative and senator. Choose your issue, type out your message (or use the one we've provided) and Sound Off will send it your lawmakers, the governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Illinois House and Senate.



The greatest impediment to citizen action is the widely held feeling that we're powerless; that it won't matter what we say or do because the people in Springfield are going to do what serves them best regardless. With the state now 10 months into an unprecedented budget deadlock, it's never been easier to feel that way. Yet neither has that feeling ever been more wrong.

As state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, explained at an April 11 forum put on by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Truth in Accounting, constituent pressure on the people in Springfield is the only means of ending the impasse:



Believe it or not, your lawmakers listen to their constituents. And when they complain to their leaders that they're getting heat from back home that's putting them in hot water with voters, their leaders listen. Even as Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael continued their war of egos over the state budget, both listened to their members' complaints about college funding last week and allowed passage of $600 million in emergency funding. It was a stunning example of compromise.

One final note: When presented with problems like Illinois' pension debt, it's easy to feel not just powerless but also that the situation is hopeless. We've done a lot to explain, for example, the causes and effects of Illinois' pension crisis. It's risen from $83 billion to $111 billion since this website launched and consumes more than 20 percent of the state budget's General Revenue Fund.

We probably have not done enough to point out that there are solutions. Yes, taxpayers going forward will have to pay for years of mismanagement by the General Assembly, but there are ways this can be done without sinking state government.

California a few short years ago was the worst-case-scenario example of state fiscal dysfunction. Not today. There's no reason Illinois can't follow this model.

With new ownership last month and a major website overhaul in the works, this is an exciting time for Reboot Illinois. That makes it a perfect time for us to sharpen our focus on our mission.

And who knows. Perhaps all this even will inspire the young media critic in my family to add a few stars to his rebootillinois.com review. These kids today.

NEXT ARTICLE: Four Illinois pension solutions we ought to be pushing

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Are District Schools Entitled to Teach Other People's Children?

Wed, 2016-05-04 11:16


On April 1, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers walked out on their jobs six weeks ahead of the official date by which they could call a strike. Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Karen Lewis said she didn't know or care if the strike was legal.

She shrugged and said, "Sue me."

CPS is, in fact, suing CTU for the one-day strike and asking the court to make the union pay back the amount that it cost the district to enact a 250-site contingency plan.

But let's push aside the political wrangling and pose a fundamental question about public education itself: Are district schools entitled to educate everybody else's children?

In my dreams, I'd be the Rosa Parks of the education reform movement. I'm tired of my people having to sit at the back of the bus bound for college and careers. Much like the yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, I'd lead parents in a massive walkout against the Chicago school district. Instead of carpooling to get protesters to and from work, my parents would "school pool," enlisting the most trusted adults among us to run schools in living rooms across the city until CPS and CTU got their act together.

A school district/teachers union with only half of its students would fall, just like the Montgomery public transportation system did with only white passengers. The vitriol between CPS and CTU would cease; they would collaborate to demand that the state fill the district's $480 million budget gap and change the funding formula going forward; and the two entities would emerge laser focused on meeting the needs of children so that enrollment numbers could rise again.

I know my fantasy strike would be impossible to execute in a district where 86 percent of students live in poverty. However, the illustration serves to prove that just because our tax dollars fund district schools doesn't mean these schools are entitled to unlimited access to kids.

Riding on Moral Ground

This is why I found the CTU one-day strike so arrogant and offensive. CTU arbitrarily blocked kids from having access to what they are indeed entitled to--an education. The timing was bad. CTU called a strike just because it wanted to, not because the union had exhausted its collective bargaining options.

This move was indifferent to the rule of law that governs labor relations, and CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey claimed that union leadership did so because they are operating on higher, moral authority.

But how moral was it for teachers to walk out on kids for a day when they may hold an open-ended strike six weeks later? I get the "collateral damage" argument--that in a battle some innocence must be lost in order to win the war--but that's a lever I'd only pull if I had absolutely no other defense. I find it hard to believe a preemptive one-day strike to give the district a taste of the union's political power was morally motivated.

