November 23, 2015
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Flushing money down the drain
The way Illinois has run its EDGE program is enough to make taxpayers consider jumping off a ledge.
Gov. Bruce Rauner recently took another positive step in his effort to clean up the state's problem-ridden EDGE tax subsidy program.
But he has a ways to go in terms of opening it up to full public examination. Still, it's better to have some progress than none at all.
EDGE — Economic Development for a Growing Economy — is a process by which the state is supposed to encourage job growth by providing financial assistance to companies that make new investments that create jobs.
Unfortunately, it's been a fiasco.
The basic problem is that it doesn't achieve the promised results.
In 2011, Illinois gave Mitsubishi a $29 million tax credit in exchange for its promise to keep its Normal car-building plant in operation. A couple months ago, Mitsubishi announced it's closing the plant where 1,200 employees work.
Mitsubishi may have meant what it said. But it clearly was promising more than it could deliver. So why were taxpayers put on the hook for a sum of that size?
Abbott picked up $14.5 million in tax breaks when it invested $36 million in a Des Plaines division and eventually added more than 100 new employees. But since 2011, the company laid off 1,000 employees working elsewhere in the state.
Rauner, an EDGE skeptic, announced earlier this year that tax incentives will no longer be provided unless new jobs are created. Companies sometimes collected benefits if they promised to retain existing jobs.
Now he's halting the practice of providing tax breaks for companies that add jobs in one place while cutting them in another. Rauner also is no longer permitting the same companies to repeatedly pursue tax benefits.
The EDGE program has been suspended during the current budget impasse. When it's reopened state officials need to be much more astute in measuring company compliance with their promises and whether the results are worth the cost.
More than $1 billion has been earmarked for subsidies since 1999. That's why it borders on the unbelievable that there was no method for measuring results until the Tribune put together its own computer database.
The newspaper's role in the Rauner administration efforts to put EDGE on the right track cannot be underestimated. That's why it's disappointing that Rauner did not act on two transparency issues.
Companies are required to file reports with the state on their compliance progress, but only reports from the first five years are public. Final reports need to be available for public inspection.
Also not available for public examination are the actual amounts of taxpayer subsidies companies accept. The spending of public dollars must be publicly disclosed.
If companies are reluctant to comply with those rules, they don't have to seek the subsidies.
Critics of programs like this have long insisted that companies make investments and create jobs based on factors independent of the tax subsidies public officials throw their way. Tax incentives may provide an additional incentive if two, three or more competing sites are equal. But that's a rare occurrence.
But if subsidies are to be employed, they must be employed carefully. Illinois has been indefensibly sloppy in its oversight of the EDGE program. It's way past time for a complete fix, perhaps even its elimination.
November 22, 2015
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
We can accept Syrian refugees without accepting terrorism
Over the years, we've often admonished ourselves to avoid writing editorials that weave between a there's-this-pro and a but-then-there's-that-con approach that fails to take a strong point of view.
Today, we're finding ourselves in danger of sounding like we're doing just that. When it comes to the Syrian refugee issue, we hold two positions that some might see as diametrically opposed.
But there is nothing timid about the points we feel the need to make:We believe that a brief moratorium on processing refugees from Syria and Iraq is prudent.
We also believe that accepting refugees from these areas is not only humanitarian but essential to American interests.
These positions are not mutually exclusive, and we wish politicians, pundits and some members of the public would stop arguing the points reflexively based on emotion. Everyone, let's lower the volume and debate thoughtfully with a little common sense. In a foreboding message, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last week some of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks "took advantage of the refugee crisis ... of the chaos, perhaps, for some of them to slip in."
The Telegraph of London went a step further and reported that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the presumed ringleader, and at least two other terrorists used the migrant route to cross into Europe through Greece.
Let's allow that to sink in for a moment. The United States is not Europe, and in many respects our Homeland Security systems are far superior. But terrorists have vowed to attack again here too and in recent days have specifically announced plans to take aim at Washington D.C. and at Times Square in New York.
Does anyone doubt they might try to use the veil of refugee migration to reach our shores?
We don't believe America should turn its back on refugees who need our help.
But there is nothing inhumane about pausing to review and, if necessary, strengthen our nation's precautions, presuming we do so systematically with a clear end-date for the moratorium. In fact, it seems to be simple common sense to do so.
At the same time, let's redouble our commitment to the refugee program itself.
Welcoming well-vetted refugees not only is the humanitarian thing to do, it is the American thing to do.
If we are to win the war on terror, it will not be done with bullets and bombs alone. It will be done with the power of our ideals.
This is not a war of religions. Fundamentally, it is not even a war between ways of life.
It is a war between bigotry and acceptance. It is a war between hatred and love.
That is the message we send the terrorists and those they would recruit.
How do we send that message if we do not open our arms to those in peril?
November 20, 2015
Sauk Valley Media
Senatorial salute for local program
It's not every day a U.S. senator comes to town to heap praise on a local program.
But that's what U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, did last week.
Durbin traveled to Dixon to learn more about the anti-heroin efforts launched after three overdose deaths in 11 days near the start of the year.
The senator spoke with Dixon Mayor Li Arellano Jr., Dixon Police Chief Danny D. Langloss Jr., Lee County Sheriff John Simonton and others about PRISM of Lee County, a coalition of local agencies and groups united in the fight to prevent heroin-overdose deaths, and its Safe Passage Initiative.
Safe Passage is responsible for getting 25 addicts into treatment since Sept. 1. By entering treatment through the program, the addicts avoid prosecution on drug charges.
Durbin was impressed by what he heard. "For the last several months in Dixon, they have tried something new. This really has some potential."
Durbin is right about that. By accelerating the path to treatment for addicts, Safe Passage is very likely saving young lives.
It's a quantum leap from the "war on drugs" approach - a radical departure, in fact.
Durbin recognizes the courage that it took for the community - law enforcement officers in particular - to embrace change.
Durbin is not standing still during the heroin-overdose crisis, either.
In June, he introduced the Overdose Prevention Act in the Senate. The bill is designed to improve access to nasal naloxone, known as Narcan. This drug counters the effects of an opioid overdose and thus is effective in treating heroin overdoses, if administered in time.
That's the key. With more access to Narcan, more lives could be saved.
The senator likely was impressed that PRISM of Lee County already has addressed the issue.
According to Langloss, every officer and deputy in Lee County has been trained and equipped on Narcan.
In addition, more than 50 community members have been trained on administering Narcan and equipped with it.
Plenty of work remains, a fact that was emphasized by the heroin-overdose death of a 22-year-old Dixon woman a day before Durbin's visit.
After all the plans and programs and meetings and initiatives, someone still overdosed and died, demonstrating that this is a problem that will not be easily licked.
It's an incentive for the community to buckle down and work even harder. Young lives depend on it.