Chicago Tribune. April 26, 2021.

Editorial: The Illinois Exodus continues. We’re losing a congressional seat.

Illinois will lose one congressional seat in 2022, from 18 to 17, following the release of preliminary U.S. census numbers on Monday. This should come as no surprise. In fact, if you want to uncork the bubbly, go right ahead. It could have been worse.

While we don’t know drill-down numbers yet — we don’t know, for example, which parts of the state grew while others shrank — we know Illinois was one of seven states that will lose one representative in Congress. Our company in congressional shrinkage includes California, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, all of which will lose a seat in the U.S. House. The fastest growing state during the last 10 years was Utah, home of mountains and Mormons.

The data does not include numbers that will help determine how Illinois’ 177 General Assembly seats will shift. Those numbers aren’t expected until September, though lawmakers are pushing ahead anyway with questionable population estimates. The party in charge, the Democrats, don’t want to include the GOP in the mapmaking process. So they’re flying blind to meet a June 30 constitutional deadline, drawing districts that will favor incumbency and continued one-party rule in Springfield.

Which Illinois lawmakers committed to an independent map-drawing process but now are allowing a partisan map, drawn by them, to proceed? We named some of them in a recent editorial that can be found here:

Meanwhile, the loss of one seat in Congress is not as bad as some predicted. Census data released in December showed that since 2013, more than 223,000 residents had moved out of Illinois. The number leaving has not made up for the number arriving.

Those are people who won’t be paying taxes here in income, property, sales, alcohol, cigarette, cannabis, parking or gasoline. They won’t be renting apartments, shopping here, buying homes, dining out or sending their kids to school. Just about every sector of the Illinois economy is affected when we lose population. And being in the category of “less desirable state” for those who are moving here means depressed market values for those selling.

Why are so many people departing? Certainly some leave because they don’t like winter weather. The Sunbelt states have been growing for decades. That’s not new. But in 2014, Illinois’ domestic migration shortfall jumped from 68,204 to 93,704. The negative number jumped again in 2015 to 106,544.

It went up again in 2016 to 109,941. In 2017, more exodus: 114,779. In 2018, another 114,154 people. The losses have not kept up with birthrates and those moving to Illinois.

Why? Depends on where you live, but many left because they felt their city and Illinois were headed in the wrong direction. Taxes are high, violence in Chicago has been rising, and our leaders have failed to implement the necessary policy changes to attract businesses and lower local property taxes.

Illinois once boasted 27 seats in the U.S. House. We’re now down to 17.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently said the problem has been college students leaving or not coming back, as if that in itself isn’t a problem. It is. Every resident who leaves because they don’t see a future here is a problem. The overall population drop might seem small given we’re still a big state. But focusing on the percentage misses the larger point — we’re not growing. We’re not even staying steady.

And families, especially now that more parents are working from home, can do the math on what they pay in taxes, on what might be required of them if the state’s pension funds officially dry up or if all the governments charging them in taxes keep up their clip of spending. They want out. Who could blame them?


Chicago Sun-Times. April 26, 2021.

Editorial: A smart way to save for retirement in Illinois could get even smarter

Expand Illinois Secure Choice, a state program that automatically enrolls workers in retirement savings plan — unless they opt out.

Close to half of all working-age families in America have less than $5,000 saved for retirement. And by the year 2035, as many as 30 million retirees are expected to be living in poverty or close to it.

We’ve written about this coming retirement crisis before, including three years ago when we supported an automatic retirement savings program being pushed by Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs. Almost nothing has improved since then, sadly, except that Frerichs’ program has been a modest success — and it definitely deserves to be expanded.

Frerichs’ program, called Illinois Secure Choice, is an entirely voluntary retirement plan that encourages people whose employers don’t offer pensions or 401(k)s to save for retirement on their own. The key to program’s success is its “opt out” rather than “opt in” feature, meaning workers who aren’t already offered retirement-savings options through their employers are automatically enrolled in the state retirement program unless they decide not to participate.

Since Illinois Secure Choice went into effect May 2018, more than 85,000 working people in Illinois have joined, saving more than $55 million for retirement. They were enrolled automatically through some 6,100 employers — as companies are required to do or pay a fine — and simply chose not to opt out. It’s the easy way to do the right thing.

