On Dec. 30, we published a list of New Year’s wishes for Chicago and Illinois in 2017. Now, at the year’s halfway mark, we take a look at what progress has been made — and not made.
1. Compromise on a state budget. Grade: B+
We got a compromise — and an income tax hike — to end a devastating two-year impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, but those two guys didn’t do the compromising. Democrats and a small but courageous number of Republicans in the General Assembly finally found common ground, understanding that our state had reached a point of despair. But the new budget is no magic-pill cure. It still will take years for Illinois to pay off a backlog of bills that tripled to nearly $15 billion during Rauner’s first 30 months in office, and nobody has a good idea for how to eliminate a massive unfunded pension liability. Still, a budget beats two years of irresponsibility.
2. Drive down homicides. Grade: F
As of early Friday morning, 349 people had been killed in Chicago in 2017. That’s eight more homicides than Chicago had at this point last year — and 2016 was the deadliest year in two decades with more than 775 killings. The four-day Fourth of July weekend was particularly brutal. From Friday evening through early Wednesday, 101 people were shot, 14 fatally. Another homicide victim was stabbed to death.
3. Enact, enforce gun laws. Grade: C+
Finally, the state took a step toward curtailing illegal guns by passing a law to lengthen sentences for gun crimes. Those who commit repeat gun crimes will face seven to 14 years in prison instead of three to 14. Judges who deviate from these guidelines must explain why. This bill was long sought by Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.
4. Fix broken school funding formula. Grade: Incomplete
Cross your fingers, folks. Illinois is close to getting a fairer funding model for schools, decades overdue. Legislators did away with the old funding model — the most inequitable in the country — when they approved the new state budget. The old model did little to compensate for the fact that some communities enjoy great property tax wealth and, therefore, can build and operate excellent and expensive schools, while other communities suffer from little property tax wealth and must send their children to wholly inadequate schools.
The new law says money must be distributed using an “evidence-based” model. Democrats and Republicans both want this formula. But they can’t agree on some details, including how much Chicago Public Schools should get. Senate Bill 1, passed by Democrats, is headed to the governor’s desk. He should sign it or bring both sides together to tweak it. That’s the best way to make sure all schools open on time in August or September.
5. End gerrymandering. Grade: C-
We saw a hint of progress in June when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving gerrymandering, the practice of politicians drawing up legislative districts to favor one party over another. Gerrymandering has been around since the early days of the Republic, but new technology has made it so effective that political parties can use it to hold onto power even if the other side starts getting more votes. Moreover, gerrymandering encourages polarization and discourages top-caliber candidates from even running. Until now, the courts haven’t agreed on reliable standards for stopping gerrymandering. Here’s hoping the Supreme Court figures it out.
6. A new Old Post Office. Grade: C-
Sometime in 2018, companies will begin leasing office space in the Old Post Office, a 60-acre monstrosity stretching across Congress Parkway that has been vacant for two decades. The city forced a sale by a British developer to New York-based 601W Companies LLC last year and there has been some progress — finally — in redeveloping the historic Art Deco building. A new temporary roof is finished. Asbestos abatement and interior demolition is just about done. New electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems will be installed, beginning this fall. Soon, the public will see noticeable progress as windows are replaced, City Hall tells us. 2018 can’t come soon enough.
7. Another World Series. Grade: C-
We got greedy quickly and implored the Cubs to make it to another World Series after last year’s magical run. This year the team, still loaded with talent, is looking meh. After Friday’s victory against the Pirates, the Cubs were 43-43, and still at least four games behind Milwaukee for first place in the National League Central. Here’s hoping they get it together after the All-Star break. At least make it to the playoffs, Cubbies.
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