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THE REST OF THE DASCHLE STORY
Your interview with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was incomplete [Fletcher Farrar, "How to avoid the Great Backlash," Dec. 2]. I grew up and lived in South Dakota for many years. I voted for Tom Daschle in his first successful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. I was in South Dakota pheasant hunting the last week of October.
Tom Daschle's loss had nothing to do with, as you put it, a "religious and cultural right wing." Sen. Durbin must not have told you that South Dakota voters, in the very same election, re-elected a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sen. Durbin also missed the point of Daschle's million-dollar District of Columbia home purchase. There are million-dollar homes in South Dakota. The issue was that Sen. Daschle, to save himself $300 or so in real-estate taxes per year, declared himself a District of Columbia resident! This can be verified by any South Dakota newspaper because each carried a full page advertisement showing the application signed by Tom Daschle for the D.C. real estate-tax abatement.
Tom Daschle abandoned South Dakota, which, along with no longer talking, acting, or thinking like a South Dakotan, caused him to be replaced in the U.S. Senate.
Craig A. Hillyer
NO CLAMORING FOR TAX, FEE INCREASES
It is indeed unfortunate that Springfield does not have bus service on Sundays or after 6 p.m., that many trips involve a lengthy transfer, and that there is a general absence of bus shelters [Mila Dvoretskaya-Lemme, "Taking the public out of transit," Dec. 2]. However, this situation should not be blamed on the local mass-transit district or on those who designed the system and schedule.
The transit district designs routes and schedules to best meet the myriad needs of the people within the district. But this has to be done within the constraints of the district's budget, legal obligations, and government regulations. Aside from state and federal grants, money for the district's operations comes from fares and local property taxes.
Perhaps some minor improvements could be made to better serve the public, such as clarifying what "noon" means and having some midroute times of departure so that people have a better idea of about when the bus will come by [a particular] stop. However, major improvements, such as extended hours of service, cannot happen without increases in fares, property taxes, or both. Yet I don't hear any clamoring for that!
If there is any blame in this matter, it is the way that Springfield, and, for that matter, most other cities in the U.S., have grown in the past several decades. What once was a fairly compact city, with most business and employment areas downtown and most people living close in, is now a very spread-out city with commercial areas all over and many people living much farther away. It is much more difficult for transit to efficiently and economically serve a spread-out city (e.g., Springfield in the 2000s) than a compact city (e.g., Springfield in the 1940s.)
So though I sympathize with the concerns expressed in this commentary, I don't
see the possibility of major changes. More money from property taxes is unlikely,
and any increase in fares probably would not result in much more revenue because
fare increases often are accompanied by declines in ridership.
RIGHT TO LIFE, AFTER BIRTH
This letter is in response to Joe Kaufmann's letter about the article "Last Choice" [Deirdre Fulton, Dec. 9].
One night four or five years ago, the local newscast [carried] a story about a baby that had been found dead in a Dumpster, discarded by the mother like a useless piece of trash. Can you imagine how cold and hungry that baby must have been before it passed away? When I read Fulton's article, I kept thinking of that baby. In the next issue, I read Joe's letter: "When, we as a country and society, show the true side to abortion and its horrible aftermath, women's reproductive rights will flourish on the side of life for all God's children."
So what happens if abortion is illegal and the parent chooses not to put it up for adoption? A child's right to life is God-given, but what about after birth? Again, that news story comes to mind. Which is better for the baby: The mother having an abortion or the baby starving to death in a Dumpster?
I do want to commend Emily Roberts on her letter "Choice by another name." You did the best thing for your daughter. Now, if we could convince others to follow your example, abortion would not be in our vocabulary.
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
I am writing in response to the recent Illinois Times article regarding my and other state employees' attempts to unionize [Todd Spivak, "Labor pains," Dec. 16]. IT published my salary against my wishes, apparently because the newspaper believed I was merely complaining about my specific amount of pay under the state's long-abandoned merit-compensation (pay-for-performance) pay plan. I feel strongly about the public-interest issues well beyond my salary.
My first concern is the state's repeated taking of opportunity, pay, and benefits without any sort of due process. My second concern arises from the perspective of a taxpayer and citizen. I object to the unseemly way the state has been doing business in the course of abusing its own pay-for-performance pay plan. Even if I weren't an affected employee, I would find the state's dealings offensive and against the public interest.
I raised my third issue in regard to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and its troubling inability or unwillingness to disclose the petition's status to the petitioning employees. Finally, I indicated that officials at Central Management Services or other agency officials may be making false and misleading representations to the Labor Relations Board (in the form of bogus challenges) to improperly deny employees the right to unionize this year.
I understand that IT does not judge whether any single person, including myself, is paid the "right" amount. From my perspective, at issue are both the improper actions of past and current administrations and the AFSCME's indifference to those who commit to unionize. I did not want your readers to be left with the impression that I was just seeking to "make more money" from the state.
SENSIBLE SOCIAL SECURITY SOLUTIONS
According to President Bush, Social Security is in such dire straits that it must be changed immediately. His plan hinges on having younger Americans put a portion of their Social Security earnings into private investment accounts that they will direct. But some experts are saying the president is making much ado about almost nothing. According to Prof. Kenneth Apfel of the University of Texas, there is no crisis, either short-term or long-term. The Social Security Administration estimates that current benefits will be covered until at least the year 2042. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the current benefits will be covered until the year 2052. That year, if nothing is done beforehand, a 27 percent reduction in benefits would kick in.
We have been told for years to invest in mutual funds because there is more clout when our monies are pooled. It seems to me that the biggest mutual fund of all is the Social Security fund, and now the president wants to get the investors (you and me, through payroll deductions) out of the fund.
Let me reintroduce three proposals that need our serious consideration: Raise the Social Security payroll deduction, raise the retirement age to 70, and tax incomes above the 2005 limit of $90,000. Does it seem reasonable that Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Dell, Michael Jordan, Pedro Martinez, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Kerry -- eight of the richest people in America -- are only taxed on the first $90,000 they earn?
Let's do the right thing for America.
HIGHER-ED SYSTEM IN TROUBLE
With little public awareness or input, Illinois' higher-education system is in danger of becoming the victim of a misguided shift in public policy. Under the guise of a state budget crisis, state leaders are making shortsighted decisions that soon will threaten the state's historic commitment to invest in Illinois' future by educating its citizens from kindergarten through college.
During the last five years, state appropriations for higher education, particularly public universities, have shrunk by 15 percent. This is more than for most other public agencies and programs.
At the same time they are being financially weakened, colleges and universities are being strangled by costly and repetitive bureaucratic policies and procedures. Volumes of repetitive and intrusive reports and paperwork are produced -- some of which is ignored if it does not support preconceived perceptions.
Five years ago, Illinois had the best higher-education system in the United States. Tuition and fees at the public universities were reasonable. Through various state and federal financial-aid programs, qualified students could pursue higher-education degrees.
Not so now. Fewer students are able to afford college; the quality of the education they will receive will be diminished.
Unless the people of Illinois demand that the higher-education system be supported financially and not distracted from its primary purpose, the effective system built during the past 150 years soon will be undermined.
If that happens, the citizens of Illinois will pay a lasting high cost far greater than any temporary savings through short-term budget cuts.
Parents, students, and civic and business leaders: It's time to contact your legislative representatives. Tell them to support higher education so that its quality and accessibility will not suffer because of inadequate funding.