Saturday, October 1, 2016

Rail opposition builds in Winnebago County


Against the new route

Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News

Against the new route

Jerri Noller feeds some of her Angus cattle. The newly-amended proposed route for the Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) rail line would cut through her property at 5892 Shirland Road. Noller is planning a meeting for Oct. 3 in Rockton to organize people to oppose the rail.

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 4:00 pm

By HILLARY GAVAN Senior staff writer |

ROCKTON — With the Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT)’s proposed rail route now planned to go through Winnebago County, residents are clamoring to organize and find a way to stop it.

Jerri Noller said she will be hosting a meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3 at the Rockton Township Municipal Building, 1315 N. Blackhawk Boulevard.

“We are trying to get ourselves organized and figure out what direction we are going to go and how we are going to do this,” Noller said.

Noller said she’s reached out to the Boone County group in hopes of getting advice on how to proceed.

Noller said the newly-amended route would cut through her cattle field on Shirland Road. The land purchased in the late 1980s has been a bit of a paradise for the Nollers, which they would be sad to let go through eminent domain if the rail is approved.

“We worked hard for what we have,” she said. “We moved out here for the peace and serenity.”

Noller said the peace in the scenic countryside would come to an end as she wouldn’t be able to raise cattle anymore and her neighbors would see their property values plummet.

“Land values will go in the toilet,” she said.

With high-speed rail, Noller explained there will be trains coming through almost constantly with intervals of only 15 minutes between trains. With Nygren wetlands nearby, she worries the area could be vulnerable to any potential chemical spills. Because of a film of oil and residue which forms near railways, she said it could make farming difficult.

She also noted Meridian Road is home to the largest aquifer in Winnebago County which could be susceptible to contamination in the event of a toxic spill.

Brock McWilliams, group leader for the newly formed Winnebago County Against GLB, said the upcoming meeting will feature petitions and is hoped to create a base which will disseminate signage.

McWilliams said he’s hoping the other anti-rail groups will attend and advise the newest group how to move forward. McWilliams said he posted a Facebook group on Tuesday evening to distribute information on opposing the rail in Winnebago County.

In Winnebago County, McWilliams said the rail will cut through wetlands, multiple farms, wildlife sanctuaries and be within a quarter mile of public lands and forest preserves.

“We have an area that has been unblighted by the economy. Why would you sacrifice an area which maintained its value and put a railroad through it?” McWilliams asked.

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THE Sun Times WATCHDOGS: Rauner-Madigan money trees sprouting millions


As the only Republican legislator from the city of Chicago, state Rep. Michael McAuliffe has known for the past year he’s a target.

“Democratic colleagues and lobbyists came up to me and said, ‘You better get ready because they’re coming after your seat,’” McAuliffe, whose district includes the far Northwest Side and adjacent suburbs, recently told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

McAuliffe has won re-election by comfortable margins since taking office in 1997 following the death of his father, Roger, who served in the Legislature for 23 years.

But this time, Democrats — led by House Speaker Michael Madigan — are marshalling far more resources to defeat him. And state Republican organizations — bankrolled largely by Gov. Bruce Rauner — are helping him fight back: More than $2 million has been pumped into the race between McAuliffe and Democratic challenger Merry Marwig.

It’s a big-money trend playing out in a number of legislative districts statewide.

McAuliffe vs. Marwig is one of three House races where $2 million-plus is being invested to try to win control of a single legislative district, according to the non-partisan Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, left, and challenger Merry Marwig before the Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, left, and challenger Merry Marwig before the Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

At the same time, Illinois comptroller Leslie Munger, a Rauner appointee, received $5.3 million in donations last week alone, and Democrats are expected to respond with help for challenger Susana Mendoza, who’s backed by Madigan.

Both sides are capitalizing on loose campaign finance laws for the proxy war between Madigan, who wants to keep Democrats in control of the General Assembly, and Rauner, who has vowed to break Madigan’s lock on power so he can institute a pro-business, anti-union agenda.

The millions of dollars are moving through a web of candidate committees, political parties and super PACs, which are allowed to accept unlimited sums of money that they can use to campaign for or against candidates — as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates themselves.

Thanks to hefty infusions of cash from multimillionaire Rauner and his wealthy supporters, the Illinois Republican Party topped the Democrats by taking in about $21 million since July 2015, state records show. Liberty Principles, a super PAC supporting Republicans, took in another $10 million.