We strongly support legislation working its way through Springfield, Senate Bill 208, that would expand Illinois Secure Choice so that it covers many more workers who, at the moment, are saving little or nothing for retirement. The current law requires companies with 25 or more employees to automatically enroll their workers in Illinois Secure Choice. SB208 would reduce that threshold to companies with as few as five employees.

We feel the need to stress this again: Companies that offer their own retirement plans need not participate in Illinois Secure Choice. And the only cost to companies that do is administrative.

Illinois Secure Choice automatically puts 5% of a worker’s income in a retirement Roth IRA through payroll deductions. The program is run by a private-sector financial-services firm — just like a 401(k) — and costs about 75 cents a year for every $100 in a worker’s IRA.

A second revision to Illinois Secure Choice called for by SB208 is that an “auto-escalation” feature be added. This would mean that at the beginning of a new year, any worker who has been enrolled in the program for at least a year would have their contribution increased by 1% — unless, again, they chose to opt out. So someone who joined the program at the 5% default rate, for example, would start kicking in 6% the next year.

These automatic increases could not exceed a total contribution of 10%, but workers would be free to save more than 10% if they wished.

“The retirement crisis in our country has not been solved,” Frerichs told us. “But the solution we are proposing is more expansive and, we think, more important than ever.”

It’s hard to save money. Especially if you work in a job where the hours can be fickle and the boss can be slow to offer any benefits at all. About a third of employees enrolled in Illinois Secure Choice are those who work in the hospitality industry, such as bartenders, waiters and the like.

Expanding the Illinois Secure Choice program, Frerichs estimates, would lead to at least 1 million more workers in Illinois finally saving for retirement.

Doing the smart thing is so much easier when all you have to do is not opt out.


Champaign News-Gazette. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Redistricting process has politicians praying

There are more questions

than answers as the state legislative

map-drawing drama unfolds.

When the coronavirus pandemic — and subsequent economic lockdowns — hit in March 2020, few could have predicted the length and breadth of this public health disaster.

The impact has been dramatic, even threatening super-majority Springfield Democrats’ plans to draw new legislative maps that will maintain their power through 2032.

What happened?

The pandemic adversely impacted the federal government’s ability to conduct the decennial census. Consequently, the new census numbers that are required to draw legally sufficient maps for the Illinois state house and U.S. House seats are not yet available.

Facing a June 30 deadline to draw the new legislative maps themselves, legislative Democrats appear determined to plow ahead without them by using estimates.

Shrugging off the census mandate, however, is easier said than done. Litigation is inevitable, the results unknowable and the timetable unpredictable.

The most important thing for the public to remember is that it’s solely about power — who wields it and who doesn’t.

Democrats exclusively hold power in Springfield, and Republicans would like a piece of it. That requires each side to manipulate the redistricting process to its advantage — if possible.

To do so, Democrats must use estimates to gerrymander the maps in their favor. The GOP, naturally, is opposed, because if the Dems can’t meet the June 30 deadline, the Illinois Constitution requires appointment of an eight-member committee — four Ds and four Rs — to do it.

That would give the Rs equal footing with the Ds. If that bipartisan group failed to agree on new maps, the Illinois Constitution mandates a random chance drawing to pick either a D or an R to determine the ninth and tiebreaking member.

So, as a consequence of the pandemic and its impact on the census, the Rs could go from having zero influence on the maps to having a 50 percent chance of drawing the maps themselves.

No wonder Democratic legislative leaders are determined to use estimates.

But there are two big problems: The law appears to require use of the census numbers, and the source of the estimates — the American Community Survey — is not necessarily accurate. ACS gets its numbers from contacts with an estimated 3.5 million households each year, not block-by-block counting of state residents.

The Democrats deserve no opprobrium for their approach. If roles were reversed, Republicans would do the same thing.

But what’s deemed necessary by members of a political party doesn’t necessarily comport with what the law commands.

Even if the drafters of the Illinois Constitution did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic, they contemplated the failure to meet the June 30 deadline by outlining further procedures.

That’s where the bipartisan eight-member commission and the drawing-by-chance of a tiebreaking ninth member come into the picture.

Circumstances may not get to that point, but Illinois appears on the verge of a political pot boiler.