EDITORIAL: 8 New Year’s wishes for Chicago and Illinois

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Surrounded by students and elected officials, Gov. Bruce Rauner signs education funding reform bill SB 1947 at Ebinger Elementary School in August. The state still has a long way to go to distribute more money to schools that need it most. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The number of homicides in Chicago remains shockingly high. Illinois still must do more to make sure kids who live in poorer areas get the education they deserve. Some of our universities are struggling to get by, still reeling from the two-year budget standoff that ended in July. Outside Chicago, wages are too low. Statewide, there are plenty of roads and bridges to fix.There is a lot do in 2018 in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. Here’s our list of things to get done:

1. Keep driving down homicides

There were fewer murders in 2017 compared with 2016, yet the number was still staggering. Going into New Year’s weekend, 662 people had been murdered in our city. In 2016, there were 781 homicides, a number not seen for two decades. There is good news in that two of the city’s most violent police districts — Englewood and Harrison — saw reduced crime as more newly hired police officers hit the streets. But too many communities still have struggling schools, too few jobs and too many guns.

EDITORIAL

2. More money for schools

For decades Illinois used a lousy formula to fund public schools, leaving districts with a lot of poor and special-needs kids with a lot less money to educate students than districts in wealthier areas. Finally, in 2017, the Legislature adopted a formula that one day could bridge the gap. But until Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Legislature come up with billions of more dollars for schools — at least $3.5 billion — the poorest children in our state will continue to be held back. Stop letting down kids, lawmakers.

3. Invest in Illinois universities

Illinois is no longer the fifth most populous state. It fell to sixth, and Pennsylvania moved up to fifth, after our state lost 33,703 more people in 2017. To stop some of the bleeding, Illinois should recommit to building up its universities, which fell into rapid decline during the budget crisis for which Gov. Rauner was largely responsible. Making our universities more economically stable will help to stem the exodus of young people leaving Illinois for schools in other states.

4. Raise the minimum wage

Chicago and some suburbs in Cook County are on their way to raising the hourly minimum wage to $13. The rest of the state lags far behind at $8.25, though that’s higher than the national hourly minimum wage of $7.25 that was set in 2009. The costs of health care, groceries and transportation keep going up, but most people in Illinois aren’t seeing their wages rise. An election year, when politicians really want to score points with working people, is the right time for Democrats and Rauner to compromise on a minimum-wage increase.

5. Fix broken property tax system

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios must fix the secretive, complicated property tax assessment system that benefits the politically connected at the expense of other property owners. Wealthy commercial property owners and lawyers who specialize in appealing property taxes, including some who donate campaign money to Berrios and his allies, want the status quo. This system is downright awful for regular folks who own homes.

6. Repair roads and bridges

Across Illinois, bridges are decaying. Roads need work. A capital bill to improve infrastructure would put people to work and make the state more appealing to businesses. We heard rumblings about a capital bill in the fall. We’re all for it, but hold the pork please. No one needs fancy chandeliers, like the four purchased for nearly $81,000 each in an improvement project at the Capitol in 2013.

7. Bring Amazon HQ2 to Chicago

Chicago joined 237 other North American cities in bidding for Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2, a campus expected to be about the same size as the company’s home in Seattle. The payoff for the winning city will be huge — tens of thousands of new jobs. Chicago should be highly attractive. Our city offers the tech behemoth a big, diverse and highly educated workforce, including 35,000 software developers and 67,000 engineers. Chicago can meet all its transportation needs. We emphasized this in a September editorial: “Amazon, a company taking on the world, would find an ideal home in Chicago, a commercial hub for the world.” And, sure, there are a few weeks of Arctic cold here, but our city never stops working.

8. End historic predatory behavior in the workplace

It started with news stories about sexual harassment and assault allegedly committed for years by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, more than 40 entertainers, politicians and high-profile members of the news media have faced allegations of harassment as women have grown empowered to speak up about mistreatment in a #MeToo movement. Corporate America also is taking notice. Ford Motor Co. recently apologized to female employees who endured decades of harassment at its plants in Chicago and Chicago Heights, just months after settling a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Is workplace culture changing? We sure hope so.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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