“I’ve witnessed and been part of campaigns where we’ve been outspent by two or three times by the House Democrats,” said Jim Durkin, the House Republican leader. “Now we’re competing dollar for dollar statewide.”

Over the same period, the four political committees that Madigan controls — including the state Democratic Party, which he chairs — have collected more than $14 million. The top donors, as in years past, are unions and their political action committees.

All that money is funding a political showdown over the future of state government.

Democrats currently hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, limiting Rauner’s power. The focus of both Madigan and Rauner for now is primarily on the House, where a Republican pick-up of one seat could end the veto-proof majority there and demonstrate a weakening of Madigan’s grip.

“I think there’s a real opportunity for some surprises this year,” said Republican activist and radio personality Dan Proft, who heads the Liberty Principles super PAC.

Despite the state’s deep financial problems, many Democratic legislators “go to Springfield and they’re just a roll call vote for Mike Madigan,” Proft said. “People are increasingly getting hip to that, and they’re disgusted by it.”

Democrats say their funding comes from unions and lawyers who represent “working families.”

“How the 1 percenters make their money, we’re not even sure how,” said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. “But we know that the funding for Democratic candidates is raised pretty much on a grassroots level.”


Madigan entered the House in 1971 and has served as speaker for all but two of the last 33 years. A leading source of his longevity — and the perception that he can’t be defeated — is his potent campaign fundraising operation.

By using multiple political committees, Madigan and his allies are able to gather more money from donors than would be allowed for a single committee under state campaign finance laws. Funds also are being moved from one committee to another.

That’s been the case with the campaign war chest of Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee. Cloonen, who won re-election two years ago by just 122 votes, is on the Republican hit list.

As her race grows more heated and expensive — at $1.7 million and counting — her challenger, attorney Lindsay Parkhurst, has received support from Liberty Principles, Proft’s Republican super PAC.

While she fights for her political life, Cloonen’s committee also has become a piggy bank for others. In the last week, more than $300,000 in contributions to her have been redistributed to Madigan’s committees and other campaign funds, including those of several legislators in tough races.

Among the recipients: Marwig, who is challenging McAuliffe for the House seat in and just outside Chicago’s Northwest Side.

“They’re able to transfer money from one candidate committee to another, and that allows the candidates to sort of raise their max this election cycle from their regular contributors — and to get that money distributed to where the party thinks it should go,” said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Campaign for Political Reform.

The dizzying money transfers are happening on the Republican side, too.

During his run for governor, Rauner was the chief donor to his own campaign committee, Citizens for Rauner, giving $27.5 million. Since winning office, he’s poured another $17.8 million into that committee, including $5 million last week.

Since July 2015, Citizens for Rauner has transferred $21 million to the Illinois Republican Party. The party then gave $12.3 million to the House Republican Organization and $2.8 million to the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. All three committees subsequently used that money to support McAuliffe and other legislative candidates.


Additionally, Rauner has sent $2.5 million to Proft’s Liberty Principles group and $2 million to the Turnaround Illinois PAC, a super PAC led by allies of Rauner.

Turnaournd Illinois then transferred $2.3 million to Liberty Principles to support GOP House candidates including Parkhurst.

Through a spokesman, Rauner declined to comment. The governor has travelled the state campaigning for legislative candidates, but he has repeatedly refused to discuss his involvement.

The seeds of the Rauner and Madigan money trees contrast sharply, records show:

• Since July 2015, 20 of the top 25 donors to Madigan’s committees were unions or their political action committees. The top overall contributor was the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC, giving $410,000 altogether.

• Madigan’s four committees sent money or other assistance to 64 political funds or campaigns, not including his own committees or those of unions.

• Madigan doesn’t just send money to other candidates – he also dispatches staff. For example, Kylie Kelly is listed on a recent state payroll as a program specialist for the General Assembly. She was paid $42,006 from July 2015 through July of this year by two Madigan-controlled campaign committees to work on 20 different legislative campaigns.

To compete with Madigan, Rauner has tapped his personal wealth and turned to other wealthy donors. They include:

Citadel hedge fund founder and billionaire Ken Griffin. | AP file photo

Citadel hedge fund founder and billionaire Ken Griffin. | AP file photo

• Billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, who gave $5.6 million to Citizens for Rauner during the governor’s campaign and $8 million after Rauner was elected. In August, Griffin donated $1 million to Liberty Principles. Last week, he gave $3 million to Comptroller Munger, the Rauner appointee who’s trying to stave off Mendoza.

