Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 12/8/2021 12:57 PM

Champaign News-Gazette. December 5, 2021.

Editorial: Secret spending plan an affront to open, honest government

 

Pulling fast ones is a longstanding, but unfortunate, practice in Illinois' legislative process.

There's a reason why the governor and legislative power-brokers like to dump massive proposals on state legislators at the last minute and then demand a quick vote.

It's about maintaining the secrecy necessary to prevent the full discussion, debate and deliberation on important pieces of legislation, like the proposed $42 billion state budget that took effect on July 1.

If secrecy is not maintained, all legislators as well as the public will learn what's really on the table and possibly have the opportunity to mount opposition. If it is maintained, dirty little secrets won't be revealed until months later when it's too late to do anything about it.

The Chicago Tribune recently revealed a prime example of this kind of legislative gamesmanship - roughly $2 billion in federal relief funds that were deposited into a special fund to be spent solely at the discretion of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

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Somehow, Pritzker and legislative leaders accidentally on purpose failed to mention anything about the $2 billion fund. They should have, of course, but they didn't.

Here's why - all legislators would have wanted to have some influence on how the money will be spent, and rightly so. As a separate and co-equal branch of government, the General Assembly plays a vital role in how this state is run. That includes authority - it's called appropriations power - over how money is spent.

One need not be a hopeless cynic to wonder why the governor sought unilateral control of the $2 billion fund or why Democratic legislative leaders gave it to him. Circumstances support the suspicion that they have reached private agreement as to where and how the money will be spent.

A Pritzker spokeswoman defended this unique approach. She said gubernatorial control over the fund is a plus because it provides the governor needed 'flexibility' to adapt to changing federal rules over how the money can be spent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Well, there is no flexibility like total flexibility.

The problem is that Pritzker was elected governor, not dictator. There are certainly formalities and encumbrances to efficiency in the democratic process. Give-and-take between the executive and legislative branches over spending is one of them.

This being Illinois, the lack of formal review by legislators is hardly the end of the world. Over the years, members of the state House and Senate have played a key role in driving this state into the ground, particularly when it comes to fiscal issues.

Nonetheless, the Legislature is the Legislature, whether collectively incompetent or not.

Superminority Republicans, unsurprisingly, were displeased to learn of the heretofore secret Pritzker fund.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, not only complained about the fund but proposed also legislation that would limit Pritzker's prized flexibility. He's seeking a legislative declaration that Pritzker inform legislative leaders of his proposed spending plans and obtain legislative approval for them.

It's a sound proposal. But it'll go nowhere.

Republicans are irrelevant in Springfield, their principal purpose being to serve as target of supermajority Democrats' ridicule and disdain.

The bottom line is that it's business as usual. The $42 billion budget dropped on legislators at the last minute was passed without time for a serious review. Disclosure of the secret fund came months later when it was a fait accompli.

The deed being done, advocates of doing things the Illinois Way win again.

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Chicago Sun-Times. December 5, 2021.

Editorial: Payday loans are a problem. Can a public bank be part of the solution?

Bringing affordable banking services, including access to small, low-interest loans, is an idea worth considering.

When the coronavirus first posed a threat to Americans' health and finances, Tiffany Moore of Forest Park went to an installment lender for the first time in hopes of some financial relief.

The good news: she got approved for a $9,500 loan to make up for a tenant at her property who couldn't make rent. The bad news: An interest rate of 35.989%.

It was easy to sign onto a contract that brought temporary relief. But realizing that she would end up paying more than twice what she borrowed, Moore paid the loan off early.

Payday loans, title loans and installment loans with exorbitant interest can place a financial death-grip on borrowers. That remains the case, even though the Illinois Predatory Loan Prevention Act now puts a 36% cap on the annual percentage rate of interest lenders can charge.

These exorbitant deals continue to proliferate in Black and Brown neighborhoods, as a report by the Sun-Times' Stephanie Zimmermann makes clear.

Lawmakers ought to be brainstorming some way to help vulnerable communities access credit without resorting to high-interest loans.

Payday lenders point out that they're serving neighborhoods and high-risk borrowers that other lenders avoid.

Yes, they're providing a needed service. But what desperate borrower can dig themselves out of dire financial straits while borrowing money at an interest rate of 36%?

