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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

August 7, 2018

August 3, 2018

Chicago Sun-Times

EPA proposed fuel standards leave our kids with nothing but problems

Climate change and all its troubles — wildfires, droughts, flash floods and extreme storms — once were a matter of theory.

Now they’re playing out in real time.

Eighteen wildfires are burning across California. One fire sparked two weeks ago by the rim of a truck scraping against a highway has scorched 121,000 acres, destroying 1,564 buildings and killing six people.

Temperatures are searing on the West Coast, where Death Valley hit a record 108 degrees last month. The Northeast recently experienced record rainfalls. Norway and Sweden hit record temperatures of 90 degrees at the Arctic Circle last week. Wildfires have destroyed towns in Greece.

Bad weather happens, but not like this. Not so broadly, constantly and extremely. The clear cause is man-made global warming, almost all credible scientists say, and it’s only going to get worse.

Why, then, is the Trump administration so dead-set on doing nothing about it? Why, on the contrary, is the administration going out of its way to make matters worse?

The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it intends to roll back the single most effective federal policy for limiting climate change. It will freeze miles-per-gallon standards for cars and light trucks after the 2020 model year, no longer requiring that the standards be improved in future years. The administration also is working to prohibit California from setting more stringent standards.

The Trump administration’s move is a short-sighted gift to automakers such as GM and Chrysler that have failed to achieve strong fuel economies. It threatens sales for automakers such as Honda and Toyota, which already are beating the current the fuel standards, and Tesla, which makes zero-emission electric vehicles.

The administration says, implausibly, that this is about saving lives. Freezing miles-per-gallon standards will make cars more affordable, so the logic goes, which means more people will buy new cars equipped with latest safety features. The EPA predicts 1,000 lives a year will be saved, though it won’t reveal how it came up with that figure.

This might be a compelling argument if the rate of traffic fatalities in the United States had not steadily declined for the last 50 years, even as fuel efficiency standards improved. In 1966, 26 people were killed in vehicle accidents for every 100,000 Americans. Twenty years later, the rate was 19 people killed. Thirty years after that, the rate had dropped below 12.

The pathetic truth is that the Trump administration has never accepted the reality of climate change, though there is little doubt of it among the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists. The EPA has scrubbed mentions of climate change from its website, and its acting director, Andrew Wheeler, is a former energy industry lobbyist who worked to weaken the regulation of fossil fuels.

The EPA’s true motivation in freezing fuel efficiency standards is to do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. That’s where Wheeler came from, and to which he will return. It also is a continuance of the Trump administration’s spiteful effort to roll back every policy and program of the Obama administration.

True conservatives, which is what Donald Trump claims to be, find the self-discipline to sacrifice today for a better life tomorrow. They invest in the stock market. They save for retirement. They get by on less now for more later.

Yet when it comes to protecting our environment and natural world for future generations, we see no self-discipline or sacrifice.

The kids will get nothing.

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August 4, 2018

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Take time to enjoy the Illinois State Fair

Although there is always something new to enjoy at the Illinois State Fair, many are often drawn to the familiarity of perennial events (and foods) that can only be found during a few days in August.

There are the livestock shows and farm equipment demonstrations. Don’t forget the auto races and musical acts in the Grandstand, or the chance to experience carnival rides for hours. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention all of the amazing fair foods just waiting to be consumed.

This week marks the start of the Illinois State Fair, and like many events being held this year, the 2018 fair is connected to the state’s bicentennial. “Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years of Amazing!” is this year’s theme and for us, it encapsulates that one of the things that is great about the fair is the traditions it upholds.

And that tradition — the fair goes back to 1853 — is rooted in agriculture. While many hear the word “Illinois” and think of Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, our state is also a hub for ag. Illinois is a leader in corn and soybean production, and there’s quite a bit of wheat, cattle and hogs too. The state fair proudly celebrates that history while also adapting with the times. So while children still get the opportunity to proudly show off their grand-champion animals, there also are rock climbing walls, singing competitions and concerts to take in.