Richard Uihlein, the founder and CEO of a shipping supply firm who’s a prolific contributor to Tea Party groups and other conservative causes around the country. He gave $630,000 to Citizens for Rauner during the 2014 campaign and $2 million following that election. In June he sent $4 million to Liberty Principles, and last week he gave $2 million to Munger’s campaign fund.

Proft said Republicans don’t need to apologize for being funded by millionaires. “It’s an environment where people are afraid to put themselves on the line because of the culture of reprisal in politics in Illinois,” he said. “There are some people with substantial resources who, to borrow a phrase, want to turn around Illinois. There’s no shame in that.”


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Sheriff wants Boone County Board to approve 5-year, $18.5 million wish list

Sheriff wants Boone County Board to approve 5-year, $18.5 million wish list

Posted Sep 28, 2016 at 8:08 PM Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 8:08 PM


By Susan Vela
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest has a five-year, $18.5 million wish list some County Board members wish they could ignore.

But Ernest wants more deputies, squad cars and a slew of other public safety requests that address the Sheriff's Department's aging headquarters and maturing equipment.

County Board members say they can’t afford any additional public safety costs while trying to scrape $2.7 million from a proposed $17.4 million general fund budget that would begin Dec. 1 for basic, day-to-day operations.

“If the budget doesn’t hold, you’re not going to see me vote for it,” said County Board member Brad Stark, District 3. “If the money’s not there, the money’s not there. It’s an old building. It is what it is.”

The county’s coffers aren’t what they once were. Since 2008, annual public safety sales tax revenue has declined by at least $400,000 to $1.4 million. Regular sales tax revenue dipped by about $330,000 to $1.5 million over the same period, and motor fuel tax revenue from the state has dropped by about $140,000 to $625,000.

Ernest is requesting two separate five-year capital improvement plans — $1.7 million for more deputies, capital and equipment and $16.8 million for a Public Safety Building expansion and renovation, including about $825,800 in structural repairs, new roof and replaced air conditioners.

The county shares the 41-year-old Public Safety Building, 615 N. Main St., with the city of Belvidere. It houses the Belvidere Police Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Office, Boone County Coroner’s Office and a dispatch center serving both the city and county.

Ernest, who runs his agency with an annual $3.9 million budget, was not able to immediately provide details of the proposed expansion. Half of his approximately 120 staff members work out of the courthouse next to the Public Safety Building.

“The expansion is in the five-year plan as just a reminder only, that an expansion is necessary sometime down the road — a constant reminder!” Ernest wrote in an email. “We are just out of space — the building was built over 40 years ago and both departments have doubled in size since then.”

In the $1.7 million request, he’s asking for 10 deputies, 20 squad cars, 60 radios, 13 semi-automatic Glocks, 36 computer laptops for the cars, evidence processing tools and K9 equipment.

Ernest said he had 44 deputies in 2008, six more than he has today. His squad cars are 2013 models with high mileage. The laptops are aging and require more maintenance. The radios are approaching their life expectancy.

“If we can kind of spread that out over a period of time, it’s actually cheaper in the long run,” Ernest said of the proposed purchases. “If the money’s not there, it really comes down to a priority list. We try to prepare the board and inform them as much as possible. The board has been very good with working with us.”

The county’s financial challenges are exacerbated by uncertainty over public safety tax revenues. County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said Boone County voters in 1999 approved a one-half percent sales tax to pay off bonds used to finance construction of a jail. He said voters were told the tax would retire in 2018, but that’s not in the referendum language.

“It’s really up to the board in 2018 to address that,” Terrinoni said.

Some board members also are satisfied with the sheriff's services.

“I think Boone County residents should and do feel safe in their community,” said Karl Johnson, chairman of the board’s Finance, Taxation & Salaries Committee.

That contentedness stretches into other communities, including the village of Poplar Grove.

Poplar Grove once contracted with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office for $150,000 a year but not anymore because of financial challenges.

“We work with the sheriff all the time,” Poplar Grove Administrator Diana Dykstra said. “We’re very satisfied. The communication has been outstanding with the sheriff’s department.”

Belvidere Police Chief Jan Noble still hopes the sheriff can make some headway. He said the dispatch center isn’t equipped to receive video and texts from community members.

“The equipment is becoming outdated and does not meet the standard for the next generation,” Noble said. "Imagine having a video of a fleeing vehicle with a license plate or maybe a video from a house on fire or a business on fire."

Voters in 2008 twice rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a $13.5 million buildout and renovation of the Public Safety Building.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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