Chicago Tribune: Taylorville’s Not Ready
November 29, 2010
Dirty and dangerous, coal has a hard time making friends. The proposal for a Taylorville Energy Center in central Illinois isn’t helping.
You might think the Taylorville plan would be winning popularity contests all around the state: This wouldn’t be a typical coal plant, of the sort that provides roughly half of America’s electricity today. This would be a “clean” operation, using cutting-edge technology to reduce hazardous emissions, while taking advantage of the state’s abundant coal supplies. We have supported the idea of “clean coal,” with the caveat that it has to provide power at a reasonable cost to ratepayers. That is, there has to be the prospect that it can genuinely compete in the marketplace.
Taylorville has not met that test. The General Assembly should not give its approval to the $3.52 billion project.
As currently envisioned, Taylorville amounts to an extremely expensive and speculative bet on a long-term payoff that may never materialize. The one guarantee: It will hike the cost of electricity in Illinois for a long time.
A proposal going to the legislature would cap the rate increases paid by residential customers at 2 percent. But that would leave business and government to pay the rest of the increased costs, without the protection of a rate cap. Click here to continue reading.
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“As the Tenaska foes’ hyperbole has escalated in recent months, however, so has our skepticism of the critics and the STOP Coalition’s underlying purpose. At the heart of the opposition is Exelon Corp., the Chicago-based power-generating and distribution conglomerate. As old coal plants shut down and power gets more scarce, Exelon — operator of nuclear plants — stands to benefit.”
“Passage of the bill by the General Assembly would allow construction on the plant to begin. Its failure, we believe, would strike a fatal blow not just for the Taylorville plant, but for any potential future development of clean-coal technology in this state. If Tenaska’s effort fails, we can’t imagine any clean-coal company attempting to do business in Illinois.”
“As lawmakers debate this bill, we urge them to keep that in mind.”
“They also must remember that every figure quoted by opponents of Tenaska is a worst-of-the-worst-case scenario…It also assumes power won’t get more expensive as new environmental laws force old coal plants to shut down…”
The Taylorville Project last week agreed to absorb two-thirds of the cost of capital cost overruns and two-thirds of the cost of carbon sequestration cost overruns — meaning these costs, if incurred, can’t be passed along to customers.
“We hope lawmakers see through the hyperbolic spin against this project and vote to bring jobs to central Illinois and put Illinois among the leaders in clean-coal technology.”
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In all, candidates and political committees spent an estimated $3 billion airing television, radio and Internet commercials in local, state and federal races, up from $2.7 billion in 2008 and $2.4 billion in 2006, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, a division of Kantar Media that tracks political advertising.
About two-thirds of the money — an estimated $2 billion — was used to purchase airtime from local television stations.
* The Question: Should FCC regulated television and radio stations be obligated to give much larger discounts to political candidates, or even offer free air time? Explain.
The last prisoner executed by the state of Illinois was Andrew Kokoraleis, who died by lethal injection at the Tamms Correctional Center in March 1999. The next year, then-Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, concerned that a deeply flawed system had sent innocent people to death row. Three years later he commuted the sentences of 167 condemned inmates and pardoned four others.
A lot of Illinoisans apparently believe that was the end of it. Only 39 percent of voters responding to a recent poll answered (correctly) that Illinois still has the death penalty. The others said it does not (33 percent) or that they didn’t know (28 percent).
No, the death penalty hasn’t been abolished in Illinois. It hasn’t been fixed either.
Those poll results show to me that people don’t really care all that much. Whether they will care if the bill passes is the big question, however.
A bill that would shield voters’ political party preferences from the public record has been killed in the Illinois House.
Gov. Pat Quinn had rewritten House Bill 4842 so voters would not have to publicly declare their parties when voting in a primary election. The bill originally instructed the State Board of Elections to publish a voters guide on the Internet during primary elections.
However, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the amendatory veto was unconstitutional.
“He created a wholly different bill,” Currie said. “That was not what was contemplated by the people who drafted and the people who supported the 1970 Constitution.”
