That was January?

Those who hate January in central Illinois had a pretty good time last month. It was the warmest January on record. Its mean temperature – 37.9 degrees – was 13.5 degrees above the normal of 24.4 degrees. That 37.9-degree mean is more like January in Nashville, Tenn. (January mean of 36.8 degrees), or a typical March (a 40.4-degree mean) or November (a 41.3-degree mean) in Champaign-Urbana.

In a normal January in Champaign-Urbana, the temperature drops below zero four times. The coldest temperature last month (on Jan. 26) was a scarcely frigid 20 degrees. There were 13 days in January 2006 when the low didn't even fall below freezing.

Legislature should phase in large electric rate increase

It's been 14 years since customers of Illinois Power (now AmerenIP) were socked with a general increase in electricity rates. And customers of the old Central Illinois Light Co. (now AmerenCILCO) have gone 24 years without a rate hike.

All of that will end next Jan. 2, when a new method of rate-setting goes into effect in Illinois. If a recent Illinois Commerce Commission decision survives anticipated court challenges, rates will be determined by the prices that utilities pay for electricity purchased from vendors in a reverse auction process.

State deadlocked on finding money for needed school construction

In Illinois, the state policy regarding construction of schools is all about luck. If school districts ask at the right time – when the state is flush with cash, when legislators are getting along with the governor, when the politicians think they can benefit politically from doling out construction grants – school districts might get some money. Even then, it's been proven there's no guarantee the state will actually honor its commitment to pay for new schools.

Thus, the policy regarding construction of schools is that there really isn't a policy.

Mrs. King leader in own right

Although very much in the background, Coretta Scott King was an equally committed partner in her husband's efforts to secure all the blessings of liberty for those forced to endure second-class citizenship. After Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis in 1968, Mrs. King, still a grieving mother of four, stepped out from the shadows to establish herself as a leader in her own right.

That is why President Bush honored Mrs. King's memory in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. She was an extraordinary woman.

UI case for autonomy on Chief should impress the NCAA

In a remarkably thorough and convincing appeal signed by University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence Eppley, the UI makes a strong case for overturning a National Collegiate Athletic Association policy that would ban the university from hosting postseason NCAA championship events because of the Chief Illiniwek tradition.

The appeal, filed just before the American Indian imagery-related prohibition was to go into effect today, focuses primarily on how the NCAA's Executive Committee exceeded its authority in imposing the ban. But it also addresses the issues of institutional autonomy, the arbitrariness of the committee's finding that there is a "hostile and abusive" environment on the UI's Urbana campus and the fact that the NCAA "did not conduct any thorough fact finding necessary to support its conclusions about our names and our Chief Illiniwek tradition."

High court nominee Alito confirmed, on duty

Samuel Alito was sworn in Tuesday as the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, but not before a farcical effort to block his confirmation by U.S. Senate Democrats failed miserably.

The desperate plan to filibuster Alito's nomination, announced last week by U.S. Sen. John Kerry from, of all places, Switzerland, went down in flames Monday when the Senate voted 72-25 to cut off debate. Alito was then confirmed Tuesday by a 58-42 vote, filling a seat on the court vacated by now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

State must confront cost of expansive health care

While state lawmakers and the governor are fighting over where to find a revenue source to support $500 million in school construction grants, another revenue and spending problem related to education is growing ever bigger.

Last year was the first year that state spending on Medicaid and other health care programs exceeded spending on elementary and secondary education, according to the State Coverages Initiatives program. Nationally, the states spent 21.9 percent of their revenue on health care and 21.5 percent on elementary and secondary education. Higher education was a distant third at 10.5 percent.

Only 11 more months of artificially low electric rates

It's a good thing that utility regulation in Illinois is done by the Illinois Commerce Commission and not by politicians. If it were up to the pols, utilities might never get rate increases and might never be able to make their required investments to ensure good service.

Consider the response from three elected officials – Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana – last week after the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a reverse auction process that utilities will use to purchase and price electricity beginning next January. The reverse auction, the commerce commission and its staff believe, will provide Illinois consumers with the lowest cost electricity available at this time. It didn't come to the decision easily. The commission studied the issue for more than a year, including New Jersey's experience running a reverse auction. It works. In fact, New Jersey's electric rates, which were cut 10 percent in 1998, are only 3 percent higher than what they were before the price cut.

'Essential truth' was made up

Time was when poseurs who were unmasked would admit their scam and slink off in embarrassed silence.

But times have changed, and some of those unmasked now aggressively defend their cons as representative of a "greater truth."

Lincoln library director says it's time to go

When historian and writer Richard Norton Smith came to Springfield to help establish the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, it was inevitable that he wouldn't stay long.

Smith is a builder of these kind of historical monuments. Once his job is complete, he moves on to another big project, and the Lincoln library and museum, in all its splendor, is complete. In its nine months of operation, the museum has drawn 500,000 visitors, far in excess of expectations that it would draw 400,000 in its first year.