Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. September 5, 2022.

Editorial: Illinois farmers do their part to relieve food insecurity. They need more help.

These are the best of times for Illinois’ corn and soybean farmers, as anyone driving along downstate highways can plainly see. With just weeks to go before the peak of our state’s harvest, productive fields stretch for miles.

Outside Illinois, however, it’s mostly a different story.

Heat, dryness, hail, wind, insect pests and disease have taken a toll in some critical growing areas — providing one more reason for a hungry world to bid up commodity prices.

The mostly favorable conditions in Illinois and the rest of the eastern Corn Belt won’t be enough to make up for stressed-out crops in western Corn Belt states such as Nebraska, South Dakota and western Iowa. Based on its latest crop tour across the region — where its scouts literally count the kernels on ears of corn and the pods on soybean plants — marketing firm Pro Farmer estimates that overall yields will be substantially less than the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast Aug. 12.

In a normal year, this disappointing outlook would hardly be a crisis. But thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, runaway inflation and the threat of food shortages in poorer countries around the world this year, every bean and kernel counts.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says the world is experiencing a “perfect storm” for food scarcity.

In a meeting last month with the Tribune Editorial Board, the veteran diplomat ticked off a list of pressure points, including the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, energy deficits and armed conflicts, especially Russia’s war in Ukraine. “Russians are responsible for exacerbating this food insecurity crisis we’re all facing around the world,” she told us.

Even as global fuel and food costs moderate from their peaks earlier in the Ukraine conflict, poor countries will experience only limited relief — and Americans will see continued pressure on grocery prices. Inflation still ripples through the economy, and the U.S. Federal Reserve is wise to continue aggressive action against it.

The spring planting season began, as it usually does, with optimism among the Midwest’s famously stoic farmers. Many use futures or forward contracts to lock in the price for their upcoming harvest, and Russia’s February invasion sent prices soaring, ensuring that a good crop would deliver a lucrative payday.

Once it became clear the war would drag on for months, prices continued to rise. Ukraine is among the world’s leading producers of wheat, and the loss of its exports spilled over into other agricultural markets. Economic turmoil also reduced Russia’s ability to export grain and fertilizer. Prices for nitrogen shot up for Midwest farmers this spring, while potash and phosphorus also increased.

A stretch of cold, rainy days delayed planting into late April across most of Illinois. Relief came in May, when the state’s farmers were able to fire up their big rigs and play catch up in ideal weather. Corn prices for the emerging crop began to ease that month, while soybean prices started to ease in June. The wide variation in conditions across the Corn Belt became obvious only later.

If you haven’t already, say a little prayer for optimal weather this fall. While it’s too late to expect a big increase in yields, it is possible for Mother Nature to do more damage at a time when everyone should be hoping for the best.

Hunger is on the rise worldwide. Close to home, food banks have seen a rise in demand as working families struggle with inflation. In some of the most vulnerable countries, famine is a real threat.

Food insecurity can drive lawlessness and political upheaval. The uprising in Sri Lanka was triggered in part by a poor harvest, and high fertilizer prices have put pressure on governments from Greece to Peru.

In Pakistan, flooding has killed at least 1,300, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and created impossible conditions for distributing food.

Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., who also recently met with the Tribune Editorial Board, is blunt about the need: “One-third of the country is inundated,” he told the board in Chicago on Aug. 31. “Five million acres of our crops have been destroyed.”

Pakistani farmers “have lost this crop and they won’t be able to sow for the next harvest because of standing water,” he said. “Please help us.”

Next time you’re driving downstate, tip your hat to Illinois farmers for doing their part to help feed the needy worldwide. They’re saving lives, one bushel at a time.

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Arlington Heights Daily Herald. September 2, 2022.

Editorial: Lawmakers must work to minimize impact of veterans law on county budgets

County Veterans Affairs Commissions serve an important role in getting needed assistance to men and women who have served our country and need help in various ways, including getting health care, fighting hunger or homelessness and dealing with mental health issues.

So, new revisions to Illinois law aiming to ensure they get the services they need have real value. But county governments see a catch.

Many say the law mandates certain levels of spending but doesn’t provide a mechanism for funding them. Facing the prospect of having to more than quadruple the $1.3 million it budgeted for its VAC, the Lake County Board wrestled with that challenge at an emergency meeting last week.

