All Opinions Content
Illinois lawmakers must have figured that if they were going to load up the underfunded state budget with pork, they might as well go whole hog.
So they allowed themselves a backdoor pay raise. Under Illinois' curious method of awarding pay raises to legislators and other state officials, both houses of the Legislature either have to agree to raises or reject them. The House voted down pay hikes but the Senate adjourned for the summer without acting on the issue. Thus, a lawmaker's base salary next year will be $63,149, up from $57,619 now. Most lawmakers make even more because they serve either in leadership positions or as committee chairmen.
If the leadership of the NCAA has its way, Chief Osceola will be riding his white stallion and slamming his spear into the ground on the sidelines at Florida State University football games next season while Chief Illiniwek will be dancing only in the memories of University of Illinois sports fans.
That's the bottom line in the NCAA's decision last month denying the UI's appeal in defense of the Chief's halftime performances.
A curious legal case came closer to an end Thursday in a federal courtroom in Chicago.
The U.S. Department of Justice has finally thrown in the towel in its lengthy effort to desegregate the Chicago public schools. By the end of the 2007-08 school year, it will leave desegregation efforts to school officials themselves without supervision.
It's long been assumed that Champaign and Urbana would not pass conflicting ordinances regarding smoking in public places. The thinking was that neither city council would want to put bars and restaurants in their city at a competitive disadvantage with those on the other side of Wright Street.
But now it's possible that Bloomington and Normal might take opposing stands on smoking bans. That would make for an intriguing case study about the effect of no-smoking laws on businesses in neighboring cities. The Normal City Council unanimously approved a smoking ban on indoor public places, including bars and restaurants. The Bloomington City Council is expected to take up the same issue on Monday, even though in an earlier discussion only one of the nine council members supported a smoking ban.
During the recent past, when Illinois was in an economic downturn and the state budget had to be cut, legislators statewide expressed support for the idea of a rainy-day fund. That is, they wanted the state to save during the good times so that there'd be money available for basic government services in the bad times. It was, and is, a sound idea.
Here's what state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said in the summer of 2002, when the state budget was a mess: "The economy rises and falls in cycles. On the upside of the cycle, when state revenues are growing, don't spend all the money. Put some aside so that when the downside of the cycle comes, we will not have to do drastic program cuts such as have hit the university, other schools and social services for this coming year, nor will we have to raise taxes."
Movie critic Roger Ebert summed up his eighth annual "Overlooked Film Festival" with a familiar phrase.
"It was the best festival ever," he said.
Although the American economy is booming, there are some troubling signs on the horizon. Not that that's anything new. The future always is uncertain, and the uncertainty surrounds the effect that rising gasoline prices will have on the current strong economic growth.
The economy grew at a staggering rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2006, the fastest it's grown in nearly three years. Economists predict that growth will slow to a still-strong 3 percent in the next three months, keeping factories busy, construction booming and cash registers ringing.
Take a look at Gov. Rod Blagojevich's latest television attack ad – the one about State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka's attendance at meetings of the Illinois State Board of Investment, the one with the tagline "What is she thinking?" – and it makes you wonder what he's thinking.
This is a governor who doesn't live in Springfield, who is seldom in Springfield and whose absence this spring has held up negotiations on the state budget and delayed the Legislature's adjournment, and yet he is criticizing Topinka for being detached.
A booming economy has produced an unanticipated $5 million budget surplus for the city of Champaign. Unfortunately, the response of city officials is easily anticipated: they intend to spend it all.
It would have been shocking if the response had been different. Government at all levels is a black hole of sorts. Whatever extra money comes in goes in the spend column.
Last week, Gov. Rod Blagojevich awarded $10 million in state grants to encourage stem-cell research at Illinois hospitals and universities. As is often the case with this governor, the end result was generally good but he chose a deceitful and cynical way to get there.
The money for the grants was included in the state budget last spring only because of shameful deviousness by the governor. Knowing that some lawmakers would oppose the measure on moral and ethical grounds – some research is done with embryonic stem cells and many people believe that such action ends potential human life – Blagojevich put a $10 million line item in the budget called "scientific research." No one caught it, the budget was approved and the $10 million was available. Last week he handed out grants to researchers, including two at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus.