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McCaleb: Got medical marijuana, ain't got no pension reform

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013 11:52 a.m. CDT

With last week’s signing by Gov. Pat Quinn of a bill that allows the medical use of marijuana, Illinois became the 20th state to defy the federal government regarding legal pot.

Illinois also solidified itself as the state that likes to swat at flies while the backyard deck is burning to the ground.

Consider this:

In addition to medical marijuana, Illinois lawmakers this past legislative session also OK’d a puppy lemon law that allows new pet owners to receive a replacement or refund from the pet store if their dog or cat dies within 21 days of purchase.

With our state’s five public pension systems underfunded by $100 billion and gobbling up more of its operating expenses each day, did we get any kind of meaningful pension reform?

No.

But we got medical marijuana, a puppy lemon law and this:

The General Assembly also passed a bill that will allow convicted felons to seal their criminal records for offenses such as burglary, theft, possessing a stolen vehicle, drug possession, drug distribution, prostitution and forgery.

We don’t have pension reform, but we have a bill that would allow some felons to hide their convictions from the public.

Lawmakers also approved a speed-limit increase on rural interstates from 65 to 70 mph.

What did they do with pension reform? Passed it off to another committee as the systems bleed the state to the tune of $17 million a day, every day, that reform doesn’t happen.

There’s a cliché in there somewhere about rearranging the furniture on the deck of the Titanic, but I won’t go there.

• • •

Good riddance: Embattled Metra Board Chairman Brad O’Halloran resigned his post late last week. As is customary in Illinois politics, he did so without accepting any responsibility for the turmoil he helped cause at the commuter rail agency.

Well done, sir.

O’Halloran led the push to get rid of former CEO Alex Clifford, who received a hysterical $718,000 severance package – paid for by taxpayers – in exchange for his silence about patronage at Metra.

But as outrage grew over the blatant misuse of taxpayer money, Clifford’s allegations of unethical interference at Metra from some of the state’s most powerful politicians, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, became public.

On his way out the door, O’Halloran dismissed Clifford’s allegations as “a lot of hooey” in one breath, while in the next he whined that the powerful politicians whom Clifford accused weren’t receiving the same level of criticism as O’Halloran was.

Well, which is it, Mr. O’Halloran? Either the allegations are false or Madigan and the others deserve the same criticism you do (Madigan has been widely criticized, by the way. I’m not sure where O’Halloran’s been.)

But O’Halloran essentially wants it both ways. In Illinois politics, I guess that’s called status quo.

O’Halloran is one of four Metra Board members who’ve resigned since the Clifford severance scandal became public.

It’s time to clean house and start over.

• • •

The Pioneer Center for Human Services made big news late last week with the announcement that it is close to buying the former Family Service and Community Mental Health building off Route 31 in McHenry for $2.25 million.

Before I go any further, I need to disclose that I am a volunteer member of Pioneer Center’s Board of Directors, and I voted to move forward with the purchase.

In some circles, the building has been referred to as the Taj Mahal of nonprofit buildings. Less than a decade ago, Family Service faced criticism for erecting the 41,493-square-foot facility because of its size and cost. And the hefty monthly mortgage payments contributed to the agency’s financial collapse last summer.

Pioneer Center already was pushing the limits of its facilities before it started picking up hundreds of Family Service clients. Pioneer was going to need to add space anyway. Since last summer, those seeking behavioral health services from Pioneer has nearly tripled.

And at $2.25 million, Pioneer Center is buying this vacant building at a fraction of its original cost. Pioneer Center also is healthy financially, and it is putting to good use one of the many vacant buildings in McHenry County.

The community, and most importantly Pioneer’s clients, will benefit from the decision.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which include Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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