Cycle of disinvestment

The report highlights data produced by the nonprofit Woodstock Institute, which found that the top ZIP codes for payday loans were majority-Black. The ZIP codes included 60619 and 60620 on the South Side, both of which are 95.7% Black and include Chatham, Avalon Park, Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights. The 60614 ZIP code, which includes Lincoln Park and is 84% white, showed the lowest incidence of payday borrowers.

'Consumers need triple-digit interest rate loans only if they are stuck in a cycle of disinvestment. If they weren't, they would get a more safe and affordable product,' Brent E. Adams, senior vice president of policy and communication at the Woodstock Institute, told us. 'These lenders depend on the cycle of disinvestment and are irrelevant if communities prosper.'

In March, this Editorial Board supported the cap on payday loan rates, writing that Illinois should impose it out of fairness and for the sake of racial equity. Some 40% of borrowers in Illinois ultimately default on repaying payday loans. More often than not, they find themselves caught in a cycle of debt, with old loans rolling over into new ones.

Another step on the road might be to bring affordable banking services back to lower-income neighborhoods that have suffered from disinvestment.

Member of Congress have voiced support for a postal banking pilot program in rural and urban communities across America. The goal would be for the government to learn from the pilot and establish permanent banking services as part of the U.S. Postal Service. The nonprofit bank would offer low-cost checking and savings accounts, mobile banking and low-interest loans.

State Rep. Mary E. Flowers has pushed the Community Bank of Illinois Act for over a decade, but has faced continued opposition from bankers.

'Banks are in the business of making money, and here I am proposing lower interest rates for residents,' Flowers told us. 'All I want to do is make loans to people they wouldn't give loans to.'

We're not sold on the idea of public banking, at the federal or state level. There are plenty of unanswered questions on how the model would work, as well as the potential cost to taxpayers.

But the idea of a system that allows low-income, unbanked borrowers to meet their basic banking needs and also have access to small, low-interest loans is worth considering.

There's no reason to expect payday loan businesses to agree to lower the 36% cap further, if at all. Ed McFadden, a spokesman for the American Financial Services Association, points to a 2015 Federal Reserve Survey in which lenders said they can't break even on loans under $2,532 at a 36% annual percentage rate.

Postal public banking isn't a direct solution, but it could help strike a blow to the problem of predatory payday loans.

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Arlington Heights Daily Herald. December 4, 2021.

Editorial: United's biofuel flight offers climate hope

Buffeted by news of expansive wildfires, dreadful shore erosion and extreme weather events at seeming every turn, it is easy to feel intimidated by the threat of climate change.

To be sure, environmental experts lately have expressed alarm at the speed at which the planet's climate is deteriorating.

'The world as we know it is coming to an end,' physicist Paul Behrens wrote in Politico during the international climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland last month.

Former President Barack Obama, speaking at the same conference, warned that time is running out.

'There are times where I am doubtful that humanity can get its act together before it's too late,' Obama said. 'We can't afford hopelessness.'

There may be some debate about the prognosis of the planet's health and how much time we have to drastically cut carbon emissions, but there can be no debate about Obama's last point.

We cannot afford hopelessness.

The challenge is too important.

And those of us looking for hope, need only turn to Tuesday when United Airlines flew a jet with more than 100 passengers from O'Hare Airport to Washington using sustainable aviation fuel.

That innovative fuel, made from leftovers from cooking oil, agriculture and other sources, was created using research from the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office.

It promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60% from conventional fossil fuels.

That historic first flight, with one engine powered solely by biofuel, gives a hint of the solutions our technology can provide -- if we pair that technology with a global commitment to make it happen.

'Two percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from aviation,' said U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield, one of the passengers on Tuesday's flight. 'SAF (biofuel) cuts that by at least 50% or higher. If we convert the entire fleet, which is the long-term goal, that eliminates 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in just one initiative.'

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove, a member of the Select House Committee on the Climate Crisis and a participant at the Glasgow conference, also rode on the United flight.

He called it 'a monumental step forward in decarbonizing our airline industry.'

Yes, the challenge to confront climate change is foreboding. There is much to be done. And the stakes are enormously high.

But we cannot afford to be debilitated by hopelessness.

We must act.

The further devastation threatened by climate change is mind-boggling. But our capacity for technological advances is too.

END

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