Everyone agrees that CTU can legally strike in mid-May after the fact-finding or "cooling off" period of contract negotiations has run its course. But instead of taking a breather, the CTU added coals to the fire by blocking education access and telling parents left to shamble for childcare to consider it "like an extra holiday." The comment reeked of entitlement, and 20 percent of union membership voted against the so-called "Day of Action."

Opting Out of Public School Entitlement

The white, religious homeschooling community rebelled against public school entitlement a long time ago. Recently, NPR ran a story about how black, middle-class, urban families are opting to homeschool their children, as well. According to the report, black parents are homeschooling not for religious reasons, but to avoid the racism of largely white school staff.

I know two African-American families and a cousin who opted out of public schools simply because they refused to subject themselves to a dysfunctional, underperforming public school system that tries to exert a monopoly on free access to education.

When the quality of my own children's education--in both district and charter schools--has been subpar, I have seriously considered homeschooling, too. (We must remember that charter schools are a free alternative, but private and parochial schools are also school choice options that affluent families take advantage of with little to no union pushback.)

When us public school teachers feel we are God's gift to other people's children, then we become what's wrong with public education. When the fight for our rights trumps the needs of our students, it all goes downhill from there.

Of course, teachers need to get paid adequately and school funding is worth fighting for, but trying to force a limit on charter schools through union negotiations and striking, for example, reinforces the entitlement mentality that's driving parents away from district schools.

The chief purpose of schools is to provide quality education to children, not to secure jobs and political power for adults.

Power to the Parent

Be it district, charter, private, parochial or home school, parents are the only people entitled to decide where and how their children are educated.

We educators need to show more humility and realize that as much as we might care about our students, they don't actually belong to us. We need students just as much, if not more, than they need us, so we should cherish them, not lock them out of school and call it a "holiday."

School choice should be seen as a parental right, not as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.

Considering that parents are not obligated to send their children to district public schools and could decide take advantage of other options, I suggest that CTU think twice about striking again next month.

And if all else fails, my inner Rosa Parks just might move to the front of the education reform bus and call for a "school pool."

 
This post originally appeared on Education Post.

Photo by Peoples World, CC-licensed.

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Voters Could See Two Redistricting Reform Choices on November Ballot

Wed, 2016-05-04 09:41


Two years after a lawsuit backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan kept a citizen-led redistricting reform effort off the ballot, Madigan himself voted to get an anti-gerrymandering amendment before voters on Nov. 8.

By a 105-7 vote, the House approved a constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, that proposes removing politicians from the drawing of state legislative district maps and creating an independent commission overseen by the Illinois Supreme Court. The amendment, HJRCA 58, now moves to the Senate. If the amendment receives 36 votes in the Senate, it would be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters.

Tuesday's vote was a landmark in Illinois politics as reform groups for decades have decried the highly political process of re-drawing legislative maps every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The opportunity to control boundary-making has long been the most coveted prize of both political parties, who have skillfully used the once-a-decade redistricting to more securely embed incumbents of their own party and punish lawmakers of the opposite party.



When Republicans drew the map following the 1990 census, the result was so GOP-friendly that House Speaker Michael Madigan was relegated to minority leader status for two years. They were the only two years since 1983 that Madigan and the Democrats have not controlled the House. In the decades that followed, Democrats won the right to draw the map and now control super-majorities in both chambers. (For a fast primer on redistricting and gerrymandering in Illinois, and the almost comic process by which the map-drawing party has been determined in most years, see this infographic.)

This is why the current map-drawing system has been derided as an "incumbent protection program" in which lawmakers choose their voters rather than the other way around.

But Franks' amendment almost certainly would not have been called for a vote in the House if not for a well-organized citizen initiative that this week plans to submit 580,000 voter signatures to the Illinois State Board of Elections to force a redistricting reform amendment onto the November ballot.

For nearly a year, Independent Map Amendment has been gathering signatures on petitions throughout Illinois. The group has vowed to not repeat the mistakes that led to the failure of a 2014 citizen effort, which was ruled invalid by the board of elections because too many if the signatures it collected were invalid.

At a press conference in Chicago last week, Independent Map Amendment's leaders and supporters said they are confident their amendment will survive all legal challenges and make it to the ballot.

