“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | 2 Comments

Woodstock’s Mayor Wants to “Change Behavior” by Cloaking a Tax Increase as Environmental Concern. I Guess He Really Is a Democrat After All.

Jewel ReceiptWoodstock’s ten-cent bag tax went into effect on January 1st, and I took an informal poll of shoppers as I walked the aisles at my local Jewel. Most seemed to know about it, but still had not brought their own reusable bags. I asked my cashier if there had been an uptick in the use of reusable bags, and she said “no”, and the young man bagging my groceries said the most frequent comment he was getting was that it’s not a big inconvenience to go outside of Woodstock to shop. I asked for a store bag to see how the charge is displayed on the receipt, and there it was.

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In the minutes of the September 17th City Council meeting, Mayor Brian Sager said the context of the program is not to be a revenue generator, but to change behavior. He noted the City distributed a reusable bag to every household and also passed them out to retailers for distribution to the public. He stated there are also many places that give bags away free of charge, providing the public with many opportunities to acquire reusable bags. Mayor Sager noted it a is way to change behavior to reduce the use of plastic and paper bags…which is what is wanted.

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If it’s not a revenue measure, if it’s really about changing behavior, why not allow the store to keep all ten cents, as Edwardsville, Illinois did with the ten-cent per bag fee it imposed in October? According to Edwardsville Alderman S.J. Morrison:

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“We didn’t want this perceived as a tax,” Morrison said. “It truly isn’t a tax. It’s a fee imposed on single-use bags. You can’t get out of a tax. You can avoid a fee by bringing your own bag. And it’s not a money grab by the city. We are not trying to raise revenue. We’re trying to change behavior.”

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Of the ten cents collected for each bag in Woodstock, the retailer keeps three cents and the remaining seven cents goes to the City. That certainly sounds like a revenue measure to me.

.Tote Bag

I’m not against reducing the amount of plastic in landfills and streams, and I’m happy to use my own reusable bags, but the sanctimony on display in this instance is just too much. Cloaking a tax increase under the guise of environmental concern is no way to be open and transparent to those you would hope to represent.

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Own it, Mr. Mayor. It’s all yours.

Posted in 2020 Election, Local Government, Taxes | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

There’s a “Red Menace” Made of Ink, and We’re Drowning In It

The Chicago Tribune has published the story of a family trying to obtain services for their autistic son, who “aged out” of Illinois’ special education system when he turned 22, and was put on the State’s “Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services” (or PUNS) list, a waitlist for disabilities services in Illinois administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). From the story:

.“Nick is among nearly 20,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois who are on a waiting list to get into adult programs. Many of them come from families who don’t have a way to pay for home care, job coaches or other services.

Most wait an average of seven years before they are selected, despite a court order in 2011 that Illinois shrink the list and do other things to improve how it serves developmentally disabled adults.

One family told the Tribune they signed up their child when he was just 5 and he still did not get a spot when he turned 22 this year…”

.The story goes on to describe a lawsuit filed in 2004 to require the State to provide community-based living arrangements and services to the developmentally disabled. Again, from the story:

“While paying lip service to the value of community-based programs, defendants have made paltry efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on large institutions or to expand Illinois’ community-based programs,” the lawsuit added.

.We’re all familiar with the tragic story of A.J. Freund, the little 5-year old who had been in and out of the attention of DCFS since birth. The extent to which the agency’s systemic troubles failed him and others is a story yet to be fully told.

I’ve recently been appointed to the “Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families”,  established by Public Act 100-879, the purpose of which is to:

[C]reate a task force to study the compensation and workload of child welfare workers to determine the role that compensation and workload play in the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, and to determine the role that staff turnover plays in achieving safety and timely permanency for children.

.It would be an easy fix if all we were doing was paying “lip-service” to these and any number of other underfunded programs. But the real and bigger reason for this chronic underfunding is staring us directly in the face.

.A story getting far less attention but which has everything to do with the 20,000 people on the PUNS list and excessive workloads at DCFS is the recent report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) about the state of Illinois’ pensions.

