Tax, budget group’s director: Higher-ed cuts aren’t helping

URBANA — State budget cuts in higher education and other areas are having a devastating impact on traditionally disadvantaged populations, the director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability told a group at the University of Illinois on Monday evening.

Ralph Martire, executive director of the group, said that Illinois needs to broaden its sales-tax base to include more services and should raise its income tax rate (now 3.75 percent) to about 5.25 percent in order to begin resolving its budget problems.

He insisted that the about $7 billion more going into the state’s treasury would have no effect on the Illinois economy.

“When your net tax increase takes less than 5 percent of the economic activity of the governmental entity being studied, it’s too small to be measured,” said Martire, a longtime advocate of more taxation in Illinois. “Put it in context: We have a $770 billion economy. The answer is it will do nothing.

“There is no statistically meaningful correlation between tax policy and economic growth,” he said. “Some of the fastest-growing economies are in high-tax states and some of the fastest-growing economies are in low-tax states. It’s other things that drive economic growth. It’s not tax policy.”

Martire, whose appearance was arranged by state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, also said he has given up on a proposal he once championed to enact a graduated income tax in the state.

Illinois now has a flat income tax and, coincidentally, Ammons and a group of legislative Democrats last week said they would renew their call for a so-called progressive tax.

No dice, Martire said.

“When the Democrats had a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate and the governor’s office, they couldn’t get an amendment (to the state Constitution) to the voters to vote on a graduated tax,” he said. “I’m thinking it ain’t happening now when you don’t have a veto-proof majority of Democrats in the House and you have a somewhat conservative Republican governor,” he said, referring to Bruce Rauner.

Marrure said his group still thinks a graduated income tax is “good tax policy,” but “we don’t work on it at all anymore. The state really needs the money now.”

And if the Legislature and Rauner wait until next year to raise taxes, Martire said, the state would need a 5.5 percent or 5.75 percent income tax rate.

“At some point, if they wait too long, it will be politically undoable, and I don’t know what happens,” he said.

Martire said the state’s recent efforts, including eliminating MAP grants for low-income students, cutting budgets at universities that serve disadvantaged students and forcing schools to raise tuition, are “horrible public policy.”

“Where were our biggest cuts focused? At the universities that catered primarily to minority and low-income populations. It’s really a double-negative whammy from an economic and social-justice standpoint,” he said. “All the economic data show that having access to higher levels of learning is crucial if they’re going to be viable in the modern economy. Yet the state of Illinois has decided to disinvest significantly in all of its universities but in particular those that cater to low-income and minority students.”

And the increased debt on the poorest Illinois families is devastating, he said.

“So they’re going to be burdened with student debt, they’re not going to have the credentials that will get them higher-paying, good-benefit jobs, and they’re going to be going back to their community to do what? It’s horrible public policy,” Martire argued.

“When you really connect the dots, you see that everything the state of Illinois is doing is reinforcing past discrimination. It is creating obstacles to economic advancement for traditionally disadvantaged populations. We have literally done everything wrong if what you’re doing is trying to create access to economic opportunity.”

Martire cautiously avoided blaming any current politicians for the state’s woeful financial condition. But he said that the state’s “disinvestment” in higher education made no sense.

“What is going on with funding higher education at the state level is historic, and not in a good way. This is not a time when this state ought to be disinvesting in its higher-education system,” he said. “Public institutions of higher learning are crucial elements in the network that needs to be available if lower- to lower-middle-income students are to move up the economic ladder.”

He said the state “doesn’t value its higher education,” citing statistics that show that in both real and inflation-adjusted dollars, higher-education funding has dropped since 2000.

“That is a stunning data point. You go back 15 years and see less in nominal dollars being devoted to higher education,” he said. “Illinois is an outlier when compared to other states.”

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April 4, 2017 at 12:17AM

Tax, budget group’s director: Higher-ed cuts aren’t helping

Group tallies the horrid cost of Illinois’ budget war

After two years of unending Springfield war between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan, a lot of folks have grown numb to the human cost. But not the Responsible Budget Coalition.

The social services group this afternoon released a list of who’s taking it in the ear and how badly, and it’s ugly.

Like the 22,000 seniors outside of Chicago who have lost access to home-delivered meals and transportation. Or $2.3 billion in cuts in higher education, cuts that have clobbered mid-range schools like Southern, Eastern and Western Illinois University, and Chicago State University.

