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Editorial: Midterm grades for Chicago, Illinois

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

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On Dec. 31, we laid out 10 ways it’s possible to improve Chicago and Illinois. Now, in midsummer, let’s take a look at our halftime score:

1. Reduce shootings by police. Grade: Shows improvement.

In March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Eddie Johnson police superintendent, and in May, Emanuel said he would replace Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority with a more independent civilian agency. Among other reforms, he also called for the appointment of a public safety inspector general to monitor the Police Department, called for a Community Safety Oversight Board to monitor all police-related operations, and is setting up a Bureau of Professional Standards. Police will get training in de-escalation tactics and dealing with individuals with mental illness. Police will have more body cams, and videos will generally be released in 60 days. But Chicago still needs a bold rewrite of union rules that protect bad cops.

2. End Illinois’ budget impasse. Grade: Incomplete.

Yes, there was a stopgap measure, but Illinois finished one fiscal year with no budget and started the next without a full blueprint for the coming year. Nor has Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed any plausible plan to raise revenue for a full year of spending. Meanwhile, everyone from the elderly and disabled to college students and people with mental health issues pays the price. We repeat our previous recommendation: End the impasse. Now.

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3. Catch your breath on tax increases. Grade: Oops.

Last year, Cook County raised its sales tax, which means in Chicago, sales taxes are highest in the nation. Chicago enacted a $588 million property-tax hike in October.

So it was discouraging two weeks ago to hear Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle say more tax hikes may come. Civic Federation President Laurence Msall says the county should trim wages and benefits instead. In Chicago, more taxes hikes and fees are on the horizon to pay down the city’s huge pension burden.

4. A fix for Chicago Public Schools. Grade: Temporary relief.

In the state’s stopgap budget, Chicago schools got about $100 million more in state aid and the possibility of some $202 million to help pay for Chicago’s teacher pensions. But a stopgap is not a permanent solution. The Chicago Teachers Union might still go on strike, but teachers ought to recognize just how bad the finances are in Chicago and Illinois, and compromise.

5. Enact and enforce gun laws. Grade: F.

It’s increasingly clear Illinois and the nation need common-sense gun laws. But a sensible bill was deep-sixed in this year’s Legislature. The bill would have required a license for all gun dealers in Illinois and improved reporting requirements. The bill actually got out of committee twice, but through a procedural move was sent without a vote to the Rules Committee, sort of a legislative version of the circular file. We hope proponents bring this up again next year, and that the Legislature sees the wisdom of enacting it.

6. Give undocumented students a chance at scholarships. Grade: Incomplete.

In the spring legislative session, the Illinois Senate passed a bill that would allow young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and raised in Illinois to be considered for state-based grants and scholarships. But the bill died in the House. The House should pass this bill. Why not encourage kids to better themselves and their communities by getting a college degree?

7. Put a stop to gerrymandering. Grade: Getting close.

On May 6, supporters of a constitutional amendment ballot to draw the state’s legislative boundaries in a more voter-friendly way delivered petitions with nearly twice as many signatures as required to place the amendment on the ballot in November. Next, a Cook County judge is scheduled to rule on or before July 21 on the amendment’s constitutionality. We support the bipartisan Independent Maps coalition’s push to end gerrymandering, an undemocratic way of drawing district boundaries to secure voting outcomes and all but wipe out challengers.

8. Obama library comes into focus. Grade: Incomplete.

In June, Barack and Michelle Obama named New York’s Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to be architects for the Obama Presidential Center. But we still don’t know if the center will be situated in Washington Park or Jackson Park. We favor Washington Park, which sits in an area that needs economic development.

9. Stroll the Riverwalk from Lake Street to lakefront. Grade: On schedule.

As construction continues, the $100 million expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk is shaping up as a beautiful public space. The final phase, which should be finished by year’s end, will extend the Riverwalk to Lake Street, giving us a whole new way to admire Chicago. In June, the Riverwalk’s website went live at http://www.chicagoriverwalk.us.

10. Win it all, Cubs. Grade: Déjà vu? (We hope not.)

Old-timers remember 1969, when the Cubs got off to a terrific start and then played .500 ball the rest of the season, losing their grip on the pennant. This year’s Cubs also got off to a terrific start, and also have had trouble keeping up the pace. The All-Star break is a good time for the team to regroup. We want a World Series championship.

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