Editorial Roundup: Illinois
Chicago Tribune. May 3, 2021.
Editorial: Applause for merging, purging Illinois’ many layers of government
Toss a rock in Illinois and you’re bound to hit a unit of government. Mosquito abatement districts, townships, drainage districts, joint water agencies, housing authorities, sanitary districts — Illinois has them all, in abundance. The official tally is 6,918, higher than in any other state.
But that might be a serious undercount. A recent report by the Civic Federation found the actual total to be 8,923. Only one other state has more than 5,000. We have more special purpose units than Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin combined.
If the total tax burden on residents is ever going to be reduced, some of those government bodies have to go. The Lake County Board noted in 2018, in reference to the Lakes Region Sanitary District, “Every time customers of the LRSD flush their toilet, they pay four taxes and fees to three different government entities.”
Cost is not the only consequence of the profusion. Voters can’t possibly keep track of all the elected and appointed officials who run such bodies and have so much effect on the lives of ordinary people. In the April 6 election, 345 offices appeared on ballots in Lake County — and 220 races were uncontested. It makes a sham of democracy.
Chicago Sun-Times. April 29, 2021.
Editorial: Pritzker serves up a powerful plan to move Illinois toward greener energy — but he could do more
Illinois also still needs Exelon’s nuclear plants, which provide zero-carbon power, while renewable energy is ramping up.
Gov. Pritzker’s clean energy plan, introduced Thursday, has a lot to like in it. But it needs an upgrade before the Legislature’s adjournment on May 31.
The good news is Pritzker is at the negotiating table three years after the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition began working to enact a law that will move Illinois toward a smart, environment-friendly power sector. The governor has adopted many of the features in the coalition’s Clean Energy Jobs Act and a separate bill titled the Path to 100. He essentially ignored a competing bill seen by some as favorable for utility interests called Climate Jobs Illinois.
Here’s what Pritzker’s bill, called the Consumers and Climate First Act, definitely gets right:
It eliminates automatic “formula” rates that raise power bills without utilities having to justify increases before the Illinois Commerce Commission. It gets rid of surcharges that have been unnecessarily driving up home gas bills in Chicago. And according to an independent study Pritzker commissioned, Exelon would get $6 billion to $10 billion less over 10 years than it had hoped for to keep two financially threatened nuclear plants open, although old hands in Springfield expect Exelon will get more than Pritzker recommends once the Legislature gets its hands on the bill.
Boost for electric cars
Pritzker’s $4,000 rebate for electric vehicles would be one of the highest in the nation, though his goal of a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 is fewer than some environmentalists have hoped for.
The bill also imposes a carbon fee of $8 a ton, which is expected to raise $500 million a year. But unlike CEJA’s smaller pollution tax, the carbon fee is more likely to close less profitable plants downstate than in environmental justice communities in the Chicago area, essentially making it a pay-to-pollute provision.
The ethics and accountability provisions, following the ComEd scandal in which the utility admitted hiring former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s allies in hopes that he would support electricity rate hikes, are similar to what CEJA proposed — and important. Among other provisions, Pritzker’s bill would ban ratepayers’ money from being used for charitable contributions and require an annual Exelon audit.
The bill also renews funding for solar installations on buildings around the states. Last year and early this year, as money for subsidies ran out, Illinois went over the so-called “solar cliff.” Installation companies stopped taking on new jobs and started laying off employees.
Where Pritzker plan falls short
But the governor’s bill also omits a number of important reforms.
Unlike CEJA, which is designed to speed Illinois toward a clean energy future without raising customers’ electric bills, Pritzker chose to impose the rate hikes proposed in the Path to 100 bill. Those hikes are hard to justify, and the Legislature should edit them out.
Pritzker also boasts that his bill will create jobs for people who historically haven’t had an entry into the energy field. But his measures are weaker than those outlined in CEJA, which would ensure that residents of disadvantaged areas not only get new energy efficiency and green energy jobs but also be in line to own businesses and become contractors and subcontractors. The governor’s decision to weaken CEJA’s provisions has perplexed a lot of people.
No more delays
The Legislature has a great deal to work on in the last month of its spring session. But reform of the state’s energy policies, which has been delayed from session to session for too long, can’t be put off any longer. If Exelon starts the process of shutting down nuclear plants, it will be hard to unwind that.
Illinois needs Exelon’s nuclear plants to provide zero-carbon power while renewable energy is ramped up. Trying to get to 100% clean energy without the nuclear plants would be far too expensive for ratepayers.
President Joe Biden is pushing clean energy policies in Washington, too, but the politics of that are shaky. Biden likely will need the support of every Democratic senator to prevail, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has made clear he would be reluctant to push through energy legislation without any Republican support.
Illinois has an opportunity to take a big step toward cleaning up its energy sector at a cost consumers can afford. It’s time to seize the moment.
Champaign News-Gazette. May 2, 2021.
Editorial: Illinois’ unpaid bills have dropped, but its debt has not
Small victories in great wars are worth savoring, but not for long.
Illinois gets so little good financial news that anything that looks positive should be welcomed with open arms.
The question, of course, is how long they should remain open — more on that later.
First, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza
took a victory lap last week after announcing that Illinois’ huge stack of unpaid bills —
$16.7 billion in 2017 — has been reduced to
$3.5 billion, a sum that means “vendors and providers of good and services are getting paid without delay.”
“For the first time in many years, the state of Illinois can pay its bills as they come in. The oldest commercial vouchers owed to most vendors and providers of goods and services in the office right now are dated April 26,” Mendoza’s office stated in an April 28 news release.
Illinois’ financial standing remains dire. But at least those individuals and entities that did business with the state but were put on the back burner when it came to being paid are now being paid.
In making her announcement, Mendoza warned the public not to be misled about the state’s serious financial woes.
She also repeated her advice that Illinois should not spend the expected $7.5 billion in federal bailout money on new programs but use it to meet existing obligations, including paying down debt.
Mendoza is exactly correct on that point. It will be a grave error if Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislators do not follow her advice.
What are the debts to which Mendoza
refers? There are so many, but here’s one that stands out.
In November 2017, Illinois issued $6 billion in bonds to raise money to pay its bills. The comptroller’s office said “these proceeds helped to cut the state’s unpaid bill backlog by $7.5 billion in only three weeks.”
By paying lower interest rates on the bond proceeds than it was paying on the unpaid
bills, Illinois saved “an estimated $4 billion to $6 billion in interest costs through 2029.” It was a smart move to make in the context of Illinois’ serious fiscal issues.
Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is good for Paul. But the borrower still has the same debt, one now owed to Peter. So while those owed money by the state are better off, the people of Illinois still owe the money they borrowed to pay those unpaid bills.
But what of the future? The Legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting & Accountability reports that if the state continues to increase spending at current rates, its unpaid bills will go right back up. The commission forecast $10.6 billion in unpaid bills in Fiscal Year 2023-24.
Illinois’ economy, like those of other states, is bouncing back in the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdowns. The state enjoyed more than $700 million in increased revenue during February and March compared with the same time period the previous year alone.
But revenue increases won’t solve Illinois’ financial problems. Legislators will have to restrain themselves when it comes to new spending, something for which they have shown zero interest in the past.
Mendoza’s report on unpaid bills is welcome news. But Illinois’ financial challenges remain daunting.