Editorial summary: Illinois | State

Chicago Sun-Times. January 9, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois Legislature Now Needs New Watchdog

Once again, the position of legislative inspector general is vacant.

The Illinois Legislative Ethics Commission must pull itself together and appoint a new inspector general. Currently, the Legislature does not have a corruption watchdog within its ranks.

This is not a good state of affairs.

Carol Pope, the legislative inspector general since 2019, announced in July that she was stepping down from her post, but the committee could not agree on a recommendation for a replacement. Normally that wouldn’t necessarily raise a red flag, but before Pope, the office was unoccupied for four years. Illinois cannot afford to make a habit of leaving such an important office empty.

We have seen this sorry scenario play out before us, with disastrous results. In 2017, when no one held the post of Inspector General of Legislation, a victim’s rights activist said her sexual harassment complaint against a state senator had gone nowhere for more than a year. More recently, no investigation was opened into a complaint filed on December 23 because there is no Inspector General to do so.

This is no way to deal with allegations of wrongdoing.

According to Pope’s resignation letter, his last day was Thursday. The opportunity for a smooth transition to a new Inspector General has already been wasted as no date has been set for the House and Senate to resume their sessions and be able to confirm a new Inspector General. The Legislature adjourned last week without discussing the matter.

According to press reports, the four Republicans on the eight-person commission want to recommend Joseph Hartzler, a former deputy U.S. prosecutor who helped prosecute convicted Oklahoma City suicide bomber Timothy McVeigh. The four Democrats prefer former federal prosecutor David Risley, who has the advantage of having worked as an investigator under the Pope. Hartzler and Risley both worked in the administration of former Governor Bruce Rauner.

Any recommendation or recommendation of the committee is forwarded to the Legislative Assembly for a final vote.

Apparently, Democrats on the committee believe the Republicans are trying to force their preferred candidate by ignoring other qualified candidates and forcing the legislature to take the GOP’s choice. Republicans say Democrats are trying to add their own candidate to the list of recommendations because they know the Democratic majorities in the Legislature will have the final say.

It is regrettable that the recommendation process was not completed in a transparent and bipartisan manner.

Impartial, zealous and careful

Choosing an inspector general requires careful consideration. A candidate must not only be impartial, but must also be both zealous in investigating ethics violations and being careful not to unfairly prey on people for common mistakes. Former Inspector General James Wright, for example, was charged with the latter case when he urged then Attorney General Lisa Madigan to press charges against former chief of staff to former Governor Pat. Quinn, Jerry Stermer, after Stermer reported that he accidentally answered three non-government messages on his state cell phone instead of his home phone.

Last spring, the Legislature passed a bipartisan ethics reform measure that gave the Inspector General the power to issue subpoenas, a long-sought reform. But the IG must still get permission from the commission to issue these subpoenas and make public reports on lawmakers who have engaged in wrongdoing. This did not suit Pope, a former prosecutor and appellate judge, who called for more independence, just like his two predecessors. Even after last year’s reforms, she said the office remained a “paper tiger”.

State Senator Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, introduced a bill with additional proposals, including banning elected officials from sitting on the committee, granting the office of the inspector general of legislation to ” an independent power of subpoena and widening of access to the commission’s minutes for journalists and the public, ideas which were submitted in 2020 to the Joint Ethics and Lobbying Commission.

But even if more reforms are put in place, they won’t change much if there is no qualified and impartial inspector general to investigate legislative corruption.

Complete the work.

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Champaign News-Gazette. January 9, 2021.

Editorial: The most important new item in the state budget on the plates of lawmakers

The Illinois political calendar will determine the legislative calendar in Springfield.

Illinois lawmakers were back in Springfield last week, indulging in more political fouls that are seen as doing public business.

If they have done it as they please, they will act in haste, clearing the way for the rest of us to bemoan our actions in the leisure time. The leaders of the qualified majority Democrats in the House and Senate have said they intend to finish their work, especially the new state budget, by April 8.

That’s well ahead of the usual adjournment date of late May. This being an election year – the primary election is June 29 and the general election is November 8 – lawmakers want plenty of extra time to tell their constituents what a great job they are doing.

