- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 24, 2014

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Local oversight of wind-farm projects is working just fine

County boards in Illinois have had the responsibility for regulating wind-farm projects for more than a decade. Local control has worked well, and we see no reason for the state to take over.

Area county boards are weighing in with opposition to proposed state legislation that would weaken local oversight of wind farms.

We think they are right in opposing a bill introduced by Rep. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, that would move wind-farm regulation to the state Department of Agriculture.

The Champaign County Board indicated its disapproval in a voice vote at last Thursday’s meeting. The Ford County Board earlier had registered unanimous opposition, and Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas said he does not support the proposal.

Sullivan’s bill would give the agriculture department the sole authority to regulate the siting, construction and removal of commercial wind projects and invalidate local wind-farm ordinances across the state.

It would standardize such controversial issues as setbacks for wind turbines from primary buildings such as homes. County officials would be notified when a wind-farm development is proposed and would be allowed to hold public hearings and make nonbinding recommendations to the agriculture department, but the decision-making would rest with the department.

The bill would not apply to wind farms already built or permitted by counties.

Sullivan introduced the bill at the behest of the Illinois Farm Bureau, which is concerned about consistency of rules throughout the state. The Farm Bureau notes that some wind-farm developments overlap counties and thus can be subject to different regulations. Farmers and landowners with wind turbines on their properties also have different levels of protection in different counties.

Champaign County Board members, along with others around the state, see it more as an unnecessary usurpation of local control, however.

Wind industry officials say the measure may do more harm than good.

Kevin Borgia, public policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a regional wind-energy advocacy group, said the state’s wind farms have been built “safely and effectively without statewide regulations,” and county regulations “are generally working well.”

In addition, county boards are a much more accessible and responsive forum than the state department of agriculture for people to air complaints about noise, property values, setbacks and other concerns.

Sullivan’s bill has been referred to the Senate Energy Committee. He says he’s heard opposition from county officials as well as comments from those who think the bill does not go far enough, and that he has some more work to do before he can move the measure forward.

While it makes sense in theory to standardize rules for wind power throughout the state and centralize the power to regulate, the system of local control has worked well for more than a decade without state involvement.

As the cliche goes, Rep. Sullivan’s bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Given the well-founded and widespread opposition to his bill, Sullivan would be wise to leave it on the shelf where it belongs.


March 23, 2014

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Campaign ‘14 and the politics of distraction

This editorial is not at its heart about the minimum wage, but the issue is a convenient spot to begin today’s reflections on Campaign ‘14 and so we start there.

First, let us say, we’re sympathetic to a thoughtful discussion of the minimum wage. Proponents of an increase make a good point that it’s hard to pay the bills if you’re paying them on that wage. So our initial thought is that if there are reasonable ways to increase it that do not kill jobs or spur inflation, well then, by all means.

But as we head into the heat of this year’s election campaigns, let’s all be discerning voters.

Pat Quinn did not roll out of bed one morning and think, “You know, the people on minimum wage are woefully underpaid. We owe it to them to raise it.” That’s not how Barack Obama came up with the idea either.

Their proposals came to them out of political strategy sessions. Quinn most likely was looking for ways to mitigate his problems with the government unions (and now further embraces it as a great counterpoint to use when running against a gazillionaire). Obama most likely is trying to get the focus of this year’s elections off the problems with the launch of the health care program.

Doesn’t mean their minimum wage proposals are bad and it doesn’t mean that Quinn and Obama aren’t genuine in their support of them. But it does mean the ideas - and the “class warfare” characterization they’re designed to inflame - are being pushed now as political manipulations, and it does all of us as voters some good to understand that.

The fundamental truth of that, of course, is disappointing. We wish the state and the nation’s politics could be bigger than that.

But in pointing this out, we don’t mean it as an indictment specifically of Democrats. Their politics is no more cynical than the politics of Republicans. Both sides look for issues they can manipulate to their advantage.

We do, however, raise the issue of discernment as more than a classroom lecture on politics and naiveté.

The near-bankrupcy of state government in Illinois is too big a crisis for us as voters to allow ourselves to get sidetracked this year by charlatan politics that suggest reform is anti-worker. And the loss of jobs and businesses in Illinois is too real to allow the focus to shift to sleight of hand that would pretend to tax only the rich when it would in reality penalize us all - or almost all of us.

Let’s not be misguided so much by passion as we are ruled by thoughtfulness and reason - always focused on the question of how we solve the serious problems that are before us today.


March 21, 2014

The (Sterling) Daily Gazette

The fight for public access

Illinois’ journey toward greater transparency and openness in government made progress last year.

That’s good news for every supporter of good government in a state notorious for government corruption.

In honor of Sunshine Week, Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a 2013 report of activities by her office’s Public Access Bureau. The bureau was formalized when Illinois’ transparency law overhaul took effect in 2010, a year after Gov. Rod Blagojevich was booted from office.

The overhaul strengthened the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act, which are designed to ensure public access to government records and meetings - letting the sun shine on the darkest recesses of government, so to speak, to expose illegal and unethical actions.

The Public Access Bureau is the place where citizens and news reporters can ask for help when FOIA records requests are denied and open meetings laws are violated. The bureau handled 3,426 formal requests for assistance last year, slightly above the 3,407 in 2012.

Of the 3,036 requests for FOIA help, 82 percent came from the public, 16 percent from the news media, and 1 percent from public bodies.

Of the 387 complaints regarding open meetings violations, 70 percent came from the public, 26 percent from the news media, and 4 percent from public bodies.

While it is good to see that the Public Access Bureau is being utilized, it’s not so good when you realize that, when it comes to freedom of information and open meetings, far too many governmental employees and elected officials still don’t get it.

They deny FOIA requests for public documents, prompting appeals to the bureau.

They break the law regarding open meetings, prompting appeals to the bureau.

We expected that the required training by thousands of public officials would increase their adherence to the letter and spirit of Illinois’ new transparency laws.

That clearly did not happen in 2013.

We call on government officials to make it happen in 2014.


March 20, 2014

The (Springfield) State Journal Register

Voters passing up their chances to be heard

A two-part tradition accompanies every spring election in Illinois. Part 1: County clerks predict low voter turnout. Part 2: Voters prove them right.

It happened here again during the March 18 primary, which featured such important races as governor, Congress, the U.S. Senate, county sheriffs, judges, county board members and a host of referendums about taxes, school consolidation, fire protection, electric supply and alcohol sales.

These races and ballot questions are not insignificant. Illinois has an unprecedented financial crisis on its hands, causing a backlog of unpaid bills, painful choices at public school districts statewide, cuts to state services and programs, unaddressed road and bridge repairs, and what many consider an unfriendly business climate for job creation. Dysfunction and partisan bickering in Congress haven’t escaped voters’ attention, either.

As a result, Illinoisans have a lot to be worried about. So it stands to reason that they would have sprinted for the polls Tuesday to make their displeasure known. Instead, most of them forfeited their chance to have a say in which candidates get to move on to the November general election.

Voter turnout in Sangamon County was 23 percent, a little better than County Clerk Joe Aiello’s prediction earlier in the day that fewer than one in five registered voters would cast a ballot.

Montgomery County’s turnout was nearly 22 percent, and Morgan County’s was about 21.5 percent. Logan County had a 27 percent turnout.

One bit of redeeming news is that Springfield-area voters showed more interest in the election than those in Chicago and Cook County, where turnout was just under 16 percent in the city and the county.

The general election is Nov. 4. Illinoisans say they want better elected representatives and better outcomes. That only can happen if they hold themselves accountable first by getting to the polls on Election Day.

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