Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot


As if anyone needed another reason to oust Bruce Rauner, consider this: there will never be legalized marijuana in Illinois as long as he’s governor.

Just in case his attempts to bankrupt public education weren’t enough of a deterrent to voting for his reelection.

All right, on the week of 4/20, the time has come for me to answer a few questions about the state’s effort to catch up with the rest of the modern world and legalize reefer.

Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

Preckwinkle not getting free pass in path to party power post


When Richard J. Daley presided over the Cook County Democratic Party, the so-called “machine” had the power to make or break political careers from the bungalow belt to Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Daley is the ballgame,” Robert F. Kennedy once said when asked what would determine who won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Now, the county party’s clout has diminished so much that the current Cook County Democratic chairman, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, couldn’t even keep himself in the game himself, losing his re-election bid last month.

But despite the party’s diminished stature, Democrats are still jockeying to take take the reins, now that Berrios is stepping down as party chairman.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced she was running for the party’s top spot just a few days after beating challenger Bob Fioretti in the March primary to secure a third term.

Preckwinkle is the likely frontrunner, but she is not getting a free run pass.

On Thursday, Paul Rosenfeld, 47th Ward Committeeman, announced his intention to run and released his plans for the party if elected.

Paul Rosenfeld. Provided photo.

Those plans include changing the party’s structure by installing a labor representative and ensuring progressives “will have a larger voice, a higher profile, and our process will be run fairly and with integrity.”

State Rep. Luis Arroyo is also interested in leading the party.

In his message to fellow committeemen, the Northwest Side legislator said “our party needs leaders with ideas more in line with our current affairs and with a more progressive vision of our future.” Though one committeeman said the email landed in his junk box.

Other names swirling among committee members included 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale, and Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), left, in 2017. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ For the Sun-Times; State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, center, in 2011. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman); State Rep. Luis Arroyo, right, in 2008. File Photo.

Lang said he has not thrown his hat into the ring, but is waiting to hear from other candidates about their commitments to suburban Democrats. Some committeemen have said Beale has approached them to gauge support and has asked them to keep an open mind. He has not confirmed nor denied whether he’s running.

Being chairman of the party, while still a powerful political seat, doesn’t carry the same election-deciding influence it used to.

Daley held the position for 23 years, including at the height of its influence in the 1960s — his tenure and tight grip on the reins of the county machine made it “the largest, richest and the last in the nation still at full thrust,” according to a New York Times obituary for him.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy chats with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, right, and Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner at a meeting with Illinois delegates during the 1964 Democratic National Convention. File Photo.

The perks that came with the job, like rubber stamping candidates for various county offices, have subsided thanks to Shakman decrees that have curbed patronage hiring. The ability to hand out those jobs translated into power.

The late mayor’s son, John Daley, a Cook County commissioner and chairman of the Finance Committee, said that in some ways the position still holds power, but “the individual sets the tone.”

“Preckwinkle would be a strong chair for the party,” Daley said. “Look at any position she’s held, she doesn’t do anything by halves and I think she’ll lead the party to more success.”

Candidates chosen by the chairman, and thus the party, are also no longer guaranteed to be elected, but the party did well in the March primary.

“It certainly is a lot less powerful than in the days of political patronage,” Ald. Joe Moore (49th), said. “Political patronage is over with and now the party has to depend on volunteers and grassroots activism and that’s the key to the future of the party.”

Moore said he’ll vote for Preckwinkle as chairman, noting she already has the financial resources and influence to support the party. He disagrees that her loyalty to Berrios during the primary reflects poorly on her, but despite Berrios’ challenges “I thought he was a good party chairman.”

The combined 80 ward and township committeemen will have their say Wednesday, with their votes weighted according to the results of the March primary. The winner will need a majority, or 50 percent plus one of the weighted votes cast. Most of the committeemen the Chicago Sun-Times interviewed said they were committing their votes to Preckwinkle, or leaning her way.

When Preckwinkle announced she would seek the top party position, she vowed to modernize the party, end the “Good Old Boys Club” and prioritize diversity and grassroots organizing in opposition to Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), longtime ally of Preckwinkle, commits to electing her as chairman.

“She has been very active and involved, she has made sure there has been diversity within the party, she pushes the boundaries,” Hairston said. “I’m glad to see a woman in this highly male-dominated arena, a capable and competent woman.”

Preckwinkle’s experience as a former alderman and teacher are just a few of the reasons why Calvin Jordan, who represents Rich Township, is voting for the board president.

“She can bring the party together and, based on her background, she’s well versed in both the city and the townships,” Jordan said.

Preckwinkle not getting free pass in path to party power post

Ag submits months-late payment voucher for state fairgrounds fire protection


The Illinois Department of Agriculture has sent a voucher to the state comptroller’s office to finally pay about $109,000 to the city of Springfield for providing fire protection at the state fairgrounds last year but has not asked the comptroller’s office to expedite the payment.

The payment, which was a year and half late, was filed with the state comptroller’s office April 5, according to comptroller’s spokeswoman Jamey Dunn. Dunn said vouchers are paid on a first-come, first-served basis, unless the department submits a “hardship” petition. The petition, which considers public safety needs, could result in an accelerated payment to the city. The last voucher to be paid from the backlog was filed in December.

The Department of Agriculture has not filed a “hardship” petition because the city of Springfield has not asked for one, according to Ag spokeswoman Rebecca Clark.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said Wednesday that he would call on the department Thursday to ask it to accelerate the payment. The city faced an $11 million revenue shortfall when considering this year’s budget, resulting in cuts to the fire department and increases in the sales tax.

Langfelder said the city would not stop providing fire protection to the fairgrounds, regardless of the lack of payment, especially because so many of the buildings on the fairgrounds are old and ill-maintained by the state.

“Common sense should prevail,” Langfelder said, adding “that’s one of the first bills you should probably put out there.”

Langfelder has said he hoped the state would cede the fairgrounds to the city so the city could prioritize infrastructure repairs.

“You shouldn’t have to threaten the state to get a payment,” Langfelder said. “That’s the frustration of the fairgrounds in general.”

The Springfield City Council passed an ordinance earlier this month signing off on a four-year contract with the state to provide fire protection services to the fairgrounds. The contract, which includes the current budget year, will run until June 30, 2021. Come this June, the state will owe the city $109,000 and then the annual payments will increase by 5 percent in the following three years.

NPR Illinois first inquired about the lack of payment last week, which prompted the Department of Agriculture to respond that it would send a voucher to the state comptroller’s office.

Contact Crystal Thomas: 788-1528, crystal.thomas@sj-r.com, twitter.com/crystalclear224.

Ag submits months-late payment voucher for state fairgrounds fire protection

Rauner willing to spend own money to beautify Springfield


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he so enamored with the state’s capitol city he is willing to spend his own money to make it more beautiful.

Rauner made the assertion after addressing an Illinois Realtors Association reception Tuesday in Springfield.

The governor is backing a proposal for a new downtown park on the block where a YWCA once stood. The park would be located on a block north of the Governor’s Mansion.

Rauner raised money to rehabilitate the mansion and expects to move back there in May.

While he says he doesn’t need to get involved in local politics, Rauner says he would love to see a beautiful park that’s serene and would draw tourists.

Springfield officials have received proposals from park designers. The City Council must approve a developer.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Rauner willing to spend own money to beautify Springfield

Lisa Madigan sues to shed light on alternative electricity supplier ‘fraud’


Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit Monday against an alternative electricity supplier for allegedly ripping off thousands of Illinois customers through high-pressure sales tactics that ultimately cost them $2.5 million more than if they’d stuck with ComEd.

The lawsuit against Major Energy Electric Services LLC of Orangeburg, New York, was the fourth action brought by Madigan’s office against such companies since 2016.

The attorney general conceded she has only been able to pursue the “worst of the worst” among 100 authorized alternative retail energy suppliers doing business in Illinois — an industry she said is “rife with fraud.”

More than 1.8 million residential customers in Illinois have switched to an alternative electricity supplier instead of continuing to buy their power from their local utility company, including nearly 1.2 million ComEd customers.

