Friday, April 29, 2016

Bob Walberg: My View: Workers' compensation costs make Illinois less competitive

  • Bob Walberg
    Bob Walberg

  • By Bob Walberg
    Boone County Board chairman

    Posted Apr 28, 2016 at 2:00 PM
    Updated Apr 28, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    Imagine a race where your competition gets an automatic “head start” on your team. I’m not sure how you ever catch up. That is what it’s like to do business in Illinois with such oppressive workers’ compensation insurance costs.
    Don’t misunderstand me — workers hurt on the job deserve compensation. However, how can we expect to remain competitive with our neighboring states when our costs, premiums and settlements are off the charts compared with them? When it comes to attracting new jobs, new business and keeping ones we have in Illinois and Boone County, we are losing regionally, nationally and globally. It’s not because of our location or our people. We are losing because of our high cost of doing business.
    Illinois has the seventh-highest workers’ compensation rates in the U.S. State and local governments combined pay close to $900 million annually. This is unacceptable.
    Illinois has so many advantages: we have the best location, the best workforce, world-class research institutions and an excellent transportation network. Boone County is positioned between Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, along the I-90 “Power Corridor,” however our oppressive workers’ compensation costs place an unfair burden on our governments and local businesses.
    Illinois will continue to operate at a disadvantage when compared with our neighbors. Plain and simple: Our workers’ compensation laws drive business out of Illinois. It’s time to change these oppressive laws.
    The rules in Illinois are so broad and the threshold so low that employers assume risk for injuries that most of us would consider being outside the course of work. For example, we punish employers for injuries sustained on a lunch break. Or worse, employers can be responsible for an injury that originated outside the workplace.
    Let’s be clear: Workers’ compensation is important to protecting employees injured on the job, and that should continue. However, we should not be holding employers accountable and paying on injuries that occurred outside a factory, office or workplace. That isn’t fair policy.
    Reforming our workers’ compensation laws will make Illinois more business-friendly and provide more resources to create jobs and pay higher wages. Not only would reforming our workers’ compensation laws save taxpayer dollars and help control the cost of local government, it would attract more business to Boone County and Illinois — a win for all of us.
    Don’t keep us forever behind in the race. Would you join me in supporting proposals to modernize and make Illinois’ workers’ compensation laws more competitive?
    Bob Walberg is chairman of the Boone County Board.

Rockford area planning group mulls massive rail project

  • By Brian Leaf
    Staff writer

    Posted Apr 28, 2016 at 5:25 PM
    Updated Apr 28, 2016 at 7:27 PM

    ROCKFORD — A proposed route for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad might not be finalized until 2019. But the region's planning agency has until June 15 to let the federal Surface Transportation Board know where it stands on the $8 billion rail freight project.
    Today, policymakers on the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning, or RMAP, decided to wait at least a month before taking a stand. RMAP is the Metropolitan Planning Agency for Winnebago and Boone counties.
    "It is very tough to set policy and make a decision on something that you aren't really sure what it will be until three years later," said Mike Dunn Jr., RMAP's executive director.
    "What I have been told is that these letters do matter."
    Investors in the private railroad project are pitching a 275-mile rail loop from southern Wisconsin to northwest Indiana that would bypass Chicago and provide faster coast-to-coast shipments of freight.
    A proposed route would cut through the farmland of western Boone County, where landowners have objected. Rock County, Wisconsin, landowners also have expressed opposition to the plan and refer to their efforts as Rock Against the Rail.
    Several members of RMAP's Policy Committee said they want a route that connects Chicago Rockford International Airport because it could bring a boom in transportation-related jobs.
    Here's what officials said today during a meeting at the Winnebago County Administration Building.
    Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain: "I'm all in favor of this enhancing the airport and connecting to Rochelle. I am personally not in favor of the route that's proposed through Boone County because it does not lead to any significant economic development growth that makes sense to us. The route that is going through is prime farmland that produces some of the highest economic return in the region in terms of agriculture. So, generally I like the concept of this. Specifically, I don't like the route."
    Scott Christiansen, Winnebago County Board chairman: "Clearly, no one knows exactly where it's going to end up when it is all said and done. We were never going to vote on it today. We needed discussion on this. I don't know if we ever will because we have no official authority in this anyway."
    Darryl Linderg, Loves Park Mayor: "As far as the concept, it's something I think we need to support. But it's my understanding, too, that the federal government is going to decide this no matter what, whether we're for this, against this, sideways, whatever ... because obviously with a project this size they're going to listen to everyone along the route. But if they were going to let all the decisions be made on a local level it would never get done."
    • Bob Walberg, Boone County Board chairman: "Our environment is not the waters and little critters. We are the environment. The whole community is our environment. ... They're going to consider the things offered by our community for our environment. It could be, like Mayor Chamberlain talked about, that our environment is a lot of century farms and our comprehensive plan. They thought about it for two whole months but we thought about it for 20 years. We want to preserve our agriculture."
      Above is from: