‘Tis the season for year-end Top Ten lists. Over the next few days, I’ll post a countdown of the ten most significant stories about politics/government in Illinois in 2011.
10) Collapsing tuition program
An actuarial report issued in March found that the “College Illinois!” program— set up to help parents prepay college education costs— was about $560-million short of meeting its obligations (the “Actuarial Soundness Valuation Report” can be downloaded from the program’s website).
The shortfall amounts to a little more than 30%, up from 20% a year before.
As of mid-December, any parent wanting to get in on the program sees a message at www.collegeillinois.org— “New contracts are currently unavailable. Keep checking back for program updates.”
Nobody’s investments have fared well in the last several years, of course, and the price of higher education is going up fast— up almost 130% over the last two decades. So some shortfall is not surprising.
But a 30% gap? That’s a daunting number, and an analysis by Crain’s this past summer suggested that, trying to make up that shortfall, “College Illinois!” money managers had greatly increased the risk in their porfolio. One consultant to the actuarial firm advising the fund was quoted as saying “they’re going to either win big or lose big”.
A scary quote, if you’re a parent counting on “College Illinois!” to pay the bills when your kid heads off to campus. Scary, too, if you’re a state lawmaker who almost certainly will be asked to pump more revenue into the system— no politician can just bail on a fund that will provide college education to constituents, and lots of lawmakers are counting on the program to send their own kids to college.
9) Gaming expansion stalls
If the state’s tuition program seems a little like a gamble right now, those who sought a major expansion of gambling fell 5 votes short of carrying the day in Springfield. A bill that would establish a big downtown casino in Chicago and put slot machines at racetracks was shot down by the House in November.
Critics, including the governor and the head of the state’s Gaming Board, complained that the bill would have weakened oversight of gaming.
Given potential tax revenues to be gained from expanded gambling, it seems likely that politicians desperately seeking ways to balance the books will go down this road again, even though some pundits expect it’ll be a harder sell in an election year. Strong support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel should keep the issue in play, at least.
One form of gambling got a big boost from a decision out of Washington, as the year ended. The Justice Department, reversing course, opined that states should be allowed to sell lottery tickets over the internet.
According to the Tribune, this has Illinois lawmakers hoping for a windfall, estimating that “the online lottery program could bring in $152 million a year in sales”. Playing the Illinois lottery online could be just a few months away.
8) Death penalty repeal
Though Illinois hadn’t put anyone to death for 12 years, it wasn’t until July that the state finally put an end to capital punishment.
Though he’d campaigned as a death-penalty supporter, Governor Pat Quinn called the system “seriously broken” as he signed the repeal bill and commuted the sentences of the 15 convicts still on Death Row. Quinn took nearly six months to decide whether to sign repeal into law, calling it his “most difficult decision as governor.”
Formal abolition, of course, followed 11 years of moratorium on executions, after several Death Row inmates were exonerated through DNA testing. Illinois was the 16th state to ban capital punishment.