The law, which applies to every county in the state except Cook, allows county VACs to set budgets up to 0.02% of their county’s equalized assessed valuation and does not allow county governments to modify them. In Lake County, that could mean boosting the VAC budget to as much as $5.8 million next year. In a story last Sunday by our Doug T. Graham, Andrew Tangen, who is both the Lake County VAC executive director and president of the state association for veterans assistance, said the Lake agency will ask for only $5 million next year. Even so, the increase is a jolt to the county’s spending plans, leaving officials to worry whether they will have to take funds from other needs in order to meet the requirement.

That’s a scenario likely to play out repeatedly across the state, though it perhaps ought not be such a shock. Tangen says the law has always required the 0.02% payments, after which a county can appeal to the state for more money if its local VAC needs it. But, he says, most counties have failed to reach that minimum, and the new law merely clarifies the requirement.

Now, counties are scrambling to figure out how to meet the obligation.

Joe McCoy, executive director of the head of the Illinois Association of counties said the agency is pushing to get lawmakers to modify the legislation to exempt money used to meet the VAC requirement from the property tax cap and, in the process, to demand more transparency from county VACs. He said he hopes lawmakers will take up the issue during the November veto session.

They should.

Consider: Even if the Lake County commission can do without the full $5.8 million it could demand under the law, the $5 million it says it requires to help all the vets it serves is an eye-opening statement about all the needs that are currently going unmet. There seems little doubt that the money will be put to good use.

Tangen says Lake County’s operation is typical for the collar counties, which currently spend between $600,000 and $1 million annually on services for veterans.

It’s not clear whether simply exempting VAC budgets from the tax cap will solve all the financial issues the new law imposes, and it cannot be overlooked that the practice of exempting even worthy programs piecemeal from the cap could set a dangerous precedent. Still, veterans ought not have to wait to get the help they need, and the ideas McCoy outlined seem a reasonable start toward compromise. Lawmakers, who no doubt appreciate the political points they get from supporting veterans, should go back to the accounting sheets this fall to find ways that also help local governments meet the cost.

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Champaign News-Gazette. September 2, 2022.

Editorial: Voters underwhelmed, but campaigning will dominate fall

There are 112 days until Christmas but only 65 until Election Day.

There was a time when Sept. 1 marked the semi-official beginning of fall election campaigns in presidential and off-year elections.

Well, scratch that one. Now it’s all politics all the time.

Politicians see an advantage in that long-term approach. That’s why others soon followed then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter’s example when he announced in 1974 that he was running for president in 1976.

But while politicians — the ones higher up on the power scale — perceive non-stop campaigning to be an advantage because of the time differential, ordinary people don’t share that view.

Regular folks — mostly non-political junkies — prefer the peace and quiet of ordinary life. They want to go about their business while elected officials go about the public’s business in a professional and prudent manner.

They say they tire of campaign attack ads, and they probably do. But it’s pretty clear that attack ads work; so the public will continue to get what it says — not in a credible way — that it doesn’t want.

That was the case in the June 28 primary election, when political advertising smears via radio, television and mailers dominated.

That will continue to be the case through Nov. 8, and it’s easy to say why.

Most people — candidates, the news media and voters themselves — hate to hear about substantive issues. They are complicated and boring, not nearly as much fun as traditional horse-race campaign coverage or “my opponent is a scurvy dog” rhetoric.

Indeed, the whole art of political campaigning since the 1950s is to capture voter attention by touching political hot buttons.

Issue — the real business behind the election process — must wait until the election is over.

That, of course, is problematic.

What about Illinois’ long-term financial woes, including its chronically underfunded public pensions? Can the secretary of state’s methods of delivering public services be improved by technological advances? If so, how do we pay for it?

Should the state comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices be merged in the interest of cost savings, greater efficiency while maintaining the necessary oversight of state dollars?

Why is the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services a disaster? Can performance — defined as preventing the deaths of infants and children under DCFS’ watch — be improved? If so, does that require the replacement of the current DCFS chief, who has been repeatedly cited for contempt of court for serious agency failures?

Given the government sprawl in Illinois — more units of government by far than any other state at no small cost — is it possible to re-think our centuries-old approach? Or should everyone just throw up their hands and accept paying more in property taxes than necessary to maintain local services?

The list could go on, but there’s no benefit in putting everyone to sleep.

With a little more than two months to go until Nov. 8, circumstances are certain to liven up. Politics as theater is the order of the day, and the big finale is waiting in the wings.

So, too, are substantive discussions of the important issues of the day. But that will remain behind the curtain, because there’s no real appetite to hear about the complicated business of government at any level.

END