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One of the last things the House of Representatives did before taking its August recess was to pass the Pension Protection Act. It more accurately could have been called the Death of Pensions Act because, sadly, that is what will happen to the old-fashioned company pension.
It was facing tough times anyway, with too many large American companies finding it impossible to honor their pension promises. This bill will just accelerate the process. The 30,000 defined-benefit pension plans run by employers are now underfunded by an estimated $450 billion.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich joked in his 2002 campaign that he needed to control himself and to stop promising money for new programs.
It looks like Blagojevich has the same weakness in 2006. Earlier this month, at the groundbreaking for a minor league baseball stadium in Marion that was built with $3 million in state funds, Blagojevich got so excited that he pledged another $1 million for infrastructure improvements. (Incidentally, one of the owners of the Frontier League team that will play at the stadium is a Blagojevich campaign contributor).
After 3 years and numerous investigations of numerous state agencies, the Blagojevich administration finally has new guidelines to specify that politics isn't involved in the hiring of state employees.
Good for them, but what took so long? After all, it's against the law to make politics the basis for hiring decisions.
Thursday morning was, for most Americans, another rude wake-up call. Literally. As they arose for another sunny summer day, they received another shocking reminder that the world is an unsafe place and that there are people, even in nations that we consider our allies, who are determined to undo our way of life.
Authorities in Great Britain, with the cooperation of law enforcement and intelligence agencies in other nations including the United States and Pakistan, appear to have thwarted a terrorist plan to blow up airplanes in midflight between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The world owes those authorities a debt of gratitude. A deputy police commissioner in London coldly but accurately described the plot in six words: "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
The Champaign City Council is recommending that the salary for Champaign's mayor be increased from $25,000 a year to $35,000 and that council members receive an increase from $4,000 to $5,000 annually. If approved, the raises apparently would go into effect in May 2009, although there has been some talk about making the mayor's raise effective in May 2007.
In any case, the modest pay raises are justifiable. The last time the council approved a pay raise was in December 1988. Two other proposed raises – in 1994 and in 2000 – were defeated.
If you're considering visiting the Illinois State Fair this year, Saturday might be the day to go. As part of a new "Hometown Pride" promotion, Saturday is Champaign County Day at the fair in Springfield.
In addition to all the regular fair activities – lumberjacks, puppets, gator shows, storytellers, animal judging, storytellers and a grandstand show featuring Montgomery Gentry and Jeff Bates – a large tent near the fair entrance will showcase Champaign County.
It's an encouraging sign that 15 people have offered themselves as candidates for a vacancy on the Champaign City Council.
Now let's see if that many people are willing to actually run for the office next spring when the terms of four council members, plus Mayor Jerry Schweighart, all expire. Based on past experience – Schweighart ran unopposed in 2003 – we doubt there will be the same level of interest. But at least three of the 15 say they intend to run for election to the council, and we can always hope that this heightened interest in Champaign city government continues.
Sunday brought another dramatic episode in the ongoing drama, "As the Oil Flows." After BP Alaska announced that it had found a leak in its Trans-Alaska Pipeline and would have to shut down the pipeline, perhaps for several months, the market responded. In Champaign-Urbana, the price for a gallon of regular hit a new high on Monday – $3.19.
Although the disruption was a relatively minor hiccup in the nation's crude oil supply – the loss of 400,000 barrels a day – the squeamish market overreacted. It does it constantly – with hurricanes, the threat of hurricanes, wars in the Middle East, the threat of wars in the Middle East, disputes with other oil-producing states. It's a never-ending cycle.
At 431 pages long, a quick review of Illinois' new eminent-domain law is impossible. But it appears that the Legislature made good strides toward strengthening private-property rights in the state.
The law, signed last month by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was in response to the controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed the municipal government in New London, Conn., to seize property from one private owner and give it to another – all in the name of clearing "blight." The ruling prompted dozens of states to review their eminent-domain laws, with an eye toward making government-backed seizure of private property more restrictive.
After years of suffering budget freezes and even budget cuts, Illinois higher education this year will get a state budget increase, although it's a tiny one – just 1.8 percent at the University of Illinois.
In a similar vein, after several years of tuition increases at public colleges and universities in Illinois – necessitated by those budget freezes and cuts – the state is trying to help parents pay for those tuition increases. Gov. Rod Blagojevich late last month signed legislation providing $500 per year grants to college sophomore, juniors and seniors from families with incomes of less than $200,000.