Plan for Rockford Sports Complex Raises Concerns

Published May 29, 2012 at the Rock River Times

On May 16, the Illinois House approved a Senate bill allowing Winnebago County and its municipalities to raise their hotel tax rate by 2 percent. These funds will go toward a $37.5 to $43 million project ( to improve several existing Park District sports facilities, as well as to turn the former Ingersoll factory along the river in downtown Rockford into an indoor sports complex.

Proponents of this plan call it “Reclaiming First,” because it will supposedly reclaim Rockford’s place as the number one destination for sporting events in the Midwest. While this plan has received bipartisan support among elected officials in the area, taxpayers have several reasons to be concerned.

The riverfront sports complex alone is projected to cost between $11 and $14.9 million and will be funded by several sources, all of which are public. If passed, the hotel tax increase will generate an estimated $750,000 a year. $7 million in funding will come from the Illinois Department of Commerce, and Rockford’s redevelopment fund and the Rockford Park District are expected to pick up the rest of the tab.


Public-Private Partnerships or Just Crony Capitalism?

Published September 19, 2012 at Rock River Times

“Public-private partnership” has become the latest buzzword among the political class and its supporters. Often used in combination with “economic development” (another favorite campaign slogan), it conjures the rosy image of government and the private sector walking hand-in-hand toward a more prosperous future. More careful observers, however, see nothing more than a mask for cronyism and corruption. In truth, these partnerships may enrich a few, but they hardly ever yield the promised benefits for the public.

The “public-private” concept works in several ways: either government partners with private business to build and maintain public projects, or government invests in private business in order to foster the growth of certain industries, supposedly for the public good. Rather than stay out of the marketplace, government officials use their influence and authority to grant special favors to their friends and colleagues in the business world.

When government officials and business leaders maintain a close relationship for their own financial benefit, as is often the case with public-private partnerships, it is sometimes called “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism is marked by favoritism when it comes to handing out legal permits, government grants, business contracts, and special tax breaks. Self-serving friendships or familial ties between businessmen and government officials mean that anyone not on the “inside” of these relationships is excluded from the process.


Rock Valley College Faces First Amendment Challenge from Student

Published September 5, 2012 at Rock River Times

Campus speech codes and other rules governing expression at public colleges and universities have long been controversial. Now, Rock Valley College has landed itself in hot water over its policies concerning which students have access to campus bulletin boards and which do not. Dominic Celletti, a Criminal Justice student at RVC, is filing suit in Federal court over what he says was a systematic infringement on his freedom of speech by administrators at the college.

A letter sent last October by the Rutherford Institute to Jack Becherer, President of Rock Valley College, explained the incident that led to the civil suit. On September 2, 2011, Dominic approached staff at the Student Life Center about his ability to post flyers around campus, urging students to get involved in civil rights issues. The flyer was a simple design featuring a call for students to read the U.S. Constitution and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, with Dominic’s phone number.

“As you can see,” a staff attorney at the Rutherford Institute wrote, “the flyers are not offensive or inflammatory and simply urge people to stand up for their civil liberties and become knowledgeable about their constitutional rights.” When Dominic inquired about posting the flyers, however, he was told that he was not allowed to post on campus bulletin boards because he was not a member of a campus club. As a non-affiliated student, he could be given access to one “free” and one “event” board in the Student Center Building.


In Praise of the Wage

Published August 22, 2012 at Rock River Times

It is not easy to start, own, and run a business, but it is easy to overlook this fact. Most people, after all, have never owned a business. While clocking in and out every day, it is easy to imagine that your employers are living the high life while you and the other employees toil around them. Reality is much more complicated, however, and it may just be the simple wage earner who has the last laugh.

For every successful business owner, there are many more whose businesses failed, or who have struggled for years just to stay above water. Whether it is a mom and pop store or multimillion dollar operation, the fate of every business is ultimately determined by the whims of the marketplace. Circuit City, Frontier Airlines, Hollywood Video, and Borders Books are just a few of the hundreds of companies that have gone under in recent years. Each one represented the dreams and desires of an entrepreneur or group of entrepreneurs. Each took years to build and seemed, at one time, to be unstoppable.

Those are just some of the most prominent examples. According to a special tabulation by the Census Bureau, 25 percent of businesses founded in 1992 did not make it past their first year. By 1997, less than 50 percent of those businesses were still in operation, and by 2002, only 29 percent were still operating. Of course, those numbers vary according to industry, but overall, they paint a very grim picture. For every business that survives to its one year anniversary, there are many more that never even make it to opening day.

Read the entire column at the Rock River Times!


A Weak Link in the Chain of Justice

Published August 8, 2012 at Rock River Times

Previously, I have written about Rockford’s out of control crime rate, what can be done about it, and who deserves the blame. My columns have, so far, focused on one aspect of law enforcement: the police who currently serve as our first line of defense. I have written about how inept politicians have chosen to deprioritize local law enforcement in their budgets, and how bureaucrats have tied the hands of police when it comes to combating street crime. This, however, is only one side of the story.

There is only so much the police can do to keep dangerous criminals off the streets. They can arrest criminals as many times as they want, but without the support of tough, competent prosecutors and an efficient court system, their efforts will have a limited effect. In Winnebago County, the chief prosecutor is State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato. Mr. Bruscato’s office has a less than stellar record when it comes to keeping repeat offenders behind bars.

The case of accused murderer Melvin J. Perkins is a good illustration of how, despite adequate police work, the bungling of the State’s Attorney’s office can put a repeat offender back on the streets and endanger the public. For Sandra Golden, who Perkins has been charged with stabbing to death, too many second chances ended in tragedy.


An Honest Conversation about Crime

Published July 25, 2012 at Rock River Times

It is time for an honest conversation about crime in Rockford, a conversation that focuses on solutions rather than excuses. For far too long, politicians and public officials have gotten away with blaming everything under the sun but themselves for their impotence in the face of the city’s problems. For years they have offered the same solution: raise taxes and pour money into public schools and development projects, with little effect. We need leadership with the courage to change the conversation and get results.

Unfortunately, dissemblance has become a way of life for our public officials. In an interview last week, for example, Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson masterfully side-stepped criticism over Rockford’s embarrassing crime rate. “There is too much crime,” he said. “When we look at crime reduction, crime is the end result. We have to look at poverty, the economy and education. Those are the core components. If we have a crime problem, that is the end. What has happened before that? We are making progress, but there is just too much crime.”

This is an incredible statement because, essentially, Chief Epperson is saying that there is little the police department can do about crime in Rockford. The police department, after all, can do nothing about poverty, education, or the economy. So until “we” fix those things, there is only so much the police can do to keep crime in the city under control. When the crime rate went down last year, however, he was quick to take the credit. Now, when it is on its way back up, it is because of factors outside of his control.


Escaping Leviathan

Published July 11, 2012 at Rock River Times

In this column, I will tackle two subjects: state and federal grants, and Prof. John Kindt’s guest column on Illinois gambling taxation in last week’s issue of the Rock River Times. Both of these subjects nicely illustrate the difference between advocates for bigger government and advocates for smaller government when it comes to the relationship between government and wealth.

Advocates for bigger government believe that the money you earn, whether it be through wages or income from a business, does not belong to you. In other words, government, be it state, local, or federal, should take what it needs from you first, and then you get to keep whatever is left. They believe that politicians and other government officials know what is best for you and will spend accordingly.

Advocates for smaller government, on the other hand, believe that every dollar you earn is yours first and foremost. When you give some of it to the government, you are expecting that it be spent frugally and wisely on a limited number of basic services. They believe that, although you are not perfect, ultimately decisions about how to spend your money should be left to you.