Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Champaign News Gazette. April 14, 2024.

Editorial: Team owners tell their fans to show them the money

Taxpayers pay the price when owners of popular professional sports franchises play hardball.

Sports fans love their teams, and owners of professional sports teams love to exploit that affection in efforts to win taxpayer support for new facilities.

That’s why two Chicago teams — MLB’s White Sox and the NFL’s Bears — are hoping — and apparently expecting — their requests for financial assistance in building sports super-venues will be forthcoming.

So far, however, it’s been a tough sell, at least in public.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has thrown cold water on the White Sox plans, saying elected officials have to be very careful in how they spend taxpayer money. Just this week, Senate President Don Harmon stated there is “next to no appetite to fund a new stadium with taxpayer dollars.”

Part of the reason is the timing. Both teams are playing in stadiums that are not all that old. The Sox ballpark, which is lacking in charm, is roughly 30 years old, and the Bears stadium is around 20. Both were built with taxpayer assistance, and both have pending bond debts.

The Sox and Bears, naturally, are promising their multibillion-dollar ventures will more than pay for themselves because of ancillary developments that will generate gushers of tax dollars.

Caveat emptor. These sorts of claims are part of the standard sales pitch, and there are no guarantees.

In fact, critics charge those guarantees are mere sophistry not born out by the facts.

In their book “Fields of Failure,” authors Ryan Lanier and Thomas Schatz argue taxpayer-subsidized stadiums “often have a negative impact on taxpayers” and have become a “scourge on this nation” that cost “billions of dollars each year in new expenses and lost revenues.”

Fans do get to keep their teams, but at a cost to all.

In the case of the White Sox, Reinsdorf recently gave a cost estimate of $4 billion “for the first phase of the ballpark project,” according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

The 87-year-old said his team can’t be competitive without it and suggested his heirs will be forced to sell the team, perhaps moving it to Nashville. Last time Reindsorf sought state aid for a new stadium, he threatened to move the team to Florida.

Meanwhile, the Bears want to build a $1.5 billion stadium in the city.

Ironically, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that both the Bears and Sox are “eyeing the same portion of the city’s hotel tax” as a source of taxpayer funds.

While the elected officials’ public comments are revealing, there’s no doubt these deals will be addressed behind the scenes. If they are completed — a big if — the costs to taxpayers will be disguised to minimize public scrutiny.

That’s just how the game is played. Authors Lanier and Schatz noted “public financing has become the rule, rather than the exception” since 1953, when Milwaukee “enticed the Boston Braves to move west with the promise” of a new, publicly built stadium.

Since 2000, they note that U.S. states and localities have spent $43.1 billion to build professional sports stadiums. Politicians’ rhetoric aside, that’s the real state of play.


Chicago Tribune. April 9, 2024.

Editorial: We shouldn’t have to subsidize union jobs with higher utility bills. A terrible idea surfaces in Springfield.

Are you OK with regulators allowing utilities to charge you more for electricity and heat just to make sure union contractors stay employed?

Trade unions lobbying in Springfield want Illinois law changed to produce precisely that result.

Legislation moving in the capital and backed by influential unions including one of the most politically potent, Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, would for the first time require the Illinois Commerce Commission to take into account potential loss of union jobs in their rulings on utilities’ rate-hike requests.

This measure is far more than a reporting requirement. It carries legal weight and would add a major new element to what utility regulators currently must balance when utilities come with their hands out.

As it stands, state law essentially requires the ICC to weigh consumers’ interests (such as affordability) against the need to preserve the financial health of utilities like Commonwealth Edison and Peoples Gas, in addition to improving the environment and preserving service reliability. If regulators fail to do so, both utilities and consumer representatives can challenge their decisions in court.

This bill, though, could open the door to unions or utilities (or both) mounting court challenges to ICC rulings not to their liking on the basis of the effect on the jobs of utility contractors. The requirement would be triggered if the commission or any participant in a rate-hike proceeding estimates 50 or more more union jobs hang in the balance of a rate-hike request.

This would be terrible policy. Trade unions have no “right” to a set number of permanent jobs provided by regulated monopolies. The utility revenues on which those union jobs depend come not from government but from you, us and everyone else with homes or businesses that need power and heat. Utility bills aren’t taxes technically, but they might as well be. State government plays a crucial role in what heights those bills reach. And we hardly need to point out how difficult it is for so many Illinoisans to pay those monthly costs.

You might be wondering why such an absurd proposal would be given any consideration at all. Yet the House Public Utilities Committee unanimously approved it last week.