In the past three years, that switch has cost Illinois residential and small commercial customers $400 million more in electricity costs than their electrical utility company would have charged, Madigan said.

Obviously, that’s not how things were supposed to work after Illinois deregulated the utility industry in 1997, allowing companies to compete to supply the electricity and natural gas delivered by the big utility companies.

The idea was for a more competitive marketplace to reduce prices for consumers. But it’s not working out that way, said Madigan, who has had to create a special task force in her office to deal with all the consumer complaints filed against alternative energy suppliers.

“What we know is that it is very difficult to make money by speculating on energy prices and passing on those savings to residential customers,” Madigan said.

Instead, many of those companies make money by luring customers to switch with promises of lower rates and then charging them more. They target the most vulnerable people — seniors, low-income residents and individuals for whom English is a second language.

That’s what Major Energy did, using aggressive and deceptive sales techniques through telemarketing calls and door-to-door sales people, Madigan said.

“Many customers were given the impression they were signing up for a discounted rate from ComEd, when in reality they were entering into a new contract with Major Energy,” she said.

Madigan said the company’s “business model is really nothing more than fraud,” she said

A spokesman for Major Energy declined comment.

The Orangeburg, N.Y. company, which bills itself as the exclusive energy partner of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, entered the Illinois market in 2012.

But Madigan stressed Major Energy is hardly unique in its underhanded approach.

“There are a wealth of bad companies,” Madigan said.

Her warning to consumers: “You are almost never going to save money by switching.”

Madigan said she plans to pursue legislation to restrict the marketing practices of the alternative retail energy suppliers to eliminate the fraud, but confessed she is “skeptical” that will help.

Still, she balked at going further to regulate the rates they charge.

Just last week, the Citizens Utility Board and AARP Illinois also asked for legislation to clean up marketing abuses by unregulated electric and natural gas suppliers. One proposal would require alternative retail electric suppliers to issue their own bills instead of piggybacking on the utility company’s bill — as they do at present.

The Illinois Commerce Commission announced new rules last August to protect consumers against deceptive marketing by the energy suppliers, but those have yet to take effect.

CUB spokesman Jim Chilsen said alternative retail electricity suppliers have generally been a bad deal for consumers since June 2013, when ComEd got out from under its own costly supplier contracts.

Some customers discover they are paying two or three times the rate for electricity that ComEd is charging, often without realizing they switched suppliers, Chilsen said.

“A lot of people are being taken for a ride by alternative suppliers,” Chilsen said.

Lisa Madigan sues to shed light on alternative electricity supplier ‘fraud’

After delay, Illinois soil and water districts to receive $5 million


After a long delay, $5 million in funding for Illinois’ soil and water conservation districts will soon be released, a state Department of Agriculture spokesperson confirmed Friday.
Though in line with funding levels of the previous few years, it is much less than the nearly $13.5 million appropriated by lawmakers for the budget year that ends June 30.

According to Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold, the administration will not release the additional appropriation this year, citing a $1.7 billion hole that needed filling in the budget Democrats and about a dozen Republicans voted to pass last year over Rauner’s veto.

“That has left us with some tough decisions to make,” Bold said, adding that Rauner has included $5 million for the districts in his fiscal year 2019 budget.

Soil and water conservation districts, which have their roots in the Dust Bowl, are a collection of 96 mostly county-level districts that work with local farmers and landowners to prevent soil erosion and conserve the state’s water resources.

“One of the things that’s really important about what they do is that they’re very locally based and they’re really the only local infrastructure that we have in Illinois to help with soil and water conservation,” said Jennifer Walling, president of the Illinois Environmental Council.

But district officials say carrying out that task is not easy without a full appropriation. They, along with environmentalists and some lawmakers, hope it will be restored. In the meantime, districts have resorted to other funding sources to stay afloat.

“We’ve heard several times when talking about our budgets that we need to go out and find other sources of revenue to fund it,” said Alan Bailey, chairman of Sangamon County SWCD. “We are a government organization. As someone in business, it’s hard for me to accept that a government organization has to rely on businesses to support it.”

Bailey said his district, which does a lot of work within the Lake Springfield watershed, has done everything from applying for grants to selling trees and fish on their website in order to raise cash. Their share of state funding will go almost exclusively toward the salaries of two full time employees and two other under contract.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said SWCDs “provide a vital service” in preventing erosion, dealing with water quality issues and in flood mitigation. He said he has encouraged the governor’s staff to release the additional funds, but understands the administration’s predicament.

“There was some extra money in the budget for them as well that went above and beyond, so I’ve advocated with the governor’s office to release that funding if at all possible,” Butler said. “And I think what we’re seeing here is, as the governor’s office has said on multiple occasions, they believe the current budget is out of balance, and they’re trying the best they can to navigate that situation.”

Contact Brenden Moore: 782-3095, bmoore@sj-r.com, @brendenmoore13.

After delay, Illinois soil and water districts to receive $5 million

Pending legislation could boost plan for former FutureGen site near Mattoon


MATTOON — The revival of a long-sought clean energy project for a location west of Mattoon would get a boost from a proposed change in state law governing power agreements.

The change would allow the development of a coal plant operation at the site once proposed for the federally backed FutureGen project, according to the leader of Coles County’s economic development organization.

Angela Griffin, president of Coles Together, said the proposed amendment “creates a pathway” that would open the site to development by a company that’s actually expressed interest in the project for several years.

The possible change in the law means the company, Mattoon Power Enterprises LLC, is concentrating its development plans on the Coles County location, company President Paul Gandola said.

“The initiative shown makes me very optimistic,” he said. “It’s far from a slam dunk but we’re focusing on Mattoon.”

Griffin said Coles Together has been seeking an alternative energy project for the site since the county was chosen for, but later withdrew from, the FutureGen project.

The location at the southwest corner of the intersection of Illinois Route 121 and Dole Road west of Mattoon was selected in 2007 for the plant that was said to be designed to sequester emissions underground.

However, the county withdrew from consideration three years later, when federal officials revised the plan to have the coal plant in another location and have only the emissions sequestration in Coles County.

The proposed change to the state law was suggested by Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, and awaits a hearing before the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

Griffin and Gandola both said the key change is in the definition of the types of projects eligible, which currently applies only to FutureGen and a former proposal for a plant at Taylorville.

With the amendment, “clean coal means clean coal” and any company developing the technology could qualify, Gandola said.

The proposal would change the Illinois Power Agency Act, which allows the state to enter into power purchase agreements with clean energy companies.

Gandola described Mattoon Power Enterprises as “a very solid group” that includes former FutureGen executive Michael Mudd and some of the inventors of the emissions sequestration technology.

He said he was formerly the president of a subsidiary of a Norwegian carbon-capture company and later became an independent developer of such projects.

Griffin said she learned about and contacted the company about six years ago, shortly after county withdrew from the revised FutureGen project.

Coles Together is marketing the property west of Mattoon, as the organization bought the 440 acres from the FutureGen group after the county withdrew from consideration.

Griffin talked about the coal plant project when asked about the recent sale of a section of the land to the Mattoon-based Rural King company, which purchased 280 acres for $3.5 million, according to Coles County property records.

Attempts to reach Rural King representatives about the purchase, which Griffin said isn’t related to the coal plant project, weren’t successful.

Gandola said studies of the property that took place in advance of FutureGen already show the feasibility of emissions sequestration there.

Obtaining permits and financing as well as construction mean it would likely be three or four years before the plant could be operational, he said. There would be “100s of jobs” during construction and the plant would likely employ 30-40 people on a permanent basis, he said.

The project would be funded privately with no government money or grants used, Griffin said.

Gandola said the oft-changing political climate at the state and federal level could affect the plans but added that there’s “been very good public support for this.”

Both he and Griffin also mentioned other, related efforts that could result from the project.

Griffin said older coal plants could be refitted to reduce their emissions. Gandola said the carbon dioxide captured has possible use in oil recovery and in agriculture.

Pending legislation could boost plan for former FutureGen site near Mattoon