The following editorial represents the collective opinion of editorial boards of the following papers owned by Lee Enterprises: The Pantagraph, Bloomington; Herald & Review, Decatur; The Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale; Quad-City Times; and Journal-Gazette & Times-Courier, Mattoon.
Wednesday's State of the State speech by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will set the stage for the 2018 legislative season.
Can Rauner move Illinois' legislature further forward from progress made last year? Or will we face another year where our state is national punchline?
It is an election year, so anything is possible.
Here are some points we hope Rauner addresses in Wednesday's speech. Some of these concerns were addressed in partial fashion last year. But there's little need to celebrate a long-overdue budget, and while the budget issue was temporarily and partially solved, there are a number of issues that still need to be addressed.
Workers comp. The state's system is despised by businesses, especially small companies. Businesses are struggling with rising workers' compensation insurance premiums and related expenses. But it's vital to establish safeguards against negligent employers and also have checks on who gets workers' compensation and for how long.
Pension reform. For years, Illinois lawmakers have looked this issue in the eye and blinked. Pension reform is an issue over which fatalists throw up their hands in surrender, and the timid pretend either it doesn't exist or continue to await the magic solution. There are proposals and plans either in existence or being prepared. Rauner should pick one and lead the charge on it.
Property tax. Rauner has said he'll push legislation to ban lawmakers from doing property tax appeals legal work. The plan is a shot across the bow at House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose law practice involves handling property tax appeals for wealthy property owners in Chicago. Here's hoping the governor doesn't stop there, or else he’s in danger of turning a discussion about the country's second-highest property taxes into a personal grudge battle. Make no mistake – that's the only way that part of Rauner's plan will be viewed.
Refining streamlining layers of government. This was a campaign cry for Rauner, and this month he's presented specifics, complaining about the number of occupational licenses required in Illinois, and their attendant paperwork, fees and filing charges. Eliminating some red tape should be an easy bipartisan goal.
Road issues. This is pay-me-now or pay-me-later deal. Illinois roads are in disrepair. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a score of C-minus for infrastructure. Illinois' gas tax is one thing that's remained constant. There's been no increase since 1990. Only three states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Alaska — have gone longer without boosting their gas taxes, and increases are being considered presently in the latter two states. Admittedly, it's wanting things both ways to demand property tax adjustment, pension reform and settle a budget along with agreeing to a gasoline tax. But gasoline taxes are among the most equitable of all. We are presently seeing the result of having ignored and under-funded this need for too long.
Ways to attract businesses. Rauner is a businessman who ran on a platform of knowing what it takes to make business successful in Illinois. As a public face of the state, he's in perfect position to play ambassador and entice businesses, and as a politician, he's in perfect position to push the legislature for consideration, and to take public credit for the successes.
Marijuana. The time to start having the talk seriously on a state legislative level has arrived. Citizens' positions need to be established. The discussion on what legalization could do from the standpoints of revenue of public health needs to be aired here. Until that happens, we are keeping our heads in sand, ignoring a changing world and being unwilling to mark our ground in that world.
School funding. Illinois' neediest schools are still waiting for word from the state. As is the case with many budgetary issues, just because a budget was finally painfully put together doesn't mean the problems of the two-year absence of a budget disappeared. If public education is as important as we believe it is, and if lawmakers in Springfield believe what they say, funding issues must be addressed in a more solid fashion.
It's a large laundry list to be sure. But Rauner was elected with the state facing dozens of challenges. He may have been surprised at some of the issues that have popped up. But no one ever suggested leading Illinois out of its present mess would be an easy job, either.