It's sadly entertaining to listen to representatives of the city of Urbana proclaim their business-friendly attitude and denounce any suggestions to the contrary as a bad rap.
But what's revealing is observing members of the city council, the municipality's policymaking body, confront a business issue and send a clear message that shows how they really feel about development that expands the property tax base and provides an entrepreneur an opportunity to make a profit.
There are few things more dangerous to a public school than a reputation as a place where discipline problems threaten student safety and undermine the educational atmosphere.
Frankly, fair or unfair, that's the image that hangs over the Champaign public schools, and it's one reason the system is operating under a cloud. School officials seem to recognize that threat, and the school board appeared ready to approve the introduction of school resource officers (essentially police officers assigned to work full time in the middle and high schools) as a safeguard against behavior threatening to students and teachers.
The recent image of thousands of protestors – many of them most certainly noncitizen illegal aliens – demonstrating in the streets of our largest cities and demanding their rights is an unmistakable sign of just how preposterous American politics can be at times.
But neither the silliness of their claims nor the rhetoric designed to confuse the debate can mask its seriousness. Illegal immigration, mostly from the border with Mexico, is a difficult economic issue but, even more importantly, it poses a real national security threat.
Federal judges seem to have gotten the message about the need to slam corporate criminals who engage in high-level financial chicanery. Previous softball sentences have been ratcheted up to double-digits, and the punishment is not only appropriate but sends a clear message of deterrence.
But the federal judiciary, at least in Illinois, still hasn't gotten the message that political corruption deserves the same treatment.
It might be dangerous to mention this while the Legislature is still in session, when lawmakers might be tempted to fund all of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new (and unaffordable) initiatives.
But the Illinois economy is looking very good. Unemployment is down. Wages and salaries are projected to grow moderately. Housing starts are still up, although they seem to be slowing. New car and truck registrations continue to grow. Businesses are expanding and exports are headed upward, according to recent projections.
Change, once again, is coming to the Illinois Supreme Court. But while some people naively lament the politics that goes into electing justices, the latest personnel change demonstrates the shadowy maneuvering that accompanies what's called the merit appointment process.
Former chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, a truly admirable female pioneer in the law, announced this week that she's retiring from the court on July 6. At age 76 and having served nearly 14 years on the high court, McMorrow said she wants to enjoy life and work on her rehabilitation after having knee replacement surgery. That's all well and good.
In Illinois politics, even good ideas with broad support can get stuck in an unforeseen legislative crevasse. Such is the case with a long-discussed proposal to hold Illinois electric utilities to a standard for increasing their use of so-called renewable fuels, particularly wind power.
Everyone – the electric utilities, environmental groups, even Gov. Rod Blagojevich – agreed to a plan that would require power companies to generate 2 percent of the electricity from renewable sources by 2007, increasing that amount to 8 percent by 2013. It was a win-win for everyone: the environment, the fledgling renewable energy industry, farmers who could lease their land for giant wind turbines and power companies that could delay construction of expensive coal or nuclear power plants.
The union that represents most state employees has been running a campaign in recent months, noting that while employee headcount is down, the demand for state services continues to grow. Among other things, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees charges, state prisons are dangerously understaffed, the staff at the Department of Children and Family Services has been cut 22 percent, and employee levels at the Illinois State Police are down 13 percent, with the state crime lab hit especially hard.
Some of these complaints are, of course, self-serving. More than anything else, the employees' union is out to protect employees' jobs. But there is a great deal of truth in the union's charges that many state services have suffered under Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And it's not just agency staffing that is down. State Police officers are patrolling in cars that are well beyond their normal life, and which have broken down on patrol. Illinois waterways that were surveyed every year are now surveyed every two to four years. The state auditor general said that the number of DCFS investigations that have not been completed within the required 60 days has soared since 2000.
Tuition at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus is proposed to increase about $333 a semester for incoming undergraduate students next year. That's no great surprise since there's been a tuition increase every year for decades. Nowadays tuition is guaranteed for four years, so on an annual basis, it will increase less than 2.5 percent a year, an acceptable rate. Room and board rates likely will be increased too, by as much as 7 percent.
But the UI board of trustees will consider another substantial cost increase at Tuesday's meeting: an unprecedented $500 a year "facilities maintenance fund assessment" for all new students. If approved, the fee would be used to cover part of the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance at the UI's three campuses. A 2004 study found that there was $617 million in universitywide maintenance deficiencies, including $309 million on the Urbana campus.
Each of America's 50 states are laboratories for democracy, so it will be fascinating to watch how an experiment in universal health care in Massachusetts turns out.
If the plan succeeds, it's a virtual guarantee that others states or the federal government will follow Massachusetts. If it flops, policy wonks will head back to the drawing board.