Franks said his amendment is not an effort to derail the citizen initiative or confuse voters should both measures appear on the same ballot. He said his amendment is better than the Independent Map Amendment because the legislature has more latitude in what it can put into constitutional amendments. He noted, for example, that his amendment can impose stricter standards for membership on the independent redistricting commission than is legally permissible in a citizen initiative.

It also could allow lawmakers eventually to put congressional district-drawing under the authority of the independent commission. The citizen initiative could not do that, Franks said.

Fear that the citizen initiative might not survive a court challenge is what Franks said motivated him to create his own. Should both end up on the ballot, all the better for voters, Franks said.

"I think that's an unlikely scenario but if they do make it both on the ballot then the citizens would have a choice of which kind of reform they would like and it would be up to the judiciary to decide how it goes," Franks said.

The Senate has until Friday to consider Franks' amendment. To become law, an amendment must receive a majority vote among all voters or three-fifths of all votes on a specific question.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 25 most challenging high schools in Illinois, as ranked by the Washington Post

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I Only Hear Wedding Bells If They Ring in Alaska

Tue, 2016-05-03 15:48


The venues have been vetted online, through Google Images and Yelp reviews. The current finalists? A reasonably priced lodge in Homer, Alaska, and a state-funded park in South Dakota. Now I just have to search Airbnb and determine if there are some nice hosts in either location who would be willing to accommodate about 200 friends, relatives and possibly a DJ.

This is what a father of girls must do after casually reading -- and, as a result, upchucking his morning coffee -- a survey revealing that his hometown of Chicago is the second most expensive U.S. location for a wedding. In my case, two weddings.

The survey, conducted by wedding website The Knot, estimates getting married in the Windy City will set me back $61,265 once I have covered the reception, music, flowers, attorney's fees when my wife and I divorce after arguing over which relatives not to invite, and powerful prescription drugs that, if taken with food or milk, should hopefully make me forget the entire event and the plundering of my savings account.

Perhaps I should take heart knowing we did not put down roots in New York City, the most expensive U.S. location for nuptials, with a price tag just north of $82,000, according to The Knot. This is hardly a shock considering New York leads the nation in every "most expensive" category, the lone exception being Most Expensive Chicken Nuggets if Served by Snow White. Thanks, Orlando.

New York dads, you may want to consider relocating immediately, as Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the outer boroughs of Manhattan also made the list. Rounding out the top 10 were North/Central N.J., Cape Cod, Mass., Palm Springs, Calif., New Orleans and anywhere in Rhode Island.

But The Knot sympathized with fathers everywhere by also including the 10 least expensive wedding locations. Alaska and South Dakota occupied the top two spots, hence my research and willingness to offer my children a choice. I'm partial to Homer, Alaska's Driftwood Inn. Wait until I tell my girls that not only is there plenty of RV parking for guests, but wedding packages include a promise to move the reception into the nearby Elks Club in case storm clouds roll through Kachemak Bay -- wherever that is. I'd be lucky to find complimentary umbrellas in Chicago. Girls, if your dad is paying, I strongly urge you to consider this location. Other than the possibility of a grizzly bear photobombing the wedding pictures, it seems very practical.

Of course, you could also choose my other option: the beautiful (and cheap) Black Hills of South Dakota. You'll be happy to know that Custer State Park offers numerous sites for both your ceremonies and your receptions. And, being a state park, it also includes strictly enforced quiet hours, meaning I won't have to cave when my guests -- and the caterer -- plead with me to keep the bar open past the agreed upon time.

I'll save even more money should you decide to get married in South Dakota in January. Don't worry, I checked out the winter wedding photos online; judging from the expressions on the bride and groom's faces, nothing says love like standing in a snowdrift.

If these two states don't offer everything you desire, The Knot also suggests I, excuse me, we, can save money by holding your weddings in Texas (OK, West Texas), Arkansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, Idaho, Montana or Oregon. If you insist on staying close to home, Central Illinois rounds out the top 10. Just say the word and I'll start scoping potential locations in Heyworth or Blue Mound, both of which appear to be centrally located, according to the Illinois map I just downloaded.

