February 3, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Candor from comptroller
State Comptroller Susana Mendoza is spending most of her time these days running for mayor of Chicago. But back at the office, her worker bees have been reviewing the state's finances, releasing a report last week that lays out the numbers.
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Those looking for something to cheer them up should skip this horror story.
The state's budget picture is a shambles that will get dramatically worse if the strong national economy should take a wrong turn.
"Finally, certain uneven indicators measuring national economic trends reveal that state policy makers should be mindful that a downturn in the market is possible in the near future. As highlighted in the January 2019 Comptroller's Quarterly report, Illinois is woefully ill-prepared for an economic downturn given the state's massive liabilities and lack of contingency funds," the comptroller's report states.
For starters, the comptroller confirms what those who've been paying attention already knew — the 2018-19 state budget now in place was a masterpiece of flimflam and gimmickry that was balanced only on paper. Further, Illinois is in deep financial trouble that the hyperpartisan Mendoza, a Democrat, blamed solely on former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"It will take years for our state to recover from the damage caused by the failed budgeting practices of the previous administration. The first step on that path is approving a responsible budget for the next fiscal year," Mendoza states.
Actually, the first step toward financially healing requires an honest acknowledgement that this state's financial problems go back for at least 20 years and that Republicans and Democrats have both been complicit in this epic disaster.
If the pols in Springfield can't admit something that obvious about the past, what's the hope for forthright decision-making in the future?
The comptroller reports that the state's unpaid bills totaled $6.9 billion in mid-December and that they can be expected to rise "between $1.5 billion and $2 billion" because of "budgeted revenue shortfalls" in the current budget.
In other words, the phony numbers in the current budget that no one believed haven't come to pass.
The comptroller outlined a series of revenue estimates that were phony.
There was $300 million for the sale of the Thompson Building in Chicago that never took place.
There was $445 million in assumed pension savings in connection with a plan that is not yet implemented, even as fiscal 2019 approaches an end.
There was a $285 million shortfall in estimated federal revenues.
Even in the face of unanticipated growth in sales- and income-tax revenues, the budget billed as balanced is deeply in the hole.
Unfortunately, there's more.
"Fiscal year 2020 will also see a $679.9 million increase in certified state contributions to the pension systems, a roughly $350 million increase in evidence-based funding for elementary and high schools, and $405.5 million in inter-fund borrowing due for repayment. As reported, an additional $170 million to $500 million in court-ordered state employee step adjustments, plus 7 percent per year interest, as a result of the collective bargaining agreement, is owed but has not been accounted for in terms of budget revenue," the report states.
There's a lot more to the comptroller's report. But readers get the idea — the state's finances have been, are and will remain a disaster from top to bottom.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has repeatedly called for tax increases to boost revenues, is scheduled to deliver a joint state of the state and budget address on Feb. 20 in Springfield. Thanks to unprecedented fiscal mismanagement, taxpayers should get ready for another assault on their wallets.
February 3, 2019
The Quincy Herald-Whig
Vocational training helping meet future needs
In a report that almost seems unnecessary, the World Economic Forum reported in September that machines will overtake humans in terms of performing more tasks in the workplace by 2025 — to the tune of up to almost 75 million jobs being displaced.
It's not all discouraging, though, as the report says 133 million new jobs could be created by companies in transition. Those jobs will require new skills and technical and vocational training for workers.
Locally, John Wood Community College and the Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center are rising to meet the challenge of training a next-generation workforce.
John Wood Community College President Mike Elbe knows that vocational training will be key to meeting the needs of future employers, and the college has been busy expanding its offerings.
"We are listening to our business and industry partners and advisory councils to determine what their needs are (in specific) skills for our workforce," Elbe told The Herald-Whig.
One example of the college working to meet the needs of local companies was the creation of a new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) certificate program that debuts later this year. It was developed in conjunction with an advisory council made up of eight local businesses and other experts to develop HVAC-specific courses, identify internship sites and acquire equipment necessary to deliver the program.
QAVTC, which was established in 1973, caters to students from the Quincy, Quincy Notre Dame, Central, Griggsville-Perry, Liberty, Payson, Pittsfield, Pleasant Hill, Southeastern, Unity Western and Brown County districts. QAVTC classes also are available to adults.
QAVTC is designed to provide career and technical education programs that can assist students finding their niche in the workforce.
Quincy Public Schools Superintendent Roy Webb told The Herald-Whig that the center serves an important role in the community.
"There are a lot of (positions) needed right here in the community; jobs with a great wage and a fulfilling career," Webb said.
Both organizations are vital to the region's economic prospects. While the need for professionals still will exist, a growing proportion of available jobs will be in vocational careers.
Developing a skilled workforce that is able to meet the needs of businesses has become a key economic development strategy, and having training programs such as those offered by JWCC and QAVTC will continue to help the region be a key player in attracting and retaining businesses.
Both organizations are to be commended for their forward-looking efforts, and we encourage their continued support from community members.
January 25, 2019
(Decatur) Herald & Review
Defending ourselves against technology
That phone in your hand might as well be a giant beacon, calling attention to your location and a lot of items you thought were private.
And it's perfectly legal for your cellphone carrier to sell that information to third and fourth parties without your permission.
The San Jose Mercury News reported about the problem, based on a new report from Motherboard, an online publication that takes an in-depth look at all things related to computers and the internet.
"A wide variety of companies can access cell phone location data, and . the information trickles down from cell phone providers to a wide array of smaller players, who don't necessarily have the correct safeguards in place to protect that data," Motherboard reported Jan. 8. The investigation "shows just how exposed mobile networks and the data they generate are, leaving them open to surveillance by ordinary citizens, stalkers, and criminals. ... There's a complex supply chain that shares some of American cell phone users' most sensitive data, with the (telephone companies) potentially being unaware of how the data is being used by the eventual end user, or even whose hands it lands in."
Welcome to a closer look inside technology, where a handheld computer can search the world for arcane questions, take photos, make phone calls, provide calendar reminders and weather forecasts, while it also allows strangers to have hard and soft data about how and where we live our lives, how much we weigh, what we buy, and what medicine we take.
And that doesn't take into account the information derived from our many social media accounts, whose owners may also share data with outside parties.
According to Motherboard and as reported by the Mercury News, location data can be bought for legitimate purposes — for example, by financial firms seeking to detect fraud or by roadside-assistance companies using it to find customers whose vehicles break down. But "aggregation" companies specializing in selling location data are passing it onward "at a profit, and with minimal oversight," the newspaper said. In Motherboard's investigation, location data was sold to a "bounty hunter" who pinpointed the location of a test phone to within a couple blocks.
Several carriers interviewed by the newspaper said they either had changed their policies or were working on that after learning about the issue. Still, at some point, the companies knew they were sharing data with an outside group. Without close attention to the group's plans, the companies in essence provided a key to your locked door of privacy.
Technology is ahead of the law in many areas. Until, or unless, it catches up, we're responsible for making sure technology in our lives doesn't open the door for criminals.