October 21, 2017
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Figure out how to make Innovation Network a reality
Given the state's poor reputation for its finances and being unfriendly to businesses, Illinois needs to communicate — in a big way — that the Land of Lincoln is a place where innovation is nurtured and encouraged.
A loud message went out last week with the announcement of a proposed public-private partnership in Chicago that would focus on innovation. While questions remain on how to make this idea reality — notably, how to pay for it — if it gains momentum it could generate hope that a new day could soon dawn in Illinois when it comes to encouraging economic development.
The two-year budget impasse didn't just deprive businesses, health-care facilities, colleges, schools and social service agencies from money the state owed them; it cast a dismal pall across Illinois when it came to economic development. It seemed impossible to lure any new businesses among the instability, especially as funding for higher education was slashed and thousands of students fled to other states they thought would provide a better experience.
As we noted in our Sounding the Alarm series, a strong higher-education system is vital to attracting and retaining businesses. They want to be where smart people are working on tomorrow's breakthroughs.
If it comes to fruition, that's the crux of the idea behind the University of Illinois-led project announced Thursday by the system and Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Illinois Innovation Network aims to create a $1.2 billion network of research universities, businesses and public sector partners that would develop talent and ideas, as well as find innovative solutions, in computing and big data, advanced materials, food and agriculture, and biosciences and health, according to a news release from Rauner's office.
Besides the U of I system schools, Northwestern University and University of Chicago would be partners in this endeavor. Related Midwest is donating land along the Chicago River in the South Loop to house it. The IIN's first step would be to develop the Discovery Partners Institute, which would eventually house up to 90 faculty and 1,800 students a year.
The intent is to have them work with researchers and Illinois businesses to "create new technologies and advancements in its areas of study. The idea is to have collaborators advance global solutions to attract both venture capital investment and talent to the state," according to the news release.
We've long called on Rauner to champion such an idea, as his business background would be an invaluable asset to pursuing such an endeavor. We are excited that the blueprints he's been sketching of this idea since the campaign have a shot at becoming reality.
But just because we're jazzed about the potential this presents doesn't mean we don't have concerns. The biggest one is how it will be funded, because the framework needed to encourage innovation doesn't come cheap. The U of I System will lead the fundraising efforts, and the governor expects the financing to come primarily from private sources, although he would like some state and local investment as well.
However, it's not like either entity has money just lying around: A few days before this was announced, Rauner's administration said it has identified more than $200 million in cuts to human services, agriculture and transportation due to a state budget he says remains out of whack by at least $1.5 billion even with those cuts. The budget proposal pitched Wednesday by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel included suggested tax increases and cost-cutting measures.
Rauner initially stated he would use proceeds from selling the Thompson Center in Chicago to help fund the initiative. But that estimated $300 million also has been incorporated into this year's state budget (plus, the measure that would allow its sale hasn't even reached his desk).
So questions remain. But talking seriously about implementing this long-overdue idea is generating some positive buzz. Illinois already has top-notch research programs and staff among its higher education institutions. It's time to better leverage those into an initiative that shouts the state can be the hub for the research and development a global economy thrives on.
October 20, 2017
Teach children how to wisely consume digital news
Even as we argue that we need stronger laws to control online political ads and to corral the worst online trolls, we also need to do a better job of teaching ourselves to be intelligent consumers of digital news.
We need to teach children, for example, how to consume information, beginning with the question of where a news item originates and who is behind it.
The government in Italy already is trying to do just that, according to the New York Times. Students are taught not to share unverified news, to check for sources and evidence and to be wary of social media manipulation. They are shown how their "likes" on Facebook can become political fodder or used for profit by businesses.
Americans should consider taking a page from that lesson book.
Even if the U.S. government and the giant online companies are successful in reducing the flood of fake news that permeates the internet, the fetid spigot can never be shut off entirely. Consumers will have to learn to carefully judge what they see and what they read online.
Rumor has always spread faster than fact. The online world has accelerated that imbalance. Those who venture into that world need to learn how to be wary.
October 20, 2017
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Balanced budget deep in the red
Gov. Bruce Rauner has been cast by legislators in the villain's role on the budget issue.
A couple months ago — after the big budget battle between the state's Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature — House Speaker Michael Madigan claimed victory.
He forced a state income tax increase down Gov. Bruce Rauner's throat by leading an override of Rauner's veto of the budget and tax plan. Rauner foes said it was tough but necessary medicine to put Illinois on firmer financial ground and balance the state's 2017-18 budget.
But, like so much in Illinois politics, it wasn't quite true.
That's why Rauner this week announced that he's identified more than $200 million in cuts to balance the budget that legislators contended was balanced. There's only $1.5 billion more in needed cuts before available revenues will match projected spending.
Of course, the news story making the rounds these days is that a heartless governor is mindlessly cutting programs aimed at helping the poor. It's part of the Democratic Party mantra aimed at winning the governor's office back in 2018, and it's a powerful political club Democrats are wielding.
After all, the governor is making cuts, at least on paper. The fact that his cuts are motivated by the appropriation of phantom tax dollars is a mere detail that won't get as much play.
Although the dollar cuts are sizeable, the percentages they represent aren't. Rauner said that he's tried to impose 5 percent reductions in a variety of programs, which is similar to those that lawmakers last year suggested be applied to state agencies.
But behind the numbers, of course, are people who rely on the taxpayers for assistance.
Among those programs targeted for reductions are those aimed at addiction prevention, homelessness prevention, housing services, youth employment programs, refugee assistance and aid for people with disabilities.
The governor also took the ax to spending aimed at manufacturing, tourism and agriculture, business-support ventures that the Chicago Tribune noted the governor has "historically supported."
Why did the governor cut spending for programs he is known for supporting? The state doesn't have the money to fund them.
That, of course, didn't stop a spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker from berating Rauner for his heartlessness. She said "Rauner slashing vital programs that helps Illinoisans built better lives comes as no surprise" and added that Rauner "has no moral compass." The Pritzker spokeswoman did not say what cuts he'd make if he was in Rauner's position.
Another Rauner critic, however, seemed to have a better handle on the problem. The Responsible Budget Coalition, a group representing 300 organizations statewide, took the usual swipe at the governor and called for his cuts to be overridden by the Legislature. But it also called for passage of a progressive income tax that would replace the state's flat income tax and generate many millions of dollars in new revenue.
In a tacit admission that all the current appropriate dollars aren't there to spend, the coalition said the governor and legislators should "choose these sort of revenue options to put our state on solid footing and lay the groundwork for prosperity."
Unbalanced state budgets are nothing new in Illinois politics. Even though the Illinois Constitution mandates that budgets be balanced, governors and legislators have for years ignored the legal requirement, in the process running up crippling debts that have made it impossible for state government to operate smoothly.
The state is to the point now where just doing more of the same is getting increasingly difficult. Further, Rauner isn't inclined to pretend that a budget that isn't balanced really is.
So look for a big fight when Rauner's cuts go back to the House and Senate, and he asks for assistance in cutting the remaining $1.5 billion in phony appropriations.
His position is that the state can't spend money it doesn't have. The General Assembly's response almost certainly will be, "Sure we can. We've been doing it for years."