Lots of people support the governor’s idea, but not so much in the General Assembly. Plus, legislators don’t take too kindly to a governor attempting to legislate with an amendatory veto.
* A case in point is the seniors ride free bill. That one was such a political hot potato that the General Assembly decided to go along with Rod Blagojevich’s AV. But opponents have persisted and another vote to get rid of it appears likely…
On Monday, a House committee approved legislation that would scale back the free-rides program by setting income limits for seniors to qualify.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch or a free ride,” Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said.
Gov. Pat Quinn has previously said he would veto legislation limiting free rides, but Currie said she is confident the proposal will have enough support for lawmakers to override a veto.
When the Majority Leader is on board, that usually means the Speaker is on board, and that usually means that the bill will pass.
State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, was among lawmakers hesitating to take the perk away. He said it might be difficult for seniors to adjust to the change.
* Keep in mind, however, that a federal law requires seniors to get a 50 percent mass transit discount, so they still won’t pay the full freight…
On Monday, a House committee approved limiting free bus and train rides to seniors who make less than $27,600 a year. More affluent seniors would pay the federally mandated half price for rides.
…Adding… From the RTA…
Saw your blog post on the RTA’s senior ride free bill today. Thanks. Just a small note: the bill doesn’t eliminate seniors riding free. It means test it so that seniors who are in the Circuit Breaker Program ride free and all others half off. It works the same way our current People with Disabilities Ride Free Program works which was created by the General Assembly a few months after the Seniors program was created.
Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Abdon M. Pallasch report that a single individual, Arthur J. Hardy Jr., is listed as the circulator who gathered some 7,000 signatures on nominating petitions for two mayoral candidates — 3,160 for the Rev. James Meeks and 3,990 for Rob Halpin, the real estate developer renting Rahm Emanuel’s house.
That’s a lot of signatures for any one individual to gather in a short time, which is all Halpin had after launching his last-minute mayoral bid, egged on by those seeking to accentuate the issue of whether Emanuel meets the city’s residency requirement for citywide candidates.
I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but if you couple Mr. Hardy’s prolific output with the fact he lists his address as an Uptown homeless shelter, there’s a reasonable basis for asking some questions, such as whether he really collected all those signatures or whether somebody got carried away signing his name.
At the going rate of $1 per signature — which is what professional petition circulators typically are paid — that would also mean somebody owes Hardy a nice chunk of change. One of the other interesting questions would be who it is that hired him — and whether it’s the same person for both candidates.
I checked with Sen. Meeks today about this and he flatly denied any connection. “I don’t need to roll like that,” he said. Meeks said he has had zero contact with Halpin, never met him and totally denied any involvement by his campaign. Meeks said his campaign decided during the last week of filing to hire people to help pad his signature totals and that Hardy was apparently hired during that time period. But, he said, there was no connection between Hardy’s work for Meeks and Hardy’s work for Halpin.
A check of campaign expenditure reports shows that Arthur Hardy has apparently never received any money from any campaign in the past. This could just be a homeless guy trying to get himself out of poverty. If so, good for him. But pure coincidences are few and far between in Chicago (and Illinois, for that matter), so Meeks will probably have to deal with this for a while even if he is innocent.
Requesting anonymity, a source in Springfield tells ChicagoPride.com that State Sen. and Rev. James Meeks, who represents the 15th District on Chicago’s south side, has allegedly been working behind the scenes with other African-American ministers to derail passage in the House as an effort to keep the legislation from making it to the Senate, thus relieving the prominent minister from declaring his vote, for or against, on record.
“Rev. Meeks has been playing fast and loose with the LGBT community,” said the source.
Meeks also flatly denied this report, adding: “I have not spoken with a single person in Springfield about the civil unions bill.”
*** UPDATE *** Both of Sen. Meeks’ House members, Reps. David Miller and Will Davis, said this morning that Meeks has never spoken to them about the civil unions bill.
