Hits and misses in Springfield's game

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The Illinois General Assembly’s action, and inaction, resembles a grab-bag gift, or the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box — you never know what you’re going to get or whether you’ll like it.

So it’s no surprise that when the curtain came down on the spring session in Springfield last month, the audience was left with a few satisfied smiles, a few disappointed frowns, and one gasp of exasperation.

Lawmakers passed a budget, but refused to extend the temporary income tax or cut spending, so the budget’s “balanced” with smoke and mirrors, and there’s not enough revenue to fund existing programs or pay the bills.

They approved a measure that lets Chicago start tackling its pension crisis, but stiffed a similar request from Cook County.

And high-stakes issues, including gaming expansion and the ultimate fate of the aforementioned income tax, remain on hold until after the November election.

As for the efficiency, transparency and accountability proposals watchdogs like the Better Government Association weighed in on, it’s also a mixed bag.

Here’s a box score, beginning with the “win” column:

  • Rep. Jack Franks and Sen. Daniel Biss passed a “smart streamlining” bill that should eliminate a few of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government and save tax dollars. The legislation, recommended by Franks’ Local Government Consolidation Commission and backed by the BGA, facilitates the consolidation or dissolution of small, obscure taxing bodies. It’s a little victory in the epic battle against bureaucratic bloat.
  • Sen. Kwame Raoul and Rep. Scott Drury sponsored legislation that reforms the way police conduct suspect lineups. The goal is to prevent wrongful convictions, the shameful miscarriages of justice that ruin lives and waste tax dollars. Better lineup procedures are the latest in a series of reforms prompted by a 2011 investigation by the BGA and the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
  • The General Assembly adopted a pair of measures that should help uncover potential conflicts of interest involving state grant recipients and charter school operators. The goal of the bills’ backers, Sens. Dan Kotowski and Jacqueline Collins, is to prevent the kind of troubling conflicts that permeated the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative’s anti-violence grants, and the United Neighborhood Organization’s charter school construction contracts.
  • The Legislature also approved a same-day voter registration pilot program for the Nov. 4th election. Reform groups view same-day registration as a key to boosting election-day turnout, which was an abysmal 16 percent for the March primary.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that several worthy streamlining initiatives stalled in Springfield . . .


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