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State of the State Address
All eyes on Gov. Rauner as Wednesday's State of the State address quickly approaches

SPRINGFIELD — Political observers will be closely watching which Bruce Rauner shows up for next week's State of the State address: the governor or the candidate.

“What's great for the political can be bad for governing," said John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "If he sounds a battle cry for the fall election, that’s going to be a bad sign for whether there will be another budget impasse."

The Republican Rauner will give his fourth State of the State at noon Wednesday, but it will be his first facing re-election and since Illinois got a budget last July, ending a two-year stalemate between Rauner and legislators.

Three political science professors told Lee Enterprises they'd be surprised to hear Rauner specifically mention any other candidates for governor — especially his opponent in the March 20 primary, state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton — but the campaign is likely to be a factor in the address regardless.

“This will be an interesting speech in terms of the balancing act he has to engage in, in terms of saying, 'We’ve done good things, but it could have been better, and we need to... do the good things we could have done if I’d gotten cooperation from the Democrats,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Democratic governor candidates face off in 1st TV forum

CHICAGO — The Democratic candidates for Illinois governor fought Tuesday to position themselves as the best person to appear on the November ballot, facing off in a rapid-fire forum over taxes, accusations of pay-to-play politics and who has the best vision for the state.

"The elephant in the room is what assurance will he give us that he’ll effectively work with the other power in the state, which is (Democratic House Speaker) Mike Madigan," agreed Bob Bradley, professor emeritus of political science at Illinois State University. "What I’d love to see is... issues where there’s agreement between them, and building on that."

Bradley said those issues could include infrastructure and higher education. State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, and state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, are pushing a proposal to overhaul the state university system.

"It has to be addressed, because higher education is a real key to a sound business environment, and we now have an unprecedented number of high schoolers in Illinois leaving the state to go to college," said Bradley. "(An educated workforce) is one of the reasons State Farm has maintained its presence (in Illinois). All you have to do is extend that logic to the entire state."

Redfield said watchers should nonetheless expect "the greatest hits from the Turnaround Agenda," blocked policy proposals from Rauner's first campaign including term limits, right-to-work and workers compensation reform.

“We’re going to replay the 'Shaking up Springfield,' 'We haven’t been able to change the culture, change the people,'” he said. "With the speaker standing behind him, I don’t know if he’ll say, 'But for Madigan, this would be Heaven on Earth'... but he certainly could go in your face.”

A look at where Illinois governor candidates stand on taxes

CHICAGO — After years of deficits and a destructive state budget impasse, Illinois is facing a massive financial crisis. For most of the candidates seeking to become Illinois' next governor, the solution is to overhaul the tax system.

Jackson said he hopes to hear Rauner address state finances, including the nearly $10 billion bill backlog and underfunded pension system, but those issues might wait until the governor's budget address in February.


Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks in Springfield in August. 

Illinois Bicentennial Celebration
Illinois 200: Through many decades of challenges, newspapers remain strong voice for information, democracy

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at

Like so much in Illinois, the origins of its newspapers were tied to politics and patronage.

This land was a wild, largely unpopulated, western territory when its first newspaper sprang up — the single-sheet Illinois Herald, published in 1814 in Kaskaskia. Its proprietor landed the job of printing territorial and national business through his friend, the territorial governor, according to the July 1918 Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.

Some early newspapers were created to support or oppose a political candidate or issue, like the anti-slavery Edwardsville Advocate. Illinois newspapers remained political for decades in the 1800s, according to the ISHS Journal.

Publications faced many challenges: bad transportation, unreliable mail delivery and a lack of subscribers. As more settlers came to Illinois in the middle 1800s and transportation improved, newspapers fared better. The advent of railroads precipitated a newspaper boom.

Technological improvements such as the telegraph helped, too. So did wood-pulp, which made paper more economical. A lot of weeklies became dailies and foreign language newspapers arose for immigrant communities.

By the Civil War, Illinois had almost 300 newspapers, according to the Illinois Newspaper Project. While the war increased the desire for news, it brought censorship. Government restricted news sent by telegram and shut down newspapers for not supporting the war. This included the Chicago Times and the Jonesboro Gazette, according to the Abraham Lincoln Classroom online and the website of the Gazette’s successor, the Gazette-Democrat.

