Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Arlington Heights Daily Herald. April 2, 2021.

Editorial: The lead in Illinois’ drinking water

U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen safe drinking water protections in Illinois and across the nation, namely the amount of lead and copper that can be present.

Duckworth chairs a committee that has jurisdiction over the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. So, why champion this cause?

Because Illinois has the most lead water service lines of any state, and lead in water is known to cause irreversible brain damage in children and adults.

Furthermore, the senators are asking EPA Administrator Michael Regan to include an Illinois representative in its discussions and public outreach.

“As is with many problems in our nation, this lead contamination is often the worst in Black and brown communities, with data from one predominantly Black community in Illinois showing as much as 5,300 ppb of lead in the drinking water,” the senators wrote. “These chronic issues in Illinois and across the United States call for the toughest possible standards backed by science. We urge EPA to update and implement a Lead and Copper Rule that takes into account the best available science, protects the health of all Americans and will help reverse the existing inequities in access to safe drinking water.”

The Chicago Tribune recently studied samples collected by Illinois’ 1,768 water utilities -- in which a small percentage of households are tested -- and found that more than eight in 10 Illinoisans live in a community where lead was found in the tap water of at least one home during the past six years.

Lead has long been a concern in Illinois, not just in poorer neighborhoods but in the more affluent suburbs.

In light of the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, our Jake Griffin in 2016 investigated the challenges facing Illinois on lead testing in the water.

The first part of his investigation examined lead testing in municipal supplies.

The second examined testing done in the drinking water in 319 suburban schools.

Tests found a drinking fountain in a school library had lead levels 212 times the federal safety threshold of 15 parts per billion.

That was the worst example.

Sixty-nine schools -- 22% -- had water fountains or faucets that tested at or above the federal standard, the records showed.

Lead in the water will continue to become an issue in Illinois. We heartily endorse any attention given to this critical health concern.

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Chicago Tribune. April 5, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois politicians behaving badly: A never-ending series

In 2011 as the state legislature finalized its lame-duck session and the clock ticked toward midnight, then-Rep. Annazette Collins of Chicago’s West Side joined a majority of her fellow Democrats and supported a 67% income tax increase. Corporate income taxes went up 46%.

The tax hike was a sneaky, insincere attempt — with about a dozen lawmakers on their way out the door — to dig Illinois out of debt after years of overspending. Of course, it didn’t work. The very next year, credit agencies downgraded the state’s rating as debts soared, despite billions in new revenue.

On Wednesday, Collins became the latest public official charged in a federal corruption probe alleging she didn’t pay her own taxes. It’s a tool prosecutors often use to encourage cooperation on more significant matters; the winding corruption probe underway at U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office is no exception.

The irony, of course, is that several of the public officials embroiled in federal tax indictments so far — allegedly trying to evade their own tax burden — were consistent, reliable votes to raise taxes on everyone else. Taxes for thee but not for me?

Collins, who lobbied for Commonwealth Edison and ran her own consulting firm, is slated to be arraigned Tuesday and expected to plead not guilty. She is charged with two counts of “willfully filing a false individual income tax return, two counts of willfully failing to file a corporate income tax return, and one count of willfully failing to file an individual income tax return,” according to the indictment.

For calendar year 2014, about a year after she left the General Assembly, she claimed personal income of $11,533. For the next year, she claimed $10,154, the feds allege. She didn’t file with the IRS for two years on her lobbying and consulting firm, according to the feds. She joins several other public officials connected to the ComEd corruption case who face tax-related charges.

Former Rep. Eddie Acevedo, Democrat of Chicago, was charged along with two of his sons in tax evasion cases. Prosecutors accuse Acevedo of underreporting his income, failing to pay what he owed and failing to file timely returns. His sons Alex and Michael are accused of underestimating income and/or failing to file and pay taxes in certain years. They all pleaded not guilty.

Acevedo, of course, was a reliable tax hike vote in the General Assembly. And when he left office, he worked as a consultant for two ComEd-connected lobbyists, John Bradley and Shaw Decremer. Last year, ComEd paid a $200 million penalty after admitting to a bribery scheme that involved no-work contracts with associates of former House Speaker Michael Madigan to buy favorable treatment of ComEd’s legislative agenda in Springfield.

Former Sen. Terry Link, who ironically served on the General Assembly’s ethics commission, pleaded guilty last fall to tax charges. The feds say he didn’t report his full income of more than $358,000 in 2016. In a rare prosecution of misuse of campaign funds, Link also admitted that more than $73,000 from his campaign account went toward personal expenses.

Collins at one point got in trouble over her campaign fund too. In 2008, the Illinois State Board of Elections fined her committee $20,000 for failing to report what she raised and spent over a three-year period. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a government watchdog group, brought the case against her after noticing missing paperwork.

And in a separate but also troubling development, former Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria, transportation secretary under President Barack Obama, admitted in a prosecution deferral agreement recently made public that he did not disclose a $50,000 loan from a Lebanese-Nigerian business owner about a decade ago. The loan was illegal. LaHood lied about it to prosecutors. The loan came to the attention of California authorities as part of a broader investigation.

How many days can the state of Illinois go without another installment of politicians behaving badly? Set your timer. It won’t be long.

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Chicago Sun-Times. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois is sitting on millions that could be spent to promote electric cars and cleaner air

It’s time to spend down the state’s $89 million Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust fund.

Illinois has an electric vehicle chicken-and-egg problem.

More people and government agencies would use electric vehicles if there were more charging stations, and there would be a better argument for building more charging stations if more people and government agencies used electric vehicles.

Fortunately, a big wad of cash is sitting largely untouched in a state fund that could be used to resolve the conundrum, and it would be perfectly appropriate to do so. The state should spend the funds to help jump-start its electric vehicle conversion agenda.

In 2016 and 2017, Illinois received $108 million from Volkswagen as part of a nationwide resolution of legal claims against the automaker, which had been caught secretly installing software on diesel cars to cheat the system and pass air quality tests. Of that money, $89 million still sits in the state’s Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust fund.

We can’t think of a better use for those funds than to speed up the state’s conversion to electric vehicles. Conventional trucks and cars have surpassed power plants as the prime source of the greenhouse gases that are overheating the planet.

At the same time, given that the power for electric vehicles ultimately comes from power plants, Illinois must do more to convert to sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

The Volkswagen money sits largely unspent because the original plan for the fund, drawn up by the Rauner administration, emphasized the continued use of fossil fuels, such as replacing old diesel engines with newer ones. The plan should have been revised when Rauner left office, but it has not.

We need a new plan now.

The money from the Volkswagen trust could be coupled with about $70 million set aside for vehicle electrification in Illinois’ 2019 capital bill — money that also has been just sitting around. That money is earmarked for installing electric charging stations in low-income areas and electrifying public transit, but none of the funds has been spent in two years.

Additional money might also soon be available. The Clean Energy Jobs Act, which remains stalled in the Legislature, includes more than $700 million for transportation electrification, including public vehicles, school buses and charging infrastructure where the private sector has failed to provide it. President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill includes money for electric vehicle charging stations, retooling factories, credits for those who buy electric vehicles and electrifying the federal fleet.

Time will tell how much of that funding comes through, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker — who says he wants to see 750,000 electric vehicles on Illinois roads by the year 2030 — has no reason to wait.

By tapping those Volkswagen funds, he could do more right now to achieve that goal.

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