In short, there’s truly something for everyone to be found at the fairgrounds. The unofficial start to the 2018 state fair is Thursday, which includes the annual twilight parade. It kicks into high gear on Friday and goes through Aug. 19, giving attendees plenty of time to enjoy all the rides, agricultural exhibits, entertainment acts and food-on-a-stick they can cram in.

Of course, some of the excitement that accompanies the Illinois State Fair has in recent years has been tempered by the deterioration of the fairgrounds to the point some buildings, like the Colosseum, have had to close. There is $185 million in deferred maintenance work to be done at the state fairgrounds in Springfield and Du Quoin.

There is a staggering amount of work that needs to be done. And given the many priorities in Illinois when it comes to what money the state does have to spend, it’s unrealistic to expect the General Assembly to pay for most of that (although we note lawmakers did include $30 million in this year’s budget for fairground repairs).

A nonprofit was founded nearly two years ago by Gov. Bruce Rauner to raise private funds. So far, it’s far from meeting its goal of raising $2 million to $3 million annually: The latest financial report filed by the foundation shows income in 2017 was a little more than $32,000. To be fair, there have been other state-related projects that have been given sizable donations in recent months, specifically the much-needed, $15 million renovation of the historic Governor’s Mansion.

The next push needs to be for the state fairgrounds to receive the same love and attention. But it’s also time to take a hard look at what is feasible for the state to support. Does Illinois really need two fairgrounds? Springfield is more centrally located and easier to access for the majority of the state’s residents. Priorities need to be set, and perhaps holding on to two fairgrounds isn’t what makes sense anymore.

If you plan to attend the state fair during the next few weeks — and given that it’s in your backyard, you really should — consider donating a few bucks to the effort to improve the fairgrounds. Our economy benefits every year the fair is here, as attendees not only go the event but stay in hotels and patronize local businesses. Generations of families (probably yours) have attended the Illinois State Fair, creating priceless memories as they partake in the various events. If everyone who attended this year’s fair made even a small contribution, it would add up.

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August 6, 2018

Belleville News-Democrat

High property taxes pay public pensions, with little public service

Your second installment of property taxes in St. Clair County is due Aug. 21, so here’s a little perspective on where those taxes go and why that retired public employee is smiling.

During the past 20 years, Illinois went from the middle of the pack to the highest property taxes in the nation. Better news: Even in our state of taxing superlatives, St. Clair County is where property taxes grew the fastest as compared to house values.

Property taxes in St. Clair County grew 214 percent faster than home values, according to a new study by the Illinois Policy Institute. The study covers 1996 to 2016.

The taxes here nearly doubled from more than $700 for every man, woman and child to more than $1,400 per person, and that is adjusted for inflation.

The problem is that all those new taxes did not go to getting teachers into classrooms, police on the streets and firefighters onto trucks. Those items would have returned a public service for the public investment.

Rather, more than half of the property taxes in Illinois went to paying for public pensions the retired police, teachers, firefighters and other former public employees. Those retirees get 3 percent a year, compounded, after years of politicians and school boards handing their unions fat contracts and salary bumps before retirement, a practice that continues despite penalties.

Remember Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert crying about the need to raise property taxes $58 because of the police and firefighter pensions? Remember the state threatening to seize all of East St. Louis’ money for keeping police on the streets because the pensions were so woefully underfunded? Well, these are the pigeons coming home to roost, and they’re making a mess here and across the state.

The biggest culprit is the same government unit that eats most of your property tax bill: schools. For every new $1 public bodies take from homeowners, 52 cents go to public pensions and 31 of those cents go to prop up teacher pensions. Even then, their pension has only 40 percent of what it needs.

In addition to consuming the bulk of property taxes, teacher pensions are also eating most of the $5.4 billion in new dollars the state put toward education during the 20 years. Two-thirds of that money went to pensions.

Illinois is on an unsustainable path. It cannot continue mortgaging its future by jacking up property taxes while depressing home values through those high taxes that fail to yield public services.

Well, to be honest, it can. The cowardly, easy path is to keep letting pensions kill this state and to keep sending you the bill.

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