Chicago’s papers were hit hard in 1871 by the city’s Great Fire. Within two days, however, all of the major dailies were in business again, according to the Illinois Newspapers Project. Others were gone forever.

Illinois’ newspapers were thriving and diversifying in 1880. The state had about 1,000 newspapers, with at least one in every county. Special interest papers were increasing. In 1899, Chicago was home to a newspaper for African-Americans, the Broad-Ax. More women, such as Myra Bradwell, were in the field. She had started the successful Chicago Legal News in 1868.

In 1902, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign began offering journalism classes, partly in response to a call for more professionalism in media. Twenty-five years later, it opened a journalism school.

Radio brought a new threat, as did the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression. As World War II raged, newspapers cashed in old machines and other scrap metal for the war effort. Editors and publishers had to comply, once again, with military censorship, and a plea from the governor. According to the Illinois Press Association’s publication from February-March 1942, the governor asked Illinois newspapers to “impress the public … that this is a war to finish.”

After the war, the IPA fought for open government. It created a committee to investigate complaints of government inhibiting the media’s access to news. It’s an issue that remains today.

Newspapers have undergone drastic changes since the 1950s because of technology and competition. Insiders needlessly worried that the new invention called television would be papers’ death knell. But the Watergate investigation that brought down President Richard Nixon in the 1970s fueled a new generation of reporters and readers.

The end of the 1990s and the early 2000s brought the internet and cellphones, which claimed readers and advertising dollars. In response, chains bought many independent newspapers, then reduced staff and consolidated processes to decrease costs. Papers went online and charged for digital subscriptions.

Some say print newspapers are doomed; others say their readership is greater than ever because of the internet. What’s the future? No one knows, but so far the industry has survived every competitor that’s come along.

Carbondale revenues not keeping up with tax increases

CARBONDALE — For nearly a 10-year period, sales tax dollars in Carbondale have remained pretty flat.

For example, in fiscal year 2008, Carbondale collected just a bit more than $6 million in sales tax revenue from the state. In FY2018, the city collected $5.8 million from the state.

With its home-rule imposed sales tax, the city collected about $4.9 million in FY2008 and about $9.9 million in FY2017, but that disparity is because of several quarter percent increases.

The state municipal sales tax is 6.25 percent. The breakdown goes like this: The state gets 5 percent, the city gets 1 percent and the county gets 0.25 percent. Carbondale is also a home-rule city because its population is more than 25,000 as of now. Because of that home-rule status, it can impose sales tax increases at quarter-percent increments.

Carbondale’s home-rule sales tax stands at 2.5 percent, making the overall tax rate 8.75 percent. Add in a 1 percent School Facilities Sales Tax throughout Jackson County and it makes the rate 9.75 percent for everybody. Even more so, if a person is eating at a restaurant, there is a 2 percent food and beverage tax, making the rate 11.75 percent on meals purchased at a restaurant. There is also a 4 percent packaged liquor tax.

While the tax rate has increased, the amount of revenue brought in per quarter-percent has stayed about the same. In FY2008, the city brought in about $1 million per quarter percent. In FY2017, it brought in about $993,987.

Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said that even though the enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is down several thousand students, the city has shown stability because it is a regional economic center.

“We are the retail center for the region,” he said. “So, in spite of the enrollment declines, we continue to get sales tax because people come here to shop. It is also a lot of people that come in here to work every day due to SIU and SIH.”

The amount of state sales tax dollars collected could be tied to national and state-related occurrences. In FY2009, there was the Great Recession, which could be the reason for sales tax revenue from the state dropping about $211,000 from the previous year.

“I think people will agree that nationally, people were nervous about buying,” Williams said. “People lost their jobs, there was uncertainty about the future, and banks quit lending money. People hunkered down and stopped spending money."

The city slowly increased its revenue from the state as it got further away from the recession. In FY2017, the city saw about a $231,000 drop in state sales tax dollars once again. This time, Williams said a contributing factor could have been the state’s budget crisis. 

As for home-rule tax dollars, for FY2017, there's about a $43,000 drop for every quarter-percent increment. 

