Civic Federation Provides Extensive Online Commentary and Analysis

January 05, 2011

In 2010 the Civic Federation blog provided comprehensive information about government and fiscal issues across Illinois for the public, government officials and media. In a range of posts on topics from the effect Public Act 96-0889 would have on local government pension systems to explaining nuances of the Cook County property tax system, the Federation blog offered rapid-response commentary on current events and original research that accompanied the Federation’s publications.

Issues associated with Cook County were the source of much attention from the Federation in 2010. This post from January 27 presented the Federation’s case for the creation of a separate board of commissioners for the Cook County Forest Preserve District. The Forest Preserve District is currently governed by the Commissioners who also govern Cook County, which presents an inherent conflict of interest between the best interests of land preservation and the need for economic development in commissioners’ districts. This post from March 3 provided an update on legislation supported by the Federation that would enable the creation of a separate Forest Preserve District governing board.

In this post from February 24, the Federation blog discussed Cook County’s online check register, which should help improve the transparency of the County’s operations and provided additional accountability to taxpayers. The Federation supported the register and other elements of the Open County Initiative.

On October 27, this post discussed the Civic Federation’s Cook County Modernization Report, which provided leaders of the County with ideas for improving and reshaping county government. The report contained both short-term recommendations that could be instituted in the first 100 days of the new County Board President’s administration as well as longer-term changes that will require sustained efforts lasting many years.

The Civic Federation closely examined the workings of other governments in the Chicagoland region. In a three-part series, the Federation discussed the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s plans to cut costs and fill a $24 million budget deficit for FY2011 by changing its employee health insurance plan, reducing or eliminating employee perks and revising the salary schedule. Click here to read posts one, two and three.

In another three-part series in April, the Civic Federation presented an introduction to Cook County township government that discussed what townships do and how they are governed and financed. Click here to read posts one, two and three.

Tax increment financing and property tax issues were the subject of numerous Federation blog posts. “Clouds over Chicago TIF Slowly Parting” from February 10 discussed the City of Chicago’s move to put TIF district annual reports online, as required by a sunshine ordinance. This post from August 4, “New TIF Transparency Reforms Enacted,” compared items in a TIF reform bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn (Public Act 096-1335) with long-standing TIF recommendations from a Federation TIF report from 2007. Some of those recommendations include the following: that each TIF will produce a 10-year status report and that the annual budget of the county or municipality must include the amount of revenue generated from TIF districts by source as well as all TIF expenditures made. Furthermore, municipalities must submit TIF data to the State Comptroller and to overlapping taxing bodies in an electronic format for future public access. With regard to property taxes and TIF, this post from October 20 discussed the effect of TIF districts on property tax rates in Cook County. The post dispelled the misconception that TIF diverts large amounts of money from County school districts and other taxing districts, also touched upon in this post from June 17, “Is TIF the Solution to the Chicago Public Schools’ Budget Crisis?

The Civic Federation blog was a source of commentary and information on local pension systems. This post from March 24, “Local Pension Investment Returns — is the Risk Worth the Reward?” examined the Federation’s report on local pension funding, which found that for FY2008, “the rate of return for the eight funds with a January 1 to December 31 fiscal year was -25.3%, down from +8.1% the previous year. Rates of return ranged from -14.8% to -33.3% in FY2008, with returns for the Chicago Fire fund being the lowest.” The precarious fiscal condition of the City of Chicago’s pension system was profiled in this April 30 post, which discussed a new report by the City of Chicago’s pension commission and presented the Federation’s additional recommendations to restore the funds’ fiscal health. Among those recommendations was a call for a reduction of pension benefits for new and current employees, additional pension contributions from the City and employees, consolidation of pension funds and cuts to City services in order to increase pension contributions. 

This blog post from May 5 discussed a Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) report on best practice recommendations for governance of public employee post-retirement systems, which were similar to Federation recommendations in a 2006 report.

In a series of three posts the Federation looked at how Public Act 96-0889 would affect the pension systems of Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. While the new law will help restore long-term balance to the pension health of each government, the Federation’s position is that it does not do enough in the short-term. Read the above posts to understand the law’s effect on those three different units of government, all at varying levels of fiscal health.

Lastly, many of the Federation’s posts served as reactions to news events or legislative actions. This post from May 12 announced the Federation’s support for Governor Quinn’s veto of a bill that would limit, but not eliminate, legislative scholarships. The Federation and Governor Quinn both support the total elimination of the program, which granted scholarships as favors to constituents, in favor of a program that awards scholarships based on need and merit. Possible changes to the DuPage County Water Commission were the topic of this post from June 9. Senate Bill 580, drafted in response to the revelation that the Commission’s reserve funds had been depleted, as well as the discovery that there was an imbalance between water revenues and expenses, would remove the 0.25 percentage point sales tax levy for the Commission and implement additional oversight controls.

This recent post from December 2, updated January 3, 2011, profiled the effect that Senate Bill 3538 (and now Public Act 096-1495) would have on reforming police and fire pension systems in Illinois. The act creates a second pension tier for new hires after January 1, 2011 and changes employee contribution amounts.

Please continue to read the Civic Federation and IIFS blogs in 2011 for more commentary and analysis about government and policy across Illinois. Both blogs can be subscribed to via RSS feeds that are compatible with Microsoft Outlook and most popular web browsers. Click here for the Civic Federation feed. Click here for the IIFS feed.