The report discloses that the unfunded liability for its 5 pension funds as of June 30th, 2019 stands at $137.2 billion, up from $133.5 billion in the previous year and goes on to point out that in Fiscal Year 2020, the State is scheduled to contribute $9.223 billion out of General Revenue to fund those pensions.

Debt Payment 2020

That $9.2 billion represents 22 percent of the total amount of state spending in the current FY 2020 budget, which is scheduled to grow to $10.6 billion in 2024 and ultimately rise to over $19 billion in 2045.

When over 20% (and climbing) of your total budget is going towards paying debt, it leaves much less for the ongoing functions of government. The size of our debt is a rough measure of how much money was diverted in the past to dispense the type of goodies that politicians are only too happy to give, goodies which blur and ultimately erase the lines between an encroaching State  and those entities and institutions in which a free people in a healthy society really live: its civic and charitable organizations, community clubs, Little League, churches and a free economy, to name just a few.

.This is money that could be used for the types of programs that would help Nick cope with life in our broader society, allow the State to more adequately fulfill its Constitutional imperative of paying for education and create a more robust and effective program of child protection. But so long as we continue to deal with this albatross around our neck, none of this will be done.

.I grew up at a time when the former Soviet Union was referred to as the “Red Menace”. We now live under the threat of a new Red Menace, one made of ink. We can argue all day about where the responsibility lies and whose fault it is that we’re in this mess, but when the excesses of the past continue to increasingly crowd out our responsibilities of the present and to the future, we’re going to see more stories about people like Nick and A.J. If we don’t do something about our debt and soon, we’d better get used to seeing them.

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Millions Have Been Diverted From Gun-Related Funds, Dems Want More

In response to a mass shooting in Aurora in February, the sponsor of a bill which passed in the Illinois House in the Spring session stated that more money is needed to allow the State Police to monitor the issuance of Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) cards. Senate Bill 1966 (“Fix the FOID” Act) provided a series of increased fees and other restrictions upon gun possession, among them:

  • .Increased card application and renewal fees from $10 every 10 years to $20 every five years;
  • A $10-per-firearm fee for any transfer conducted through a licensed dealer, with certain limited exemptions;
  • The bill also requires fingerprinting, which would add an additional cost of up to $30 to the application process.

.As the sponsor said at the time:

.“When we are dealing with nearly 10,000 FOID cards annually being revoked for a number of reasons, we need to be sure we’re giving the state police the resources and ability to do their (sic) job appropriately,” said Rep. Kathleen Willis, an Addison Democrat and the bill’s House chief sponsor.

Well, Rep. Willis’ claim of inadequate resources has sort of fallen off the rails.

My colleague, Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) asked the Legislative Research Unit to see if any of the money now collected for three specific purposes was being “swept” or transferred out for other State purposes. Specifically, he asked for information on sweeps or other transfers in the past 5 years from funds supporting:

  • .Administration of the Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card program;
  • Background checks for firearms-related services; and
  • Concealed-carry licensing.

.The letter from LRU is here. The costs of these programs comes out of the “State Police Firearm Services Fund”, and it appears that since 2015, over $13 million dollars (plus an additional $15+ million from the Firearm Transfer Inquiry (FTIP) program which pays for background checks) has been swept from this fund into General Revenue, where it was spent on who knows what:

ISP Transfers

From an analysis of the data:

“The State Police has consistently not used all the money available in the Firearm Services Fund over the five years covered in this report. On average the State Police has not used $2,698,753 per year for the identified purposes in this report: administration of the FOID Program, background checks for firearm-related services, and conceal-carry licensing.”

So if the State Police isn’t spending all the money it’s getting, why does it need more? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. The ISP just didn’t object to having the “excess” swept away:

The FY2018 BIMP (Budget Implementation Bill), which authorized interfund borrowing and fund sweeps, required that money be transferred back to a fund from which it had been swept or borrowed if that fund has “insufficient cash” to support appropriated spending.

The State Police did not declare insufficient cash to maintain the mission of the Firearm Services Fund…otherwise the fund sweep of $13,210,268 would have been paid back. (Emphasis mine)

What we need to do is make sure there are no more sweeps of money out of this fund and into General Revenue. It looks like someone was asleep at the switch, but whatever the reason, this is now being used as an excuse to make it more expensive and burdensome to own a firearm in Illinois.

