The Wheeler 64 Report: November 3, 2014

Tomorrow is Election Day; Make Sure Your Voice is Heard
President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” These are wise words from a great President. Your vote is your voice as a citizen of Illinois and of America. It is your opportunity to be heard, to hold your elected officials accountable for their decisions and to have a say in the issues that affect your community. Make sure your voice is heard tomorrow on Election Day, and make sure you vote. The McHenry County Clerk’s Web Site has an easy-to-use interactive tool that can assist with finding proper polling places. Polls are open from 6:00 AM until 7:00 PM, and if you have any questions about voting, you can call the County Clerk’s office at (815) 334-4242. In Lake County, the Clerk has posted a “Voter Power” page, through which voters can check their registration status and find out where they vote. For Lake County voting questions, the Clerk’s office can be reached at (847) 377-2314.

Take a Moment to Watch Wheeler Servicemen/Women Appreciation Video; Vote for Favorite Photo
Over the last several weeks, many District 64 residents submitted their favorite photos of their loved ones who currently serve, or who have previously served, in the Armed Forces. Please use the link below to view the photos, and submit your favorite photo by number to The winning photos will be announced on November 11. I hope you enjoy the slideshow. You may view it here.

New Traffic Lanes Opened from Rockford to Elgin
The Illinois Toll Highway Authority project expands the much-used toll road from two lanes in each direction to three. The project covers 37 miles of highway in rural north-central Illinois and in the outer Chicago suburbs west of Elgin’s Randall Road. In addition, pavement was replaced; some of the former pavement of the road, laid down as the Northwest Tollway in the 1950s and 1960s, was 56 years old. The ribbon-cutting was held on Tuesday, October 28.

The Rockford-Elgin work will be followed by 25 miles of work from Elgin to the Tri-State Tollway. The northwest Cook County segment of the project will widen the toll road from 6 lanes to 8 lanes (4 in each direction); this section of the project is scheduled to be completed by December 2016. The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway is one of the most heavily-used toll highways in the United States, serving more than 317,000 average daily vehicles.

The $2.5 billion Addams rebuilding and widening project is being financed by a near-doubling of tolls charged to motorists. The Illinois Toll Highway Authority describes the project in this press release.

Federal Judge Orders Appointment of Outside Monitor to Oversee IDOT Hiring Process
The hiring and promotion of senior-level officials at the Illinois Department of Transportation has come under serious scrutiny in recent months. The revelation that substantial numbers of the Department’s top positions were unilaterally “exempted” from State law forbidding political hiring in positions made headlines throughout Illinois. Questions about IDOT hiring deepened after the surprise departure of former Director Ann Schneider in late June 2014.

IDOT has ongoing, multi-billion-dollar responsibilities for the construction and rebuilding of Illinois roads, bridges, airports, and railroad lines. However, accusations have continued to reverberate, with nonpartisan figures led by Michael Shakman raising questions about the Department, its top staff, and their potential partisan conflicts of interest.

One way to increase a focus on potential political hiring at IDOT, and to start what could be the lengthy process of cleaning up the troubled agency, is to hire a federal monitor to oversee IDOT’s hiring decisions. Public watchdog Shakman had standing, based on his previous case work, to ask a court to order this be done. On Wednesday, October 22, federal magistrate judge Sidney Shenkier issued a court order to IDOT to hire monitor Noelle Brennan. Brennan will have the right to scrutinize any hiring decision made by IDOT, but is expected to concentrate on positions defined as implementation positions. Holders of implementation positions don’t make policy, and their officeholders should not be hired for political reasons. Holders of policy positions, by contrast, shape the policies that others implement. These positions typically include the highest-ranking aides to the director of the Department; however, in a patronage-ridden agency people sometimes become political hires even if their standing is far below the policymaking level. The Chicago Tribune describes Brennan’s hiring in this editorial. The Jacksonville Journal-Courier praises Judge Shenkier’s decision here.

Study by Arizona State University (ASU) Ranks Illinois 45th in Job Creation
Job growth in Illinois the first nine months of 2014 was less than 1% of total Illinois employment. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, more than 5.8 million Illinois residents are employed in the nonfarm sector. After hundreds of thousands of jobs disappeared in the 2008-2014 “Great Recession,” Illinois has struggled to recover the lost ground.

36,000 new jobs were created in Illinois in the first nine months of 2014. By contrast, Texas created more than 362,000 new jobs in the same period, achieving job growth of 3.2% as opposed to Illinois’ 0.6%. Energy-rich states that have legalized horizontal-shale drilling for crude oil and natural gas scored well in the ASU study, with North Dakota ranked #1 among the 50 states and Texas #3.

Illinois unemployment remains at recession levels, notching in at 6.6% in September 2014. The story was published in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, October 28.

Continued Controversy Surrounds Massive Fare Hike Request
While the governing board of Metra has presented its ten-year, 68% fare-hike-ramp-up plan as a way to garner cash flow for new infrastructure, the agency’s actual spending plans call for dedicating the first year’s fare hike to pension funding and employee compensation (particularly employee and retiree health care), not new trains.

Metra, the public-sector agency that operates eleven commuter railroad lines in the Chicago area, shares the pension-funding crisis borne by other unionized public-sector employers throughout Illinois. A variety of public-sector employees, including Metra train workers, have been promised generous retirement packages. The Chicago Tribune points out that commuters will pay more in 2015 for their train tickets but will find themselves riding on the same old railroad cars and slow, jolting roadbeds.

Metra is the commuter-train operating board of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), the three-operating-board umbrella panel that governs overall Chicago-area mass transit policies. The two other RTA operating boards, the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) and Pace, the suburban bus agency, face pension and personnel-compensation challenges similar to Metra.

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