Green Guide

Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Posted February 16, 2021 10:00 a.m. EST

Chicago Sun-Times. February 13, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois suffers as energy bill is delayed

The Clean Energy Jobs Act would move the state toward 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2050, which could create jobs without spending taxpayer money and make Illinois a leader in renewable energy.

It’s time for the Legislature to get charged up about passing a comprehensive energy bill that would help the environment, assist ratepayers, benefit communities that need jobs and help workers displaced by the shift from fossil fuels.

For too long, the proposed Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act has twisted in the wind, going nowhere, like a hapless wind energy turbine unconnected to a grid. For the benefit of the entire state, it’s time to get this legislation passed.

Here’s just one reason: Illinois has not only gone over the so-called “solar cliff,” but it has also crashed on the ground like Wile E. Coyote. Because CEJA was not enacted in time, payments will be yanked away for solar installations that have already been started around the state. Others won’t begin. Fossil fuels will be burned unnecessarily.

Here’s another reason: Illinois has missed the window to protect ratepayers from unnecessarily paying higher power bills to support fossil fuel companies. The Trump administration is the culprit, but it will take years to unwind that on the federal level. CEJA would throw ratepayers a lifeline more quickly.

On Feb. 9, backers reintroduced CEJA in the Illinois House. The new version includes stricter ethics rules for utilities, in light of ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government. And Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration still has working groups meeting to discuss energy issues.

In Washington, the Biden White House has replaced an administration that launched an all-out assault on the environment for four years. On Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden signed a number of executive orders to overturn Donald Trump’s efforts to degrade the planet. But Illinois can’t sit back and wait for the federal government to do the job. Federal help would mostly come in the form of additional funding for environmental initiatives.

As Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club Illinois, told us, “We really need a plan that is written by Illinois, for Illinois. We have to take control of our own destiny.”

CEJA would move the state toward 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2050, which could create jobs without spending taxpayer money and make Illinois a leader in renewable energy. It would pay for the improvements by reclaiming money that is unnecessarily being paid to out-of-state fossil fuel companies. Its chances may be better in this session because the new House Speaker Chris Welch is a chief co-sponsor.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency published a survey finding 89% of adults value the environment and 84% think access to nature is important for mental health.

Political support is building for the environment. Illinois needs to be in the vanguard of that movement.

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Chicago Tribune. February 15, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois’ latest disaster? The vaccine rollout

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s team announced last week it will enlist federal Disaster Survivor Assistance teams to help at COVID-19 vaccination sites in Cook and St. Clair counties. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency will give Cook County $49 million to help with vaccine distribution.

That’s entirely appropriate because so far, Illinois’ rollout of vaccinations has been flat-out disastrous.

It’s as if seniors across the region have had to come out of retirement to take on a new full-time job — tracking down the ever-elusive vaccine injection. They’re spending hours — and days — cold-calling potential vaccination sites and scrolling through the internet for injection appointments. Refresh. Refresh.

And how about these optics? At the same time elderly Illinoisans maddeningly scour their communities for a shot at a shot, Pritzker put state lawmakers at the front of the line. On Wednesday, members of the General Assembly were offered their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a state police facility in Springfield. One Tribune reader, Phillip Tutor of Schaumburg, wrote to us, “How about we have a law that no Illinois politician gets his or her COVID-19 vaccination until all Illinois residents get theirs? I then would bet that this vaccine rollout fiasco gets fixed in record time.”

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Champaign News-Gazette. February 12, 2021.

Editorial: New state budget on drawing board

After running on a pledge to fix Illinois’ horrid budget problems, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is finding it easier said than done.

The governor has a problem.

He’d like to propose a dramatic increase in spending in the proposed 2021-22 state budget plan he’ll unveil next week. But, unfortunately and ironically, the multibillionaire scion of the fabulously wealthy Pritzker family finds himself in a state of financial embarrassment thanks to the fact that Illinois is, for all intents and purposes, busted flat as a pancake.

So it’ll be interesting to see what the governor has in mind and how his supermajority Democrats in the General Assembly respond.

One thing, however, is for sure. As multiple headlines touted earlier this week, Pritzker is not going to propose any of what he calls “tax increases.”

Fans of the governor were praising him for what they considered his no-tax-increase public-relations triumph.

That is, of course, the kind of message politicians like to see associated with their names. But it is worth reminding the public that one reason Pritzker announced that he’ll not be asking for a tax increase is that he just asked for one in the November election.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected Pritzker’s much-loved progressive-income-tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The governor apparently got the hint, although it’s inevitable that a public official with his ambitious spending plans will, sooner or later, be asking people to dig deeper into their pockets to finance the social spending plans he’s proposed.

For now, apparently, what Illinois calls austerity is in the offing.

While not exactly saying how he’ll pass a balanced budget (the state hasn’t passed one in roughly 20 years), Pritzker is suggesting that an estimated $700 million in cuts, redirecting money raised for specific purposes to general purposes, the cancellation of proposed K-12 education increases and a federal bailout will ease the budget pressure.

But there are problems. Part of his budget cuts are supposed to come from proposed furloughs of state employees that have already been rejected by union leaders. Cigarette tax revenue shifted to the general fund will mean less money available to pay for planned infrastructure improvements.

Freezing K-12 education funding won’t be easy in the face of legislative resistance to boost spending.

Then there are the vast increases needed for Illinois’ underfunded public pensions. The list of problems goes on and on; it’s a morass of numbers that would make an accountant’s head spin.

Boiled down to its essence, the budget picture is a mess that Pritzker will try — and probably fail — to untangle. It’s been that way for years, so it’s not exactly new.

One way or another, the budget will get done before the new fiscal year begins July 1, but probably not without the usual gimmicks that will make it looked balanced on paper.

No one should envy the challenge facing the governor. He’s got a tough job. Then again, he’s getting what he asked for — good and hard.

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