Illinois, this beautiful, wonderful, thriving state, is a mess. We have the most productive farms in the whirled, we have great natural resources, and we have Chicago - the bestest, most beautiful, coolest city in the known galaxy. Museums, food, music, art, architecture, the lakefront, we have everything but decent sports teams. (OK, the Hawks are doing OK.)
We have a pension program that is not just broken, but so disastrously out of whack that super massive black holes admire it from afar, wondering if they could ever match such utter destruction.
Our schools continuously fail. Fail to improve, fail to educate, fail to fix their obvious problems. But, boy, can we administrate. Yessiree, we can administrate.
Roads? Bridges? We rank 35th in the nation, with 8% of heavily used bridges in serious need of repair. If those repairs don't begin soon, several rivers will become impassible and impossible to cross. Peoria County (tornado central last week) has the worst of the worst. Peoria and East Peoria are separated by the Illinois, the major barge-capable river that connects both the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence Seaway (via a few great ponds)
From the Church of Ineffable Stupidity:
1. Minor Pension Reform.
A nearby neighbor was a detective for Cook County. Retired. Full benefits. Full pension. He immediately was hired at a similar rank for the local forest preserve police. Immediately vested with full benefits. Full pension. He retired a second time after 6 months, earning a double full pension. He makes more retired than he ever earned while working.
His wife was a Cook County Hospital ICU nurse. Worked for the county. Full benefits. Full pension. A triple pension family.
As nice of a guy as he is, I cannot help but feel anally probed by his actions.
The double dipping by politically favored employees is simply unconscionable and financially, it is an unsustainable disaster. One way to deal with it is to prevent anyone already receiving a full state government pension from vesting for another, unless they work a minimum of 20 years at the new post. If they wish to work, while receiving their first pension, more power to them. But NOT a full second pension.
As for those who are already getting two pensions in similar ways, I think we need to set up a committee to review each and every double pension and see if any crime or fraud was committed. If so, cancel the smaller one and if they bitch, threaten to seek recovery of the previously paid amounts. Every time someone earns a double pension, someone else is losing out of a necessary benefit. There are other common sense fixes, many of them proposed by Gov. Quinn, only to have them pissed on by Mike Madigan, the true underworld Tsar of Illinois.
2. School reform.
There is an easy fix that would save millions. Illinois has over 127,000 teachers. That's fine. So long as class sizes remain stable, that number should be about right.
Illinois has 1,101 SCHOOL DISTRICTS. And that is simply insane.
Some districts have many thousands of students, others are like ghost towns.
Cook County (Chicago) School District 299 has over 600 elementary schools, 400,000 students, and constitutes one of the largest school districts in the country.
Alexander County's School District 1 has one elementary school.
Let's put that in perspective. Both Alexander #1 and Cook #299 have a District office, District officers and workers, a District school commission, and a full District staff. They also have a principal and vice principal in each school. Why the hell do we have a complete administrative entity for one piddly little elementary school, while #299 deals with 600 separate schools?
The one simple idea here would be to go through all the rural school districts and lop off the vast majority of them. Have districts combined geographically, with no less than 30 schools in each district. That would cut administrative costs tremendously, without impacting the quality of the education provided to the kids. It would not cut one teacher's job, while freeing up millions in funds in the process.
Illinois has 102 counties (and that is probably too high. See my argument above) Except for the three largest counties, lets limit each county to one school district, and place all the schools there within them. That would total 99 rural school districts, a far cry from 1101. As for the three largest counties, they have worked relatively well with quite large districts, so lets keep them intact.
3. Invest in our future.
Sorry, but we need money. Lots of it. Bonds, loans, grants, gas taxes, whatever means possible, we need it.
Our roads and bridges are shaking apart. Many of them are over 50 yrs old, and maintenance was more of an accident than a routine. They must be rebuilt and repaired.
Our train system suffers from several congenital problems. Chicago remains a huge train, barge/train, ship/train, and truck/train center. The common denominator is "t r a i n ". Unfortunately, there exist several Clog Centrals, which limit the number of trains severely. Doubling the number of tracks, especially in the most congested areas would speed up traffic and cut costs tremendously. But, this means closing down and rebelling several major roads, like Cicero Ave in Chicago, and several other infamous locations.
Trains are one the the most efficient means of shipping. To make it modern, we need to invest. And that means big bucks.
Passenger trains also need a lot of work. Why does China have more than 20 high speed train systems, with hourly (or more frequent) service? Imagine what a high speed rail from Milwaukee, through Chicago, Springpatch,, and finally St. Louis would do? I am not talking about that piss poor 95 MPH train that Amtrak is bragging about (and that is only around Springpatch and Peoria). I am talking about hourly or better service, 24/7, at speeds no less than 175 MPH. Chicago - St. Louie in 1.5 hours? Milwaukee to Chicago (73 miles) in 20 minutes? The Hiawatha service now takes 1.5 hours.
Don't get me started on solar power. That will be another day, another diarrhee.