On Sunday, May 30, 2010, the Chicago Tribune Editorial Page again presented their criticisms and "solutions" to any number of challenges in Illinois.  In the past, the Tribune has refused to print unedited responses from Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.  As is past practice, President Cullerton has penned a response the Tribune editorial, “The Nov. 2 Election.”

In the Chicago Tribune’s May 30 editorial, the newspaper admonishes Illinois lawmakers for what they describe as a failure to deliver on jobs, ethics reform and the state budget. The piece is well-written. The argument falls flat.

In what has become a disturbing trend, the Tribune editorial writers again try to make their case based entirely on the strength of their prose, and not on the facts. In truth, Senate Democrats have been leading the way for more than a year now on economic recovery efforts, ethics, spending cuts, and budget reform measures.

The Tribune can continue to huff and puff. But they can’t rewrite history.

Let’s talk jobs.

The Tribune loves to say that other states are working harder than Illinois to attract and retain jobs. If that’s the case, then how do the editorial writers wrap their heads around the fact that our state accounted for $31 billion of the combined $39 billion that states committed nationwide to economic stimulus efforts last year?

For the first time in a decade, the General Assembly last year passed a comprehensive, statewide capital construction plan. The Tribune can hem and haw about jobs, but it’s tough to take them seriously when that one action alone will put 400,000 people to work in Illinois.

Even more ludicrous is the fact that the Tribune’s own budget “solution” would have diverted the money for all of those construction jobs in order to make a very small dent in the state’s overall budget deficit. With our state’s economy on the line, it’s a good thing they write and we legislate.

In addition to the capital construction plan, Senate Democrats introduced literally dozens of legislative measures this year to create jobs and restore our economy. Many of those initiatives are now law, including a significant new tax break for small businesses that hire new employees, and modifications to an existing economic development tax credit that directly resulted in Ford Motor Company creating 1,200 new jobs by relocating a production facility from Kentucky to the south suburbs of Chicago.

The Tribune can say lawmakers aren’t working to create jobs. They just can’t prove it.

So what about ethics reforms? The Tribune says we ducked reform efforts last year. I say we passed the most sweeping, top-to-bottom overhaul of state ethics laws Illinois seen in decades.

For the first time in state history, we placed caps on campaign contributions made by individuals, businesses and special interests. We instituted stringent new requirements for campaign financial disclosures. We cracked down on insider deals by removing Rod Blagojevich’s political appointees from state pension boards, and passed a law to ban board members from receiving gifts from individuals trying to do business with the state.

We proactively worked to reduce the influence of money in the state contracting process by creating independent procurement professionals appointed by the state’s Executive Ethics Committee. We even strengthened the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for individuals – yes, even Chicago Tribune reporters – to receive information on state activities.

The Tribune may deride our efforts. But even the non-partisan, not-for-profit Illinois Campaign for Political Reform – a frequent critic of lawmakers’ attempts to clean up state government – praised our actions.

So that leaves us with the state budget – or, as the Tribune characterizes it, our pattern of splurge, borrow and repeat.

In fact, we cut this year’s budget by more than $2 billion. We then reduced state operations by an additional 5 percent for next fiscal year, which begins in July. We made these cuts despite the fact that Illinois already has the lowest ratio of state employees to population in the nation.

Read more: Cullerton Sets the Record Straight...Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, May 26, 2010) – Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) today announced that it awarded John J. Cullerton, President Illinois State Senate, a 2010 Safety Leader Award during a Capitol Hill reception marking the auto safety group’s 20th anniversary.   

The award was presented to President Cullerton, among other key supporters in the U.S. Congress and the Administration, for his exemplary leadership on federal auto and highway safety legislation.

“Today, we celebrate the past twenty years of enacting highway and auto safety legislation that has saved many thousands of lives,” said Judith Lee Stone, Advocates president. “But, we could not have passed these lifesaving measures without the dedication and tenacity of our safety champions—they have made the nation’s roads safer for everyone who uses them, for generations to come.” 

Stronger laws and regulations have been enacted with the support of the award recipients for better air bags, seat belts, impaired driving laws, child passenger safety, rollover protection, teen driving, truck and motorcoach safety, auto theft protection, consumer labeling, backover prevention and more. 

The 2010 Highway Safety Leader Award is an engraved pewter oil lamp that signifies “lighting the way”  to safer autos, driving and roadway environments in general.

A report released earlier today by Advocates showing that federal and state highway safety laws enacted over the past 20 years have saved over 85,000 lives and over $600 billion in costs.  The auto safety group used the report, Advocacy for Safe Cars, Safe Driving and Safe Roads: 20 Years of Saving Lives and Reducing Costs from Traffic Crashes, to call on Congress to enact additional safety measures to reduce fatalities and bring costs down even further. 

In recent years, an average of 5.8 million crashes has occurred on our nation’s highways each year resulting in almost 40,000 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries, at a cost to society of an estimated $230 billion per year. Every day 102 people are killed on <?xml:namespace prefix = st1>America’s streets and highways, while more than 6,000 are injured, according to federal highway statistics.  

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups, and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.  Advocates encourages the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that save lives and reduce injuries.  By joining its resources with others, Advocates helps build coalitions to increase participation of a wide array of groups in public policy initiatives which advance highway and auto safety.

Recently, Senate Democrats declared that we wouldn't tolerate massive cuts to education. To that end, I pledged that we would only advance a budget plan that holds General State Aid payments to schools and early childhood programs at current levels.

Our caucus also maintains a serious commitment to stabilizing the state budget through tax reform. However, our recognition of the need for additional revenue doesn't negate the need for significant cuts to state government.

The budget that we passed last night accomplished two principle goals. First, we followed through on our pledge to restore the education funding that was cut in Governor Pat Quinn's budget. Secondly, we demonstrated our commitment to spending cuts by reducing state bureaucracy by 5 percent across the board.

There is still a tremendous amount of work to do as we debate possible revenue streams to restore stability in our state government. In the short term, I implore the House or Representatives to pass the cigarette tax (SB 44) to avoid a reduction in mandated categorical spending for education. We must also demonstrate our commitment to fully funding our pension systems.

I look forward to working with all caucuses to solve these issues this week and to develop long term revenue solutions that go beyond the temporary fixes that we are facing today.

Thousands of Cook County homeowners were hit with 40%, 60% 80% or more increases in the assessed values of their homes. These massive increases in property taxes are forcing long-term residents out of the vibrant communities they call home. To fix this critical problem, Sen. Cullerton introduced the Neighborhood Homeowner Exemption Plan, which was passed in the second year of the 93rd General Assembly. This bill caps increases in the assessed value of property so that they will not increase by more than 7% in one year.