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With Rahm Emanuel's announcement this week that he won't seek re-election, Chicago has a new opportunity to elect a mayor who will help the city tackle some of the systemic issues that have it held it back for decades.

"As much as I love this job and will always love this city and its residents, I've decided not to seek re-election," Emanuel said while holding hands with his wife, Amy Rule, at a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. "This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime."

Chicago's importance to the state of Illinois can't be overstated.

After Emanuel's announcement, Rockford Republican Dave Syverson correctly noted that Chicago is a key economic engine for all of Illinois and that Chicago's mayor holds the key to that engine. Furthermore, Syverson said all of Illinois should care about who becomes Chicago's next mayor.

Amid the chaos, it's safe to assume even more candidates will join the fray. A dozen already have entered, and several more have said they are considering a run.

Chicago needs a strong, independent candidate who is not beholden to the special interests and the career politicians who have destroyed the city's and state's finances; someone who is willing to end the cronyism that has for decades plagued City Hall and cost taxpayers dearly. Chicago deserves someone with a plan to effectively address gun violence, corruption, out-of-control pension costs, an unfair property tax system and a troubled school district.

The potential of the existing field of candidates is thin. Chicago deserves better.

• On a brighter note, things are about to get a bit better for everyone in Illinois who drives a vehicle.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that would allow vehicle registration to be paid for two years at a time. Drivers won’t save money on the $101 annual cost, but they will save time and hassle. Motorists would pay $202 for the multi-year registration. Trailer owners would be able to register for up to five years at once.

This isn't the solution to all of the state's problems, but it is evidence that sensible bills can pass through the legislature and become sensible laws. Credit here goes to State Sen. Dan McConchie's father, who inspired the bill.

“He said, ‘I don’t understand why we can’t just renew our license plates for more than one year at a time,’” said McConchie, R-Hawthorne Woods. “And I remember thinking, 'hey, what a great idea.’”

Ten other states already offer the option for multi-year vehicle registration. The mesasure faced pushback from some state workers, but common sense prevailed, McConchie said.

“The bureaucrats don’t necessarily like change but we did finally get it through,” he said.

The bill passed both the House and Senate with unanimous support. The law takes effect in 2021.

• On the education front, Illinois got yet another reminder about the true costs of benefits.

A recent study by Bellwether Education Partners found that education spending on a national level over the 10 years ending in 2014 slightly increased, by 1.3 percent, even though student population grew by more than 3 percent. But spending on education benefits, typically teacher retirement and retiree health care spending, has exploded. From 2005 to 2014, the national benefit spending increased by 22 percent on average, leaving fewer dollars for everything else.

Illinois’ benefit spending from all sources increased at more than five times the rate that the state's overall education budget grew over that same time, an 85 percent increase from federal, state and local sources.

“Illinois is in dire straits in terms of ballooning benefit spending,” said Max Marchitello, senior policy analyst with Bellwether Education Partners.

“Illinois’ problem of ballooning benefits spending is unlikely to slow down anytime soon,” Marchitello wrote in the report. “The state’s recent reform of its school funding system and the decision for the state to pick up the bill for Chicago Public School’s benefit costs are positive but won’t be sufficient to disrupt this troubling pattern.”

Teachers deserve benefits for the work they do, but those benefits should be more in line with what their neighbors in the private sector receive.

The longer lawmakers ignore this problem, the worse it will get.

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Brett Rowland is news editor of Illinois News Network, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Brett at browland@ilnews.org.

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