“My gut tells me it is still the state climate,” he said. “We just got the budget passed in June.”

Williams said the city relies heavily on its home-rule status to generate additional income for the city. He said cities that don't have it rely more on property taxes. There could be some concern in city hall about the city’s home-rule status because if Carbondale’s population falls below 25,000 people when the 2020 U.S. Census is completed, that status could be gone.

Cities below 25,000 people can put home-rule status on a referendum and let the public vote for it, which is why cities like Marion and Murphysboro have the distinction. This could be Carbondale’s fate in 2020.

If this happens and the Carbondale residents vote to remove its home-rule status, it would take about $10 million out of the city’s budget.

“The only way we could take $10 million out of the budget would be massive cuts to personnel and services,” Williams said. “Or it is a huge real estate levy … or a combination of the two.”

Additional home-rule sales tax increases, along with implementation of the food and beverage and package liquor tax, were ways to mitigate rising police and firefighter pension costs. Williams said the taxes were also a way to provide funding for community investment projects that have been neglected for many years.

“We think that investing in the community will have a payoff and will help things like the enrollment problem at SIU,” he said. “We look like we care about our town.

“We are always talking about costs and we are always talking about how to be more efficient.”


Carbondale City Hall is shown in November. 

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Carbondale Chamber comes out in support of SIUC restructuring plan

CARBONDALE — The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce has publicly endorsed Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plan to eliminate the university’s 42 departments and reorganize degree programs into newly established colleges and schools.

In an open letter sent to the SIU Board of Trustees last Tuesday, the chamber board expressed its support of the proposed shake-up, which Montemagno hopes to implement July 1.

Introduced in September 2017, the plan has proven divisive on campus: the SIU Faculty Senate, Graduate and Professional Student Council, and Undergraduate Student Council have adopted resolutions opposing the unilateral elimination of departments, while advocates of the plan argue that something must be done quickly to combat the university’s precipitous decline in enrollment.

In Tuesday’s open letter, the chamber placed itself squarely in the latter camp.

“There is no doubt that Chancellor Montemagno’s plan is challenging and ambitious,” the letter reads. “We believe that the time for action is now. Reorganization must not wait for extended, lengthy discussion, reviews and inaction. With years of declining enrollments and numerous leadership changes, the University, the city and region and our businesses cannot afford any delay.”

Chamber President and CEO Les O’Dell said the board has been in discussions about Montemagno’s plan for several months. The letter was approved at the Jan. 17 board meeting.

“SIU is obviously the biggest economic engine in the community, so what happens at the university is always at the forefront of some of the things we look at, because enrollment, research dollars — all those things affect our businesses, even down to restaurants and realtors and all of those kinds of folks,” O’Dell said during a phone interview earlier this week.

Asked why and how the board feels the controversial restructuring plan could solve the university’s enrollment crisis, O’Dell declined to go into specifics, but said the time for action is now.

“I think the spirit of our letter is more that, hey, something has to be done, whether it’s the chancellor’s plan or some other plan, but that’s the plan that has been proposed right now, that’s the one that the university can act on rather quickly. … We just want to see action taken. We feel like the time for study, the time for discussion, has long since passed,” he said.

The full letter reads: 

An Open Letter to the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees

As representatives of the Carbondale business community, we hold a keen interest in the happenings and discussions at Southern Illinois University. We are paying special attention to Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s plans for reorganization and restructuring of the University.

As the largest economic engine not only for Carbondale but for all of Southern Illinois, what happens at the University – its successes in all areas (enrollment, research, athletics, cultural and artistic endeavors and more) as well as its shortcomings – affect us all. In recent years, the continuing freefall in enrollment has negatively impacted most of our businesses, even forcing many once-profitable enterprises out of business.

There is no doubt that Chancellor Montemagno’s plan is challenging and ambitious. We believe that the time for action is now. Reorganization must not wait for extended, lengthy discussion, reviews and inaction. With years of declining enrollments and numerous leadership changes, the University, the city and region and our businesses cannot afford any delay.

Something must be done, sooner than later. The time for study, posturing and inaction is over. We stand with the Chancellor and his proposed plan and will do everything in our ability to support him and Southern Illinois University.

— Board of Directors, Carbondale Chamber of Commerce