This bill is a reaction to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s move last year to overhaul the five-member ICC. With the appointment of Chairman Doug Scott and two other commissioners, he made it far less beholden to utilities than it has been for much of the past 50 years and more attuned to consumer concerns. Every major utility in the state — including ComEd, Peoples and suburban gas utility Nicor — last year filed for record-setting rate hikes, and the commission rebuffed the vast majority of their proposed capital spending and resulting price increases.

In the case of Peoples Gas, which delivers gas in the city of Chicago, the regulators killed that utility’s wildly overbudget and ill-conceived project to replace virtually all of the gas pipes below Chicago’s streets. Peoples responded by laying off more than 700 union pipe workers.

Local 150 and other unions were outraged and promised to fight the ICC in Springfield. Their anger has taken multiple forms, including opposing Senate confirmation of two Pritzker appointees to the ICC, who coincidentally are scheduled for consideration in the Senate Executive Appointments Committee on Thursday. Pritzker rightly has stood his ground and supported Scott and the rest of the commission, including by spending his own money on advertising countering union attack ads against the ICC.

Utilities and their co-dependent unions seem to have come to view ever-increasing capital budgets, and the resulting rate increases covering the cost of those outlays (plus a regulated profit), as a permanent feature. But utilities are — or should be — no different than other industries or public works. Capital spending rises and falls. When capital projects are completed, and budgets then (temporarily) decline, contract workers no longer are needed in the same numbers. That’s just a reality of doing business.

In the past, at least in Illinois, what immunized utilities from the budget cycles common to other capital-intensive industries is that they could turn to friendly lawmakers to rubber-stamp spending plan after spending plan, keeping the rate hikes coming and the gravy train running. It’s a new day, and they don’t like it one bit.

Pritzker is doing his part to ensure that trade-union temper tantrums don’t return Illinois to the days when utilities called the shots in Springfield.

Keep up the good fight, governor.


Arlington Heights Daily Herald. April 12, 2024.

Editorial: Thinking ahead on accessibility

In many ways, state Sen. Dan McConchie’s proposal to require new electric-vehicle charging stations to be accessible to disabled drivers is one of those legislative measures that would seem destined to slide easily through the General Assembly and into law.

Drivers with disabilities already have accessibility options at traditional gasoline filling stations, and obviously their needs must be taken into account if the state is to build the infrastructure to handle its ambitious goals for increasing the number of EVs on the road.

But a larger question also seems to deserve some attention: How did it come to pass that accessibility alternatives weren’t required when the existing charging stations were put in operation?

McConchie, a Hawthorn Woods Republican, was generous in his reflection on that question for a story by our Jenny Whidden this week.

“This is what happens with new technology,” he said. “Something new comes up, you can’t think of every eventuality as you’re starting, and as it begins to really take hold and progress, we begin to see some of the issues and begin to fine tune. It’s not unusual that this has occurred, but it does look like we’re going to be a leader on this issue as far as this rollout across the country and I’m just excited at the prospect of Illinois being one of the first states to really, I think, do this right.”

At least insofar as it involves disability standards, the most troubling phrase in that analysis is, “It’s not unusual that this has occurred.”

If that is true, it would seem that our institutions and our businesses are not as sensitized toward the needs of people with disabilities as we may like to think. With whole industries cropping up to help businesses and government comply with federal Americans for Disabilities Act requirements, we may be fooled into thinking that we’re fully aware of building accessibility into all our endeavors.

That McConchie’s bill is needed for such a relatively routine new function — and it truly is needed — is evidence of just how limited that thinking may be.

It’s worth noting that the legislation makes no demands on existing stations. McConchie expressed the “hope” that existing operations will take steps to adapt.

That is a start, to be sure, but there’s also something somewhat appropriately forewarning in his further expectation that “at some point I do suspect that there will be some retroactivity down the road, even if it’s not immediate.”

If the lack of standards in a situation like this is properly judged an oversight, keep in mind that Illinois is not singularly culpable. Only California and Colorado have similar standards so far.

McConchie’s bill has some distance to go before it becomes law. It unanimously cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, and next must go to the full Senate, possibly today, followed by action in the House before moving to the governor for his signature. Hopefully, it will pass through the system smoothly.

And, hopefully too, the experience can serve as a reminder that disability access should be built into the planning and development of any new operations in any field of endeavor open to the general public — before the need is discovered by disabled individuals who seek to make use of them.