Girls, please don't call me cheap. Call me practical. And if any last minute expenses come up, your dad will happily pay for them with a minimal amount of grumbling.

I'll just withdraw some money from my secret "Finally Have Dinner in New York" account.

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High Levels of Violence in Chicago

Tue, 2016-05-03 13:18

Shootings and homicides are on the rise in Chicago. It appears that all strategies to reduce them have failed, which left a significant impact from January 1, 2016 to April 28, 2016. There are many stories of shootings and killings every weekend. The Westside and Southside of Chicago continue to struggle with the senseless acts of violence being carried out against innocent bystanders. There is no rhyme or reason in regards to motives.



There was a time when the majority of violence was gang related, but now you have cliques and more interpersonal violence taking place amongst the high risk youth. Women and kids being targeted is nothing new in Chicago, but it makes one wonder what is really going on with the youth today? Nine year old TyShawn Lee was actually targeted by some young men because his father was allegedly involved in the death of someone's brother. Next you have the recent case of Little Khloe, a one year old shot in the back of her head in the Austin community while sitting in the back of a car.



The police can only do so much as it relates to stopping the violence on the front end. Community leaders must become more diligent in their efforts to reach out to the disenfranchised youth and bring them to the table of peace. It does not matter how you organize or strategize because it's hard to detect what's about to happen on any given day in Chicago.



The time has come to implement new strategies that include hiring young men from crime ridden communities and training them on how to become peacemakers for their peers. This is the only way you can get close enough to the element in order to have a direct impact. Many people talk about stopping the killings, but how can you stop a killing that you don't know is about to occur? If you have the right people on the ground networking with the potential shooters in the area, then you might get lucky enough to prevent some of the violence before it happens. Another area of concern would be the lack of resources for young men and women in some of the more distressed communities in Chicago.



Many cultures throughout American History struggled in the urban ghettos with high crime rates, however, the majority of Irish, Italian, and Jewish Gangsters abandoned the life of crime on the streets to become businessmen. This is a model that young men should really take a serious look at because the killings ceased as the old school gangsters began the process of working for the advancement of their people. The killings in Chicago will continue until people unify around this issue and help the young people identify another way to survive without taking the life of another person. Peace should be considered the norm instead of conflict.

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Report: Top 17 Straight-A Hospitals in Illinois for 2016

Tue, 2016-05-03 10:46


Illinois ranks 15th in the nation when it comes to hospital safety, according to the 2016 Hospital Safety Score, and several of the state's best hospitals never have received anything less than the top score.

The Leapfrog Group -- a nonprofit organization that works to promote safety and quality within the health care system -- has been releasing its rankings of the safest hospitals in the U.S. twice every year since 2012. The spring 2016 rankings tracked performance at 2,500 hospitals across the country in surgical errors, hospital staff quality, infection risk and other safety issues like patient falls and bed sores.

The score then ranks hospitals from A to F, which the Leapfrog Group argues makes a big difference. The risk of avoidable death in a D or F-ranked hospital is 50 percent higher than in an A-ranked one.

In Illinois, 115 hospitals were scored and nearly 44 percent received an A ranking. Take a look at which hospitals have received A rankings twice a year since the ranking started in 2012.

NEXT ARTICLE: Eight hospitals in Illinois among nation's top 100 in 2016
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It's Time For You To Sound Off On Illinois Tax Changes

Tue, 2016-05-03 10:01

In separate press conferences in Springfield Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner spoke of his opposition to a progressive tax in Illinois while Democratic Reps. Lou Lang and Christian Mitchell voiced their support. The House is expected to vote on a constitutional amendment to allow a progressive income tax on Tuesday.

The effort to change the Illinois constitution to allow a progressive income tax system in Illinois is expected to get its first big test Tuesday, when the House votes on a constitutional amendment to lift the prohibition on a graduated-rate income tax.

It's the first step in a process that only will move forward if (A) three-fifths majorities of the Illinois House and Senate vote to put the constitutional amendment before voters on Nov. 8 and (B) voters approve it.

