It kind of feels like a good problem to have, especially in Illinois.
Instead of the old trope of a politician spending public money for personal expenses, the Illinois governor is spending personal money on public expenses.
But, experts say, that’s not such a good idea, either.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire businessman, spent about $3 million of his own money supplementing staff salaries and renovating the Governor’s Mansion. Taxpayers probably would have complained if public dollars had been used for the $850,000 upgrade for his home. But somehow, spending a lot from one’s own pocket seems a little off, too.
For one thing, when a politician spends his or her own money, it isn’t subject to open records laws, so the scrutiny to ensure good governance isn’t there.
It also begs the question about whether wealthy candidates would have an edge in future elections. That’s especially true given the scale at which Pritzker could spend. At a net worth of $3.2 billion, the Illinois governor is the single wealthiest politician in office anywhere in the country, according to Forbes.
In the 2018 race, Pritzker spent $171 million, defeating Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Given the state of Illinois finances, it might be tempting to take whatever Pritzker is willing to spend on the state. But allowing rich elected officials to spend their own money on public projects could come with dire unforeseen consequences.
The end of the year and the end of a decade brought about lots of retrospective pieces often reviewing big events by examining the meaningful numbers — just as we did in the TH on Sunday.
But one number wasn’t included in that story, but was reported on Monday. It’s perhaps one of the most shocking numbers of the year: 196 — the number of school-age students identified by the Dubuque Community School District who lacked permanent housing.
That’s the highest number of homeless students the district has ever recorded at a given time.
This comes during a period of near-record-low unemployment and rising wages. Yet still homelessness among families persists.
The City of Dubuque is seeking a federal grant to keep families together in safe, affordable housing in 2020. The family unification program would provide 50 additional housing assistance vouchers dedicated to families who have children placed or face the likelihood of children being placed in foster or out-home care because parents struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
It’s not uncommon to hear criticism of the city’s use of the federal housing voucher program. Discussion of increasing “Section 8” sometimes raises residents concerns about crime and other issues.
This time, as the city lobbies to have more vouchers made available to Dubuque, remember this number: 196 homeless students.
Iowa got a step closer to simplifying the process by which felons’ voting rights are restored. The Iowa Department of Corrections noted recently that its new system auto-completes 12 of the 14 questions on the voting rights restoration application, making it easier for a felon to vote again. Further, officials will work with inmates being discharged to complete those questions to regain their voting rights.
That’s a significant step in the right direction. But it still means Iowa has the most restrictive voter restoration rules in the country.
Kentucky recently joined Wisconsin, Illinois and every other state in the country in moving to an automatic restoration. That leaves Iowa as the lone state to have a 14-question application in place.
Last year, a measure to automatically restore the voting rights for felons who complete their sentences received nearly unanimous support in the House, but failed in the Senate. Since then, various departments including corrections and the Secretary of State’s office, have worked on simplifying the process.
All good steps, but it’s time Iowa got with every other state in the nation and amend its Constitution to make voter rights restoration automatic.