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Recent days have brought encouraging news about how the campaign for Illinois governor may be conducted this fall. First, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign said that it has accepted invitations to seven debates around the state, and has asked Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka to do the same. Both sides earlier said they're willing to debate as many as a dozen times.
Second, there has been the first hint of a real discussion about a real issue, rather than an exchange about which of the two candidates is more like disgraced ex-Gov. George Ryan.
OK, let's see if we have this straight. A citizen of Champaign County would like to see public records about the construction of a publicly funded project for a public nursing home, which is overseen by a public body.
And yet the public body (the Champaign County government) is resisting, and has required the citizen to file a lawsuit to get access to what clearly are public records.
Earlier this month, city and school officials in Chicago held a raucous news conference to announce encouraging results from last spring's state tests in reading, math and science.
Most importantly, the tests revealed that 64.7 percent of students met or exceeded state math standards, a significant improvement from 45.7 percent last year.
For a group that has expressed concerns about a disparity in local tax burdens as well as a lack of retail business on its side of Wright Street, the Urbana City Council has an odd way of working to solve those problems.
It just raises taxes. Again.
State transportation officials in Maryland, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are conducting an interesting experiment aimed at reducing dangerous tailgating by motorists.
It wasn't that long ago that for many motorists, automobile safety belts were just something to stuff in that space between the seat and the seat back. In 1994, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 58 percent of U.S. drivers used their seat belts. But by 2005, according to the NHTSA, that number had increased to 82 percent.
In Illinois, the Department of Transportation estimates, based on a one-day observational study, that 88 percent of front seat occupants in Illinois wear their seat belts, a 2 percentage point increase over last year and a 12 percent improvement since 2003 when Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation that allowed police to stop motorists for not wearing safety belts.
Last week, University of Illinois trustees approved a new contract for Athletic Director Ron Guenther that calls for a $500,000 annual salary, a $250,000 bonus if he remains on the job through 2008 and other assorted perks.
Not surprisingly, some people are having a hard time gagging down a pay package of that size down and wondering how someone involved in the athletic, not the academic, side of a major university could be worth more than the UI's president and the chancellors of its three campuses.
Forty-four same-sex couples went to the courts in New York State with a request for an order legalizing gay marriage.
Last week, that state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, gave its answer. The judges, by a 4-2 vote, said that the litigants had made a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place. If marriage between same-sex partners is to be legal, the court ruled, it's the state Legislature that will have to legalize it.
What can you say about a crime-prevention program that is not only effective but virtually cost-free?
One of the many reasons there's a huge federal budget deficit is the cozy relationship between Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps of engineers, in order to justify its existence, needs to build things. Some congressmen, in order to justify their office, need to get things built. For decades the two have worked, arm in arm, to undertake billions of dollars worth of projects, many of them unneeded.
A contemporary example is the expensive plan to build seven new and longer locks and dams on the upper Mississippi and the Illinois rivers. The project, already exposed several years ago by independent investigators as a boondoggle, would cost at least $4.1 billion. The project's supporters say it is needed in order to move commodities, especially grain, more quickly to ports in the Gulf of Mexico. But there continues to be a reduction in barge traffic along the rivers, and there are reasons to believe that that traffic will lessen even more. If even half of the ethanol plants being proposed for construction in the Midwest come to fruition, most corn grown here will stay here instead of being shipped downriver.