* The Catholic Conference of Illinois is apparently so concerned that the civil unions bill could pass the House today that it has issued a statement offering to compromise…
The statement reiterated that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
“Accordingly, we stand ready to work with the legislature and other agencies of state government to prevent unjust discrimination and to provide benefits to people judged by the civic authority as deserving — as long as such provision does not include the attempted redefinition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman for the sake of family,” the statement said.
*** UPDATE 1 - 9:26 am *** “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Rep. Greg Harris, the sponsor of the civil unions bill, about a proposed compromise. Harris said he is “always interested in talking to everyone,” but said the Catholic Conference has not approached him yet about any possible compromise and that he hadn’t heard anything about it until he saw it on CapitolFax.com this morning. Harris promised to get back to us if he is contacted today.
House Republicans Mathias, Mulligan and Myers and Democrat Dugan are out today. The civil union proponents need the votes of Mulligan and Dugan — we may see the vote on SB 1716 delayed. May force the delay all the hot social issues today.
Proponents weren’t expecting votes from Mathias and Myers. Mulligan is on her way down. Rep. Dugan, however, is not. Rep. Harris said he would continue to push forward with a vote today. He said he’d like to have a bigger cushion, but it is what it is.
[ *** End Of Updates *** ]
* But things are proceeding apace and proponents appear to be getting closer…
Supporters of civil unions for same-sex couples say they’re close to having the 60 votes needed to pass the measure in the Illinois House.
It would still need state senate approval and Governor Pat Quinn’s signature, who says the measure could help the state’s economy.
Activists plan to take several dozen clergy members of various faiths to the Illinois Capitol Tuesday, when lawmakers could vote on the civil unions plan.
“We know your mothers and your teachers taught you to respect the choices people make and the primacy of their choices,” Catholic nun Donna Quinn, of Palos Heights, said in a statement.
* Opponents are obviously worried about the House’s 18 lame ducks…
David E. Smith, executive director the Illinois Family Institute, said he has heard anecdotally about some lawmakers from conservative areas who aren’t returning to office after January and appear poised to support Harris’ bill.
Chicago Cardinal Francis George also weighed in on the lame ducks…
[Cardinal George] criticized the fact that such an important measure was being considered by a lame-duck General Assembly. “More should be done to engage the people in public debate” on it, he said.
* The opposition is seriously cranking up the heat, and pointing to a pension note request that’s sparking some controversy. From Illinois Review…
While gay rights activists insist the number of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons are now at the levels of 10 percent of the American population, when asked how much legalizing same sex civil unions could cost Illinois taxpayers, the state’s budget office minimalized the projected number of LGBTs to be only one percent of the state’s population.
Using the fraction of a fraction as the projected number of LGBT state employees whose same sex partners may eventually benefit from the state workers’ pension plans, the budget office gave this report in answer to a pension note query filed by State Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill):
SB 245 from the 96th General Assembly allowed members of TRS and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund to designate a domestic partner as a surviving spouse for purposes of survivor and death benefits (SB 245 has not advanced out of committee). Based on that legislation, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability’s actuary estimated that if 1% of active TRS members designate a domestic partner as a beneficiary for survivor benefits, the impact to the system would be as follows; (1) Increase in total actuarial liability = $15,750,000; (2) Increase in total annual costs = $1,838,000; (3) Increase in total annual costs as a payment of payroll = $0.02%.
The pension note focused on survivor benefits, but health care costs were not included in the estimation. The budget office said they can’t estimate the cost to Central Management Services:
“It’s not legitimate for the government to recognize the relationship of homosexual partners or polygamous partners or incestuous partners,” [David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute] said.
Except, if civil unions is this difficult to pass, I seriously doubt that incest and polygamy would ever be legalized.
John Dudlak: It was difficult to continue manufacturing in the facility we were at and we were approached by WISPARK, which is south of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Boguslaw Duczek: It was terrible. I talked to my wife. I talked to kids. I say, oh, boy. Oh, boy. If they move, what are we going to do?