“We have some work to do in Illinois to make sure that firearms are only owned by law-abiding citizens,” Willis said.

.Kathy, it’s not the law-abiding citizens that you have to worry about. You need to concern yourself with criminals, who are defined as the type of person who isn’t worried about the niceties of registrations and background checks. Your comment reminds me of the line about the guy who looks for his car keys under a lamp post because the light is better.

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I Want to Continue Being Your Independent Voice in Springfield

HRO-5Since 2017 it’s been my privilege to serve the people of McHenry County as the representative of the 63rd Legislative District, and I’m asking you to let me continue representing you in Springfield.

.Illinois is confronted with many problems which are familiar to us all: crushing debt, ever-escalating property taxes and a culture of corruption. We live in a poisonous political climate that cares more about the next election than it does about fulfilling government’s responsibility to create an atmosphere that helps to foster economic growth and personal well-being. All of these and more have combined to deny our citizens a government that’s worthy of them.

.Someone recently said that partisanship in the Legislature has gone to such lengths that its members are unable to effectively serve; that “consensus and resolution” is needed to address state issues.

“Consensus and resolution” makes for a great sound bite, but it doesn’t mean much when it comes from someone seeking to join a super-majority that can utterly ignore the urgent concerns of a large number of our State’s citizens and impose its legislative agenda with no thought at all for consensus and resolution. If you want proof, you need look no further than the measures passed during the last session. The harder job is to reach consensus and resolution on the issues that matter to the people of McHenry County when you don’t have numbers on your side. That’s what I’ve been able to do.

.During my time in Springfield, I drafted a bipartisan mental health bill to give people the ability to seek help for family members who would do harm to themselves or others. I helped create legislation to protect children from sexual predators in our schools and am currently working in a bipartisan way to reform our child welfare system so that the tragic deaths of children in its care will stop.

.While I’ve consistently advocated for cutting government waste, property tax relief, and a solution to our crushing debt, I wasn’t afraid to take a tough vote that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in needed road improvements to McHenry County. As part of that bill, House Republicans obtained concessions that enhance our ability to create data centers in Illinois, allowed retailers to keep their reimbursement for acting as a collection agent for state sales taxes, eliminated the antiquated Illinois franchise tax and reinstated a manufacturer’s purchasing credit, as well as enacting a blue collar jobs act along with other measures. The combination of these items results in a better environment for job creation and economic growth.

The diversity of McHenry County extends from its agricultural community to its cities and towns, all of which combine to make it a special place to live, work and raise a family. During my time in the House, I’ve been a consistent advocate for all of our communities.

.The people of McHenry County have always demanded an independent voice in Springfield. I’ve been that independent voice and I’m asking you to let me continue being so.

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In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

.— Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

.In memory of Cpl. Bert Whitehurst (1895-1918)

.Bert Whitehurst would have been my great-uncle. From “Livingston County in the World War”:

.Bert-225x300WHITEHURST, BERT, Pontiac, Illinois. Born April 14, 1895, Yale, Illinois. Farmer. Inducted September 19, 1917, Pontiac, Illinois. To Camp Dodge, Iowa. Pvt., Co. I, 349 Inf. Transferred to Co. H, 346 Inf., Camp Pike, October 26, 1918 ; to Camp Merritt, March 28, 1918. Promoted to Cpl. Sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey, April 6, 1918, on lit. Vernon. Landed at Brest, France, April 28, 1918. Transferred to Co. D, 123 Inf., May 6, 1918. Engagements: Chateau Thierry, July 18, 1918 ; St. Mihiel, September 12, 1918 ; Argonne Forest, October 23, 1918. Wounded October 27, 1918, Argonne Forest ; to Evac. Hosp., Glorieux ; died of wounds, November 7, 1918, at Glorieux.

He’s buried at Butler National Cemetery in Springfield. I’ve always found it haunting that he went through so many engagements and died so close to the end. He’s become a personal connection to that war.

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