The 1970 Illinois Constitution required that any state income tax be applied to all taxpayers at the same rate, so Illinois never has had a system similar to that of the federal government, in which income tax rates rise along with taxpayers' incomes. Currently, the individual income tax rate in Illinois is 3.75 percent.

The requirement that Illinois have only a flat-rate income tax was the product of much negotiation at the Constitutional Convention of 1970. The state had only implemented its first income tax, at 2.5 percent, in 1969, and there was fear among those who supported the income tax that attempting to establish a graduated-rate system would kill the whole concept.

For years, however, there's been a steady drumbeat to change the constitution by those, almost exclusively Democrats, who argue that a graduated-rate system is a more fair way of taxing because it taxes according to a taxpayer's ability to pay. This year, Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment to allow a progressive tax and a bill that, if voters approve the amendment, establishes tax brackets from 3.5 to 9.75 percent.



"This is an issue whose time has come," said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, who is the sponsor of the constitutional amendment. "With the current tax structure that we have in Illinois what happens now is that middle class families, once you count sales taxes, property taxes, taxes that are paid on things like a gallon of gas, middle class people are paying twice as much as a share of their income as the top 1 percent" of income-earners.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, is sponsor of the companion bill that could set the rates of a progressive system if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters. He says implementing the graduated tax would amount to a tax break for "99.3 percent of all taxpayers." Lang estimates his plan will bring in $1.9 billion more in tax revenue than the current system.

"This proposal was not created to solve all of our problems," Lang said at a May 2 press conference. "This isn't about balancing the budget. It's about a fair tax." (View Lang and Mitchell's entire press conference here.)

But just as Democrats have massed forces behind a progressive tax, so have Republicans over the years mounted opposition. This year that's especially true, as Gov. Bruce Rauner says the progressive tax push is another example of Democrats trying to get more tax revenue without implementing any business or government reforms that will help Illinois' overall economy in the long-term.

"I really don't support a graduated income tax. I think that could well be the straw that breaks the camel's back for Illinois' economic competitiveness," said Gov. Bruce Rauner at his own press conference May 2. "If we go to a graduated income tax that will quickly spike up and put our income tax among the highest in America. And that would be devastating to recruiting companies and growing our economy.

"And if we put a high income tax on successful people -- business owners, small business owners -- many more will leave; many more than have already been leaving." (Rauner's complete remarks are here.)

Variations of this debate have played out for years in the General Assembly, but this year it appears headed for action in the General Assembly.

The difference is that this year the state faces an unprecedented financial crisis. Comptroller Leslie Munger has said the state may close the fiscal year on June 30 with a $10 billion deficit. Lang's plan won't make much of a dent in that. And with 1 percentage point of a flat tax increase bringing in an estimated $3.2 billion, it'll take a hefty increase in the current system to begin chipping away at the debt.

Even Rauner, a staunch opponent of taxes, has said that Illinois can't fix its budget problems with cuts alone. If Democrats would pass some parts of his Turnaround Agenda, he has said he'd discuss tax increases.

So what's your choice? Do you believe Lang and Mitchell, that a progressive tax is a "fair tax" that'll bring in more revenue and give all but .7 percent of taxpayers a tax break?

Do you favor a flat tax system, and want it to stay that way even if it almost certainly will increase from the current 3.75 percent?

Keep in mind that the income tax changes, if they happen, likely will be part of a much bigger package of tax reforms. An updating of the sales tax code is only one among many ideas that have been discussed. Numerous other spending reforms, from changing the state's purchasing system to closing corporate tax loopholes, also have been discussed for potential savings.

Don't sit idly by while your lawmakers in Springfield make this decision.

We've updated our Sound Off tool to let you voice your opinion on how the General Assembly should handle the tax question. Just click the link and choose this tab:



You'll find background on the budget, taxes and spending. Enter your address and Sound Off will look up your state senator and representative. Then it'll send your message -- you can write it yourself or use the one already filled in -- to your legislators, Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Believe it or not, your representatives in Springfield really do listen to their constituents.

The FY 2017 budget officially is due in four weeks. We hope you'll use Sound Off and take an active part in getting Illinois government working again.



NEXT ARTICLE: What you need to know about the new progressive income tax effort in Illinois

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