Dudlak: I get a call from Rahm and he is just irate. He says, ‘I can’t believe that this is going on. How in the world could a 100 year old Chicago company move to WISPARK? You know’
And he said, “I’m going to look into this thing. It’s just not right.”
What he did was he made the city and the state and the developer see the logic of keeping employees in Chicago.
Delfin Perez: It surprise me you know because we’re not talking about 200 and 500 people, just about 30, 30 something people.
And he did a great job, so that we’d be able to stay in Chicago.
Dudlak: It’s just that he wants to do what’s right…
And he will just latch on to it and he’ll pursue it and pursue it and get it done. I wish more people had that kind of tenacity.
* Poll shows Rahm Emanuel as front-runner: The Chicago Retail Merchants Association poll of 2,255 voters taken Monday — the last day candidates could file to run for mayor —finds Emanuel leading a crowded field with support from 39 percent of respondents. Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun came in a distant second with support from 12 percent of those polled. Former Chicago schools chief Gery Chico had 9 percent; Congressman Danny Davis, 7 percent; City Clerk Miguel Del Valle and Rev. James Meeks, 5 percent each; and outgoing U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, 2 percent.
* Petitions for Mayor Offer First Clues of Campaign: The Chicago News Cooperative’s review of all of the nearly 5,300 petitions for the Emanuel campaign found that a man from Mundelein, which is almost 40 miles from City Hall, circulated more signature pages than any other supporter. The analysis found that 4 of Mr. Emanuel’s top 6 circulators and 7 of his 20 busiest operatives wrote in home addresses for themselves outside Chicago at the bottom of the sworn affidavits that they had asked Chicago voters to sign. Almost 25 percent of the petition pages for Mr. Emanuel were circulated by campaign workers who do not live in Chicago, the analysis found.
* Emanuel renter’s last landlord filed suit to evict him: Halpin is also fighting in court here with a Pittsburgh construction company that accused him of fraud in connection with alleged efforts to avoid paying an Allegheny County judgment involving one of Halpin’s developments. Halpin, who builds those sprawling warehouses you see alongside interstate highways, denies the accusation.
As expected, a quarterback dictated the outcome with deft running that made him a more dangerous passer. But his name wasn’t Michael Vick.
Cutler upstaged Vick by completing 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards and four TDs for a Tom Brady-like, career-high passer rating of 146.2. It was the Bears’ third-highest rating since 1950. A la Vick, Cutler even scrambled well enough when protection broke down to have to sheepishly answer a question about how the quarterbacks’ running styles compared.
“I don’t know, I do it as a last resort,” Cutler said. “Mike’s a little more savvy with it.'’
Perhaps, but Cutler never has appeared savvier with teammates responding to his brand of leadership. By now Chicagoans have all passed a course studying Cutler’s body language and, whether it was coming out of the huddle or sitting on the sidelines against the Eagles, the intangible message Sunday was, “Follow me.'’
It’s easy to overlook, for instance, that kicker Robbie Gould has made 58 consecutive field goals inside 40 yards or that all four Bears starting defensive linemen got at least part of a sack Sunday or that Matt Forte ran for 117 yards or that safety Chris Harris picked off that Vick pass that was tipped by teammate, and no relation, Tommie Harris.
It all adds up to wins that nobody predicted.
But you can never do it for long without a great, savvy quarterback.
Right guard Roberto Garza said he was most proud of the third- quarter scoring drive the Bears put together that ate up more than 10 minutes of clock.
‘’What was that, 16 plays?'’ Garza said. Seventeen, if you count Gould’s chip-shot field goal.
Behind it was a quarterback doing what a leader does best. Plowing ahead.
This is a Chicago Bears open thread. Are they for real?
* We have seen an awful lot of publicity about the seniors ride free program, most of it negative. People love to complain about it. And now there’s a new BGA report…
A yet-to-be-released government audit found widespread abuse of a taxpayer-subsidized program that lets senior citizens ride free on the CTA, Pace and Metra – with a number of instances of senior free-ride passes being used on trains and buses after the registered cardholders had died.