Or the tuition grants for 130,000 college students of modest means that again are unfunded, or the 47,000 fewer kids receiving affordable child care so their parents can be productive and hold down a job.

Other items on a disturbing list: No new money for domestic abuse programs since June of last year, 24,000 fewer people admitted to addiction treatment programs at a time of opioid abuse and a 50 percent cut in adult literacy programs.

No, I haven’t personally vetted these services or done the math myself. But if the toll is even half this—and I don’t hear officials on either side of the war denying it—this situation is a disgrace.

Read it yourself, folks. Then think about calling your lawmaker and governor to get them off the dime. As I reported in my column over the weekend about why progress is stalled on sensible plans to sell the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop and add new lanes in I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway), something has to change.

Read more:

What cities and towns want out of Springfield
Rich Miller: Getting to ‘yes’ in Springfield: Is it doable?
How one campaign’s rhetoric could widen Springfield’s partisan divide

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April 3, 2017 at 05:03PM

Group tallies the horrid cost of Illinois’ budget war

Tom Kacich: Killeen, Glassman clash over IPAC’s feasibility

The superlatives were flying last week when University of Illinois President Tim Killeen met with members of the House Higher Education to explain the UI’s Investment, Performance and Accountability Commitment, a proposal linking annual, stable state funding to a series of performance commitments by the university.

It was Killeen’s second appearance of the month, and it went slightly better than the first one.

But the IPAC isn’t exciting lawmakers, at least in the House. It hasn’t been voted out of the committee yet. A similar Senate bill is set for a hearing this week.

“This is historic. This would be national leadership for the state of Illinois, reimagining the relationship between higher education and the taxpayers of Illinois with performance metrics in hand, with all of these value issues about access, affordability, and all that transpires in an accountable framework,” Killeen told the committee.

“It’s essentially structural reform,” he said. “And for us, for any university in the country to say we’re going to sign up to a graduation rate or a retention rate from freshman to sophomore years, is a big deal. So yes, this is big. It’s a landmark resolution. We realize that.”

There’s still skepticism about the IPAC in the House, and that’s without even broaching the notion that the Legislature is powerless to even talk about a funding commitment while the Disastrous Duo of Rauner & Madigan refuse to work on a budget.

There’s also skepticism, though, from others in the Illinois higher education community, including the president of Eastern Illinois University.

EIU President David Glassman denigrated, in a gentle sort of way, the IPAC idea when he appeared before a Senate committee a day later.

“We’ve been in numerous conversations with similar types of compacts and so on. However I’d have to say that we’re not looking for a promise in order to have great outcomes,” Glassman told senators. “We’re working every single day to continue to have great outcomes for our students, whether it’s in retention or graduation. We don’t need to have that piece sitting there to act as, if you get this you’ll get this.

“We’re going to do that anyway. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.”

In short: EIU is going to give you great outcomes, whether you give us a certain level of funding or not.

“Relative to a predictable and stable budget, we would love that,” Glassman admitted. “But in a compact does that really ensure it from one year to another? We need to look at the state, the General Assembly, the governor as a partner with what we’re trying to do.”

In conclusion, he said, “We should be held accountable. We should be looking at performance. And we should be expecting an appropriate amount of funding to help us keep our universities accessible to the students and the citizens of Illinois.”

EIU and other universities resent the UI plan to expand its enrollment while they are fighting to retain students. And they don’t seem keen on the IPAC.

As written now the deal says that the UI would get $647.18 million every year from the state (with annual increases based on inflation) for five years.

In exchange the UI would guarantee to limit in-state, undergraduate tuition increase to no more than the rate of inflation, and provide $170 million a year in financial aid to in-state students. It also would pledge to admit as new and transfer students 14,000 Illinois residents each year at the Urbana campus, maintain a first- to second-year retention rate of 87 percent and also commit to a 6-year graduation rate of 72 percent.

“We are committed to Illinois families and to a return on our taxpayer base,” Killeen said. “We’re so committed that we’re willing to write it into statute. No one else in the country has done this yet.”

Shimkus foe?

Carl Spoerer of Mahomet says on a campaign website that he will run in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District next year, presumably opposing 11-term incumbent Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville.

The 15th Congressional District includes parts of Champaign and Ford counties and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Coles, Edgar, Moultrie, Shelby and about 25 other southern Illinois counties.

It is a conservative, heavily Republican district. Donald Trump got 70.12 percent of the presidential vote in the 15th District last year, the highest percentage rate in any of Illinois’ 18 congressional districts by 10 percentage points.

“Resisting Trump begins in the 15th district of Illinois,” it says at the top of Spoerer’s website.

The site describes Spoerer as a “social moderate and a financial conservative. Rather than voting in lockstep with congressional leaders, Carl will be an independent voice who fights to protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education and programs critical to farming communities. Carl’s number one goal for the district is to return the jobs lost over the last 20 years back to the district. Spoerer was not available for comment but his website describes him as a small businessman and coach of the women’s rugby team at the University of Illinois.

Marlin sweep

Diane Marlin, the Democratic candidate for mayor of Urbana, has had a pretty impressive sweep of endorsements this spring, including labor and business groups.

She’s received the backing of Urbana Firefighters Local 1147, Urbana Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, the AFL-CIO of Champaign County, the East Central Illinois Building Trades Council and Laborers Local 703.

Marlin, who is up against Republican Rex Bradfield in Tuesday’s voting, also has the endorsement of the Champaign County Business Empowered political action committee, which included a $500 campaign contribution.

Davis campaign fined

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ campaign fund, Rodney for Congress, has paid a $3,400 fine assessed by the Federal Election Commission for failing to disclose all financial transactions on a pre-primary election report last spring.

The campaign committee filed an amended pre-primary report last April that disclosed an additional $95,059 in campaign spending.

The fine was first reported by the Belleville News-Democrat.

“(W)e learned some disbursements from this period were inadvertently left off the original report. We have fixed this and included all disbursements in this amendment,” the campaign said at the time.

The Davis campaign was ordered by the FEC to pay the civil penalty and develop and certify implementation of a compliance operations manual with internal controls as described by the FEC.

Davis defeated his primary election opponent last spring, Ethan Vandersand, 77 percent to 23 percent.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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April 2, 2017 at 12:28AM

Tom Kacich: Killeen, Glassman clash over IPAC’s feasibility

Voice of The Southern: Thumbs up to candidates, thumbs down to lack of budget yet again

Thumbs down to the 639 days that Illinois has been without a budget. Locally, we felt the sting again Wednesday when Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said the Carbondale campus is going to have to find $30 million in potential cuts because of the lack of state funding and declining enrollment. Oh, and that’s on top of the $21 million in cuts the university previously identified. It’s not a good situation. Lawmakers need to get together on a budget, and it has to happen soon. No more delaying. No more politics. Our state’s universities can’t keep going on like this. Neither can anybody else. Just get it done.

Thumbs up to all of the local candidates vying for spots in next week’s municipal elections. Running for public office is difficult, and very time constraining. It also takes a special kind of person to be in the public eye like many of them will be. Running for election can also take its toll on a family. On Tuesday, we’ll go out to the polls and vote on anything from school boards to city councils to mayors. Some candidates will win, some will lose. But everybody running for a spot should be noticed. These are our future leaders, the leaders that will shape city government in the coming years.

Thumbs down to U.S. Representative John Shimkus for a series of tweets March 24 concerning what appeared to be the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The tweets involved stories from constituents outlining their complaints with the ACA and were accompanied by this statement, “My constituents have judged that law, and more than 60 votes I’ve cast to repeal & replace it, through 7 years and 4 election cycles.” To be perfectly clear, Mr. Shimkus was perfectly within his rights to Tweet the information. But, the Tweets, combined with Mr. Shimkus’ statement, seemed to suggest a unanimous opinion that doesn’t exist.

Thumbs up to John Mann of Pinckneyville who is retiring after a long career at Mann and Son Sporting Goods in Pinckneyville. Mann is selling the business to a long-time employee, but he is stepping aside to enjoy some fishing and shooting himself. In addition to the traditional sporting goods business, Mann became a master gunsmith, one of eight premier Remington repair locations in the United States.

