As a Metro East business owner, I know the value of the Mississippi River levee system. It protects my company, the homes and families of my employees, and our neighbors in a huge area known as the American Bottoms. When levees do their job, they are all but invisible — and when the waters of the Mississippi rise, we don’t give it much thought. Without the levees to protect our businesses, homes and communities, the loss of lives and property would be catastrophic.
There are over 86 miles of levees between Alton and Columbia, Ill. The levees protect an area of 175 square miles that is home to 150,000 people and 50,000 jobs. In 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) threatened to “decertify” our levee system, which meant that the agency believed that the area would not be protected against the 100-year flood (the Great Flood of 1993 was far in excess of this level). Had FEMA followed through on this threat, flood insurance rates would have skyrocketed for homeowners and businesses. The very real outcome would be people losing their homes, businesses leaving the area and economic growth coming to an abrupt halt. Far worse, a serious flood comparable to the one in 1993 could cause a levee failure and devastation rivaling that caused by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Even the threat of FEMA’s action slowed economic activities in the American Bottoms over the past 10 years.
Fortunately, county and state leaders recognized the urgency of the situation and were mobilized to quickly respond. In an unusual cooperative effort, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair county leaders quickly organized to work with the Illinois legislature to create the Southwestern Illinois Flood Protection District (FPD) and adopt a small local sales tax to address this critical challenge. Fast forward to 2016 — the FPD is nearing the completion on a $110 million project to restore the levee system.
Had we relied on the federal government to address the problem, projections by the Corps of Engineers suggested that the same project would take decades. When faced with that prospect, the leaders of the three counties rightfully came to the conclusion that we needed to do the job ourselves — raise the money locally, cut red tape to compress the time schedule, and use local contractors and workers to assure that our tax money stayed home to support our communities.
This project has been done quietly and without much fanfare. The agency that oversaw the work has one staff member and a small office. Perhaps the time has come to recognize the wisdom of the strategy to get this project done to protect our economy and the lives and property in the American Bottoms. This is a story of self-reliance, cooperation and smart planning. While we often criticize government for being slow, inefficient and wasteful, this project is a model for how to do things right. Thanks to those who made it happen.
Gayle L. Ortyl
President, Metro East Industries Inc.
Madison County voters are no strangers to backdoor referendums. However, to refresh readers’ memories, backdoor referendums require a district superintendent or legislative body requesting a referendum to sell bonds to post their intention in the newspaper. Upon this advertisement, 10 percent of the district voters have 30 days to bring a petition opposing the referendum. If no opposition, the taxing entity can sell the bonds.
Some grow concerned backdoor referendums make it too easy for government to raise taxes. Examples of recent backdoor referendums include the Madison County jail bond issue, 1 percent sales tax and 2016 Edwardsville School District levy.
Citizens scrambled to collect huge amounts of signatures in the 30 days to place the jail bond issue and 1 percent sales tax on the ballot. Voters rejected both referendums by huge margins. In Edwardsville, school officials wisely chose not to challenge the citizens’ response to their 2016 backdoor referendum and placed it on the ballot themselves. Clearly backdoor referendums place a huge burden on ordinary citizens to collect signatures in a short period of time rather than placing the burden on government to explain new taxes to the ones footing the bill.
In Missouri, backdoor referendums are illegal. Taxing entities have to explain why bonds are necessary and ask your permission to raise your property tax.
What do you think? Are local and state taxes out of control? Is it time to end backdoor referendums?
Philip W. Chapman
Our farm economy is facing strong economic challenges, and that does not bode well for Illinois as a whole, considering agriculture’s importance to job growth and our GDP. Unfortunately, continued low commodity prices and bizarre turns from free and fair trade are only exacerbating the problem.
Far too many politicians are speaking out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would grant farmers in Illinois greater access to 40 percent of the world’s consumers. Even though TPP would tear down 18,000 taxes and barriers to U.S. exports, they oppose the deal outright because it is not perfect.
Similarly, they are criticizing an ongoing negotiation with our oldest trading partners in Europe, even though the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has the potential to boost U.S. trade by more than $120 billion within five years.
The main complaint with the deals is that they are not one-sided enough.
News flash: one-sided perfection is impossible in a trade negotiation. Anyone who “guarantees” one-sided perfection in the world of trade is being misleading. And of course we want our trading partners to succeed — the more their economies grow, the more demand they have for our agricultural products.
If we retreat from the rest of the world’s economy, we walk away from 1 million jobs created by agricultural exports — not to mention $133 billion in agricultural trade, a food and farm trade surplus of $43 billion, and 30 percent of U.S. farm income.
And Illinois suffers. That’s guaranteed.
Mr. Keener certainly believes climate change is human-caused, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels. While this thinking will demand calls to stop CO2 generation, I find that argument lacking in fact to be a near-term problem. Global warming may very well be happening. But yelling about human cause is simply the arrogance of man. Thinking man is so important in our universe he is the cause of climate change and then thinking he can somehow change it is supercilious.
Our climate is so fantastically complex science barely understands it. The algorithms written by scientists to describe our climate are a compilation of variables — variables are estimates. And each estimate plugged into algorithms represents a prejudice of that scientist. The fact is our climate has been warming since the last Ice Age — 12,000 years ago. And it is warming and then cooling in cycles. So running around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling” and we need to immediately ban fossil fuels and move to solar and wind generating lacks perspective.
Now I do happen to believe solar for heating a home’s water is a worth the effort. That said, I have not heard solar panels last 25 years — maybe 10 years. But even at that, burning gas all day for hot bath and dishwater seems extravagant — if not wasteful. However, as usual, the demands of environmentalists like Sierra Club for government regulations is not the answer. They corrupt the situation. Even now, government demands excess solar electricity must be purchased by power companies. So if the sun goes down or wind stops blowing, power plants must fire up to generate the loss of electricity. Solar is not economically viable without taxpayer dollars given to utilities as government subsidies. It is a classic government interference in our free market economy.
This administration’s so-called “government investments” in renewable energy cost taxpayers $535 million in Solyndra’s bankruptcy, and is just a beginning. Actually, I was intrigued by Solyndra’s idea of using cylinders coated with thin film solar photovoltaic vs. thick crystalline silicon cells. Sadly, their new technology proved uneconomical when the cost of silicon dropped by more than 50 percent. Had this been private venture capital, it would have cost us taxpayers nothing.
Obama’s green job creation, depending upon what is green (like his bus drivers?), costs an unbelievable $48 million per job creation, compared to $58,000 by private industry. That calculus should frighten any taxpayer. Government’s euphemistic “investments” translate as cronyism, ideological or political, but not as sound business reasons.
After the ethanol fuel debacle, it is scary what losses await Obama’s $50 billion investment in green technology. Nuclear fission is far more economical than solar or wind, and makes a footprint 1,000 times smaller. Despite the unsupported fear of radioactive waste, the remaining 20 percent uranium can be recycled — but cannot yet be recovered economically. Until nuclear fusion can be made to work, which is the answer to limitless clean energy, water being the byproduct, we must look to natural gas and oil.
One energy source better than solar is the in-and-out movement of ocean tides, which can turn turbines and generate electricity, and unlike sunshine and wind never cease day in or day out. That, too, is fascinating but only if developed by private sector investment.
Your current paper is devoted to the benefits of green energy and worth reading. But mankind will likely never economically see electrical generation by the likes of solar and wind.