The Regional Transportation Authority – which oversees the three agencies and is conducting the audit – isn’t pinning this on the supernatural. Instead, it seems once cardholders die, friends and relatives who are very much alive sometimes use their free-ride passes to illegally ride the system – or even sell them to make a buck, said RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer.
And they’ve been getting away with it because, RTA officials acknowledged, the oversight hasn’t been great – with no mechanism to automatically deactivate cards once a holder passes away and no consistent method for confirming the identity of the riders carrying them.
The RTA audit aims to get a handle on the abuse, and find ways to stop it, RTA officials said. They also are likely to use the data to help justify ending the senior free-ride program, which was foisted on them two years ago by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in what many regarded as a “political stunt.” (It’s already sucked at least $38 million in revenues from the cash-starved transit systems, a figure that does not take into account any abuses.) […]
As for those “riding while dead,” the RTA audit came across roughly 160 senior free-ride passes still being used after the registered cardholder died. Those passes were used anywhere from a few times to 1,400 after the death, officials said.
Seniors ride free was a Blagojevich program, so it, like AllKids, is naturally suspect. Blagojevich created it using a controversial amendatory veto, so that’s another big strike.
In reality, however, this is chump change when compared to things like the seniors income tax exemption. They pay no state taxes on retirement income, no matter how high those incomes are. They also get some property tax relief.
But nobody ever says “boo” about that.
Seniors vote in high numbers, so politicians have been pandering to them for decades. And while I think this seniors ride free debate is healthy, we ought to be putting it into a much larger context. We’ve created a special class of citizenry, and maybe now the whole thing needs to be refigured, particularly with the baby boomers starting to retire. Can we really afford this?
One of the consequences of Gov. Pat Quinn’s laser-like focus on Chicago and Cook County during this fall’s campaign is that he won just 20-22 of the state’s 59 Senate districts, according to recent estimates by the Illinois Senate Democrats. That’s not even close to half.
There’s been plenty of hand wringing in the Downstate media about the fact that Quinn only won three counties in their region, which comprises the vast majority of the state’s geography. That’s mostly illegitimate as far as statewide races go. A win’s a win. Period.
But it is legitimate to look at the totals when it comes to legislative districts. The lack of public support in a majority of districts can have a major impact on the coming legislative session, especially since Quinn lost quite a few Democratic-held districts by wide margins.
For instance, Quinn lost all but one of the 13 tiny counties that make up Sen. Gary Forby’s district by a total of about 14,000 votes. Forby voted for a tax increase last year. It’s no wonder why Forby says he’s not thrilled about a repeat performance.
It was like that all over Downstate Illinois. Pat Quinn can’t be blamed for all of it, of course. The national trend, anger over Statehouse mismanagement, and the resulting heightened GOP voter interest played a role throughout Downstate and in the suburbs outside Cook.
Democratic Rep. Dan Reitz was up against a guy who barely spent a dime. Reitz walked precincts constantly, spent more than he has in years, and beat his Republican opponent with just 56 percent of the vote. Reitz says he firmly believes that if the House Republicans had targeted him, he would’ve been a goner.
Legislative Democrats as a whole withstood the national GOP wave because the Republicans spent so much time and effort on suburban Cook County. The House and Senate Democrats lost every seriously contested Downstate race outside of Will and Kankakee counties.
The overall Downstate trend in the GOP’s favor was very intense. Bond County Republicans gained control of the county board for the first time in two decades. Christian County Republicans won the sheriff’s office for the first time in 80 years. Republican Ed Motley became the first African-American elected to an Edgar County office and the first black GOP sheriff in the state’s history. Republicans took 7 out of 7 county board seats up for election in Grundy County and seized control of the board. Madison County Republicans won two countywide offices, which is the first time since 1946 they’ve done such a thing. Marion County hasn’t had a Republican county clerk in over 30 years, and Saline hasn’t had one in 60 years. They both have one now. Peoria County elected three new GOP board members. Winnebago Republicans went from a 15-13 county board majority to a 20-8 majority.