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Thumbs up to the annual 11 Days of Compassion being observed in Carbondale. The observance, sponsored by Nonviolent Carbondale runs from April 1-11. Given the troubling amount of violent crime Carbondale has experienced in the past couple years, this observance is a welcome offering. “It’s exploring compassion, dialogue, conflict resolution and embracing diversity in the community,” said Diana Brawley Sussman, one of the event’s organizers and the director of the Carbondale Public Library. “We were really looking for programs that will develop a communication skill set, and we were looking for opportunities to put (people) in other peoples’ shoes.” The observance includes programs, panel discussions and documentary showings. Compassion is something we can all aspire to.

Thumbs up to Ryan Povolish of Carbondale for catching a state record crappie at Kinkaid Lake this week. As response on social media indicates, catching a state record fish is big news in Illinois — at least in this part of the state. For those in the ichthyological weeds, Povolish caught a 4 pound, 8.8 ounce black crappie in Kinkaid Lake, topping the previous record for a scant .06 of an ounce. The previous record, set at Rend Lake, had stood for nearly 40 years.

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March 31, 2017 at 08:01AM

Voice of The Southern: Thumbs up to candidates, thumbs down to lack of budget yet again

ISU recommending no tuition hike for fall

NORMAL — Tuition, fees and on-campus housing costs will not go up for incoming Illinois State University students this fall, if the board of trustees goes along with a recommendation from the administration to hold the line on those charges.

Record enrollment for three years in a row was a major factor in the decision, according to Dietz. Tuition revenue has helped ISU remain “strong and stable” despite the state budget impasse, he said.

The university had considered keeping tuition unchanged before, “but we didn’t think we could make it happen until this year,” said Dietz.

Under the state’s “truth-in-tuition” law, the tuition paid by an incoming student at a state university is guaranteed to stay the same for four years.

Dietz said the administration also will not recommend increases in tuition rates for out-of-state or graduate students this fall.

If the recommendation is approved, new students would pay the same rates as students who started at ISU last fall: $370.35 per credit hour. The board meets May 12.

This story will be updated.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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March 29, 2017 at 07:43AM

ISU recommending no tuition hike for fall

Southern Illinois University president seeking about $36 million in cuts due to state budget crisis

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said Wednesday that the state’s ongoing budget crisis is forcing him to propose cutting at least $30 million from the Carbondale campus, $4 million from the Edwardsville campus and $2.2 million from the School of Medicine. In an online post , Dunn said his proposed cuts should be finalized no later than July 1 and take effect as soon as possible. The actions are necessary, he said, because the schools cannot "reasonably assume state money will be forthcoming anytime soon."

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March 29, 2017 at 08:38AM

Southern Illinois University president seeking about $36 million in cuts due to state budget crisis

Paul Vallas, CSU Board Chairman Discuss Struggling School’s Future

Following a closed-door meeting Monday that lasted nearly six hours, Chicago State University’s board of trustees announced the delay of a decision on who would lead the beleaguered state university.

On April 7, the board will name a new interim president to replace current interim President Cecil B. Lucy, who will return to his position as interim finance and administration chief.

The board also announced Monday the creation of a new interim position, chief administrative officer, which will also be filled April 7.

Current board member Paul Vallas, who formerly served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was expected by some to be named CSU president on Monday.

Vallas was appointed to the board in January by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who reportedly wants Vallas to head the school.

The prospect of Vallas, a white man, taking control of a school with a predominantly black student body has led to criticism from some city officials.

Meanwhile, supporters of Vallas have pointed to his out-of-state work with school districts in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut, as a testament to his ability to turn schools around.

The board voted Monday that Vallas must resign as a board trustee to be considered for either the president or chief administrative officer positions.

Vallas and CSU Board Chairman Marshall Hatch join us to discuss the ongoing search for university leadership and what lies ahead for CSU.

Related stories:

Chicago State University Postpones Decision on Administration Changes

March 27: It was widely expected that Paul Vallas would get a top job at Chicago State University on Monday. But that is not what happened.

New Chicago State Trustees Aim for Struggling School Turnaround

Jan. 17: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas on his new appointment to the board of beleaguered Chicago State University.

Chicago State Trustees Face Heat After $600,000 Breakup with President

Sept. 16: Chicago State University Trustees voted 6-1 to accept the resignation of President Thomas Calhoun after only nine months on the job, and OK’d a $600,000 severance package for him.

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March 28, 2017 at 02:41PM

Paul Vallas, CSU Board Chairman Discuss Struggling School’s Future