But even that early end is a long way off – roughly three cold, wintry months – and the often difficult budget chore is ahead.

House Speaker Chris Welch has misleadingly stated that he hopes the new state spending plan will allow the state to “continue on the path of financial stability.”

It is a laudable goal. But Illinois hasn’t followed the path of financial stability for nearly two decades. Instead, our elected officials have chosen debts and deficits camouflaged by deception and budget gimmicks to swindle the public about the true state of the state’s finances.

Even though Governor JB Pritzker, who inherited a tax mess, calls a balanced 2022-2023 budget his “top priority,” expect more of the usual tax sleight of hand.

Our leaders are happier when they can spend, spend, spend, even if the state doesn’t have the money. So they’ll be doing plenty of exercise to fight the temptation to appropriate roughly $ 3.6 billion out of last year’s $ 8.1 billion federal coronavirus bailout.

This can seem like a large sum of money to fall back on if spending plans strain expected income. But it’s important to remember that the state owes much more than that – $ 4.5 billion – to the federal UI trust fund.

This $ 4.5 billion debt bears interest of 2.27%. State comptroller Susana Mendoza has asked federal officials to suspend interest.

There is nothing wrong with asking. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But expecting lenders to forgo the agreed interest is usually not the most effective way to deal with serious financial problems.

As this year is an election year, lawmakers are also talking about lowering property taxes.

Property taxes are imposed by local tax bodies that state officials cannot control. But it’s a good talking point because the eyes of financially stressed taxpayers light up when lawmakers bring up the topic. But just as is the case with discussions on balancing the budget, so too are recent discussions on legislative action on property tax relief.

In August 2019, the governor appointed with great fanfare an 88-member property tax task force to make proposals on how to reduce property taxes. Deadlines for his report on the subject have come and gone without a response.

Given this record, it is difficult to be optimistic about the positive outcome of property tax relief.

Here’s what the public can expect. Qualified Democrats will do their own thing on the issues they deem important. The Republicans of the superiority will complain publicly but will mostly be ignored, except when the governor criticizes them for being the obstructionists that they are not but that they would like to be.

The public has seen this film before. The only difference is that it will conclude Illinois’ idea of ​​a happier ending sooner than usual.

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Bloomington Pantagraph. January 7, 2021.

Editorial: Embarrassing Ethical Behavior in Springfield

Illinois lawmakers continue to fail our state by failing to take ethical reform and accountability seriously.

The final example: the embarrassing handling of the departure of Inspector General of Legislation Carol Pope.

The Inspector General is a kind of clearinghouse for conduct complaints against lawmakers. The position is empowered to investigate allegations that a law, rule or regulation has been violated by lawmakers or those working for the legislature.

A Republican, Pope was appointed in 2019 after the post was dark for four years. But she became frustrated with the post lacking more power and with the ethics reform legislation lawmakers passed last year, saying lawmakers “have shown that a real ethics reform is not a priority “.

Pope told lawmakers in July that she would step down in mid-December. Then she extended it after a bipartisan panel appointed by party leaders could not agree on a replacement.

Republicans say Democrats, who control both chambers, wanted someone who was not recommended by the panel. Both sides said there were partisan factors at play. There were allegations of political maneuvering.

Cut short by an abridged session because of COVID, lawmakers left Springfield last week without reaching agreement on this crucial position.

The irony of this is not lost, but not so surprising. The words “ethical reform” and “Springfield” do not correspond exactly.

Illinois has a long history of extremely corrupt politicians, from notorious Chicago City Council members like “Hinky Dink” Kenna to a string of governors who have spent time behind bars. (See Blagojevich.)

In recent years, two members of the General Assembly, Martin Sandoval and Luis Arroyo, have been charged with corruption.

And then there’s Michael Madigan, the once powerful Speaker of the House whose incredible downfall coincided with ComEd’s investigation into corruption and bribery.

This investigation by federal prosecutors is continuing.

And yet Illinois does not have an internal watchdog to protect citizens from corrupt politicians.

It is a failure of those sent to Springfield.

It is a failure of the system.

TO FINISH

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