Pretty much all of Downstate has become for the Democrats what suburban Cook County has long been for legislative Republicans: A killing field. While President Obama will do wonders for the Democrats in two years in Cook County, he will likely remain unpopular throughout Downstate unless the economy really turns around. The future is definitely not bright for Downstate Democrats.
And with redistricting coming up and the trend of Downstate counties losing population likely to continue, every legislator from that region will have to take on new territory to balance out the districts. New voters mean legislators will have to start from scratch with them. Voters who know you might give you a pass when the going gets tough. Those who don’t know you won’t.
Fortunately for Gov. Quinn, several Downstate legislators are nearing the end of their careers. A job here, a contract there and he might be able to line up the votes over the coming weeks and months to enact at least some of his agenda.
But for those who are running again after the new legislative map is drawn, there’s not a whole lot the governor can do except to promise even more pork projects and pledge to support their bills. Most legislators understand that some really tough votes are needed, including a tax hike and big budget cuts. But after this last election, it’s understandable that they won’t be eagerly lining up to commit political suicide for a guy who is so terribly unpopular back home.
‘You can indict a ham sandwich,” went the old saying.
Good prosecutors couldn’t actually do that, but they usually could persuade grand juries to do all sorts of things. Federal prosecutors were the best at this because federal law was far more pro-prosecution than state law.
Federal law eventually became so pro-prosecution, however, that the old saying needed an upgrade. The feds not only could indict a ham sandwich, they could actually convict one.
The reason for this was the federal “honest services fraud” statute. Prosecutors used the law to go after corrupt politicians and business leaders. It was an extremely effective tool because it made their jobs so much easier.
Prosecutors, for instance, didn’t have to prove any quid pro quo to convict their targets. If it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck, then it was a duck under the law.
All that changed last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The Supremes limited the use of honest services fraud to just bribes and kickbacks, and the justices insisted that prosecutors prove clear quid pro quo behavior.
No longer would “you give me this and somewhere along the line I do that” be automatically a prosecutable offense. The government would now have to prove that the “this” and the “that” were inextricably interrelated. In other words, it actually had to be a duck.
And that wasn’t all. Federal prosecutors could no longer fold state law violations into their honest services cases. They also couldn’t contend that defendants who failed to disclose a conflict of interest were in violation of the honest services statute.
Narrowing the honest services fraud law was, for prosecutors, like losing your expensive set of Snap-On socket wrenches and having to use a pair of Dollar Store pliers instead. You might still be able to get that bolt out, but it wouldn’t be nearly as easy.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a good case in point. He originally was indicted under the honest services law, but prosecutors had to re-indict him without it. Blagojevich was convicted on only one count: lying to an FBI agent.
I’ve told you all of this so we can talk about George Ryan. The former governor is in federal prison after being convicted under the old version of honest services. Unlike with Blagojevich, prosecutors never had to prove a Ryan quid pro quo existed. They also could use state laws against Ryan as well as his failure to disclose his financial conflicts of interest. The jury found him guilty on every single count.
This week, Ryan’s lawyers used the Supreme Court’s decision to argue that he should be set free. We’ve been bombarded with emotional pleas from both sides.
Ryan shouldn’t be released from prison just because some feel bad for an old, sick man, and others, including myself, feel sorry for his terminally ill wife. But he shouldn’t be kept in prison because of our emotions, either.
Like many of you, I’m still very angry about what he did. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that no matter how long I live.
The deciding factor here ought to be the law, not passion.
And it’s obvious to anyone but the most emotionally blinded that Ryan’s trial would be radically different if it were held today.
The prosecution claimed over and over back then that they not only didn’t have to prove a quid pro quo involving Ryan, but that they didn’t have to show any evidence of one to convict him, either.
They simply couldn’t get away with that now.
I just hope we can let the judicial system work this out without getting too worked up ourselves.