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Barickman Questions Significance Of Bond Outlook Change

 Local control over wind turbine siting is one of the stumbling blocks in a massive energy policy bill in Springfield.
Local control over wind turbine siting is one of the stumbling blocks in a massive energy policy bill in Springfield.

The Pritzker administration is making too much out of an improvement in the state credit rating, according to a Bloomington state senator.

Bond rating agencies have revised their outlook from negative to stable. The governor is touting that as a sign of good fiscal management. Republican Sen. Jason Barickman said it means less than that.

"That's good news, right? I don't want to take that away. I don't think it deserves the victory lap that some are taking with it," said Barickman.

Barickman said the budget looks better than it really is because revenue estimates during the pandemic were too conservative and billions in federal pandemic aid have come to the state.

"The result is there's more money. The budget would appear more balanced on a fiscal year basis. But those underlying issues that have long plagued us remain unfixed," said Barickman.

Barickman said the state underfunding of the pension systems remains unaddressed as does overall structural budget deficit. He said the governor's decisions not to address those after the failure of a proposal to create a progressive income tax structure are one of his main disappointments with the Pritzker administration.

Barickman also addressed an impasse in negotiations over a sweeping energy policy proposal that has languished for more than a year in spite of multiple attempts to get it done. The proposal tries to meld traditional utility interests with advocates for green power and a nod to unions who have jobs at stake in the fossil fuel sector. Barickman said there are multiple competing stakeholders including environmentalists, organized labor which represents workers who may lose jobs if coal fired power plants are given a deadline to close.

"There are a lot of moving parts. I think the most recent controversy is this question whether certain existing facilities are going to have to close and under what timeline. The governor's position is that this is some kind of a new issue. For myself, I don't think that's true. I think this has long been an issue," said Barickman.

Many environmental interests believe that coal-fired power plants are not economically viable over the long term. If so, it raises the question why a deadline to close them is important if their business model is not sustainable. Barickman said it has to do with money.

"There is some significant debt out there associated with some of these facilities and how that debt is paid down and under what schedule becomes the sticking point," Barickman said.

if the government mandates a closure and that is not in synch with the debt retirement, Barickman said it raises the question of how to deal with that.

Barickman is more comfortable with green job creation provisions and with keeping the nuclear fleet of power plants operating in the state to secure a diverse energy portfolio.

He said there are measures in the package that he and other Republicans do not find palatable.

This legislation at various times has proposed to mandate eminent domain, the ability of the government to take private property and use it for a controversial pipeline that might be in place. It also has proposed to take away the local control and siting ability of counties and give that to more of a statewide group, for wind specifically and maybe beyond that. Those are non-starters in my book," said Barickman.

Supporters of statewide wind farm siting regulation have suggested it would offer developers a predictable landscape and cost certainty and result in more rapid build out of wind energy capacity in Illinois. They have also suggested uniformity is simply stronger policy.

Barickman said he believes the state already addressed that regulatory floor issue by approving minimum standards several years ago.

"I think the state can appropriately say here is the minimum. These are the setbacks required, what have you. But for the state to take away the control that exists at the local level to even exceed those minimum standards, I think is an overreach by the state," said Barickman.

Barickman said preserving local control is also a bipartisan issue.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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