Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Made in the USA

One of my favorite things about watching American Pickers on the History Channel is seeing all the cool antiques that were Made in the USA.  Whether it is a cast iron meat grinder or a vintage porcelain sign, I love when they dig up a sweet item.  Now, maybe it is a bit romantic to think working in a factory that made cast iron meat grinders was some sort of utopia.  It probably wasn't, but at least it was a job.  A job producing something useful that people needed.

Anyhow, I was struck recently by this John Deere 95 Combine.  Even the printed instructions on the combine were printed in the USA, check it out!:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Best of 2010 in Will County

In no particular order

---The Will County Green Party---
Here's what I like about the Green Party's float in the Beecher, Illinois Independence Day Parade: it had a message.  Most political entries in parades simply boost the candidate, and that's fine, but I appreciate the fact that the George Ochsenfeld float took a serious stand on the Peotone Airport and the state's use of eminent domain.

Also, I like any candidate who will grant an interview to some person who comes up to them mid-parade and asks for one:

Furthermore, when I stopped by the Green Party's table inside the commercial building at the Will County Fair, George Ochsenfeld introduced me to Green party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, who answered "sure" when I asked if I could get a quick interview:

I agree with the Ten Key Green Party Values as listed on the Will County Green Party Website-Grassroots Democracy, Social Justice, Ecological Wisdom, Non-Violence, Decentralization, Community-Based Economics, Feminism, Diversity, Responsibility, and Future Focus.

I am glad the Green Party has a voice in Will County and is offering an alternative--and new ideas-- to the main parties.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Debbie Halvorson believes no family farm or small business should ever be lost due to estate tax

Responding to a recent willcountynewsviewpoints post, Greg Bales--New Media Director for Debbie Halvorson for Congress--provided Congresswoman Halvorson's position on the estate tax--

"Congresswoman Halvorson believes that no family farm or small business should ever be lost because of the estate tax. That is why she is proud to co-sponsor H.R. 3905 the Estate Tax Relief Act.  

This bipartisan bill raises the estate tax exemption level from $3.5 million to $5 million and indexes the exemption level to inflation, which would prevent the estate tax from hitting small businesses and family farms. 

The legislation also reduces the top estate tax rate from 45% to 35%. These changes are phased in over 10 years to minimize the impact on the deficit. 

Congresswoman Halvorson believes that Congress should act on this legislation immediately in order to prevent the estate tax rate from rising back to 55% in 2011. "

With an exemption of 5 million and a hypothetical family farm of 300 acres which is valued at 10,000 an acre, that farm could be passed down without any inheritance tax because the 300 X 10,000 is 3,000,000, which is obviously under the proposed 5 million exemption.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halvorson says "This isn't the time to give Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton tax cuts", but what about small, family farmers?

In a recent debate with Adam Kinzinger, Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson said--referring to the Bush tax cuts and the fact that they expire at the end of 2010--"This isn't the time to give Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton tax cuts."

Ok, fair enough.  Most Americans probably don't believe Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton are in need of tax relief.   

I think this quote--while memorable and a little funny--will miss the mark with some members of the 11th Congressional district.

The district is home to many farms, and some of those farms have been in families for generations.  A good portion of 11th Congressional District farms are near Chicagoland, and, as such, when they are appraised at a farmer's death, may be appraised at development prices.   Now, development has obviously dropped off, but the possibility of future development may still affect the appraisal.  If the appraised value of the farm--which may also include farm equipment--is over the exemption, which unless Congress acts will return to 1 million in 2011, then the heirs--heirs who may have worked on the farm for decades--will owe a 55% tax on anything over the 1 million dollar exemption.

The Illinois Farm Bureau is advocating for estate tax reform:

"The facts on estate taxes
In 2009, the estate tax rate was 45%, with a $3.5 million exemption. The tax expired on Dec. 31, 2009, but returns on Jan. 1, 2011, with a top rate of 55% and a $1 million personal exemption.

The return of the estate tax and the higher rate and lower exemption could result in as many as 10% of farms and ranches owing estate taxes in 2011, compared with about 1.5% of agricultural operations in 2009. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service)

The estate tax burden falls heavily on farmers because agriculture takes a lot of capital assets, such as land and equipment, to generate the same dollar in income that another type of business could generate with less.

Estate taxes can destroy family businesses when the tax forces surviving family members to sell land, buildings or equipment to generate enough money to pay the tax.

While planning to try to reduce what a farmers family partners would have to pay diverts money that could have been reinvested in the farm, the uncertainty surrounding the tax has left many family-owned businesses and farms guessing about their estate tax liabilities and unable to make prudent business decisions.

A higher exemption and lower rate will give family farms and ranches a better chance to remain in operation when transferring from one generation to the next.

Farmers and ranchers are calling for a permanent estate tax provision that would increase the exemption level to $5 million and adjust it for inflation and reduce the maximum rate to 35 percent.

Estate tax reform must also include stepped-up basis, which limits the amount of property value appreciation that is subject to capital gains taxes if the assets are sold. Because farmland typically is held by one owner for several decades, setting the basis on the value of the farm on the date of the owners death under stepped-up basis is an important tax provision for surviving family members.

Obviously the estate tax is only one part of the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year.  It will be interesting to see to what extent voters of the 11th Congressional agree with Halvorson regarding tax policy.

What do you think?  Add your comments below!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Forget Sarah Palin, Cedra Crenshaw is the Real Deal

Although I do not agree with Cedra Crenshaw's positions on some issues, I think she is the real deal for one simple reason: when I hear her speak, I believe her.  When I hear her speak, I believe she is speaking from a real, genuine place.

For example, this video posted on YouTube of Crenshaw's speech at the Joliet Tax Day Tea Part shows why she is a real deal conservative:

"You see, just like you, my husband and I live within our means. We don't have everything we want, but we have everything we need and we're thankful for it. When we bought our home ten years ago, we put money down, a lot of money. We got a conventional, fixed-rate mortgage that we could understand, but more importantly, that we could afford. And because we don't like owing money, we made extra payments and paid it off in eight years. We own a truck and a car, a car that's 14 years old, my husband has had the car longer than he's known me. We use credit cards wisely, paying them off every month. We've never paid a dime in interest, and over the years, we've made thousands of dollars in cash back bonuses because we pay our bills on time and in full, what a concept! The last thing we'd ever do is mismanage our finances and expect you to pay the bills. But this is exactly what happens in Springfield. This is why I need your help. I am one mom taking on the machine."

I think Crenshaw will hit a nerve with people who played by the rules and planned for the unexpected: people who paid their mortgages, paid their bills, paid their health insurance premiums, but then observed a relative or coworker benefit from a government program for which they do not qualify. And, human nature being what it is, the path of least resistance is to get angry that the friend or relative qualified for the program while those who "took care of their own responsibilities" get no help. There will always be corruption with government programs, and there will be people who suffered a job loss or medical problem and truly need help, and there will be some people who just do not understand fiances and will end up needing government help. It's a complicated issue, but I think Crenshaw will hit a nerve when she demonstrates that she is the type of person who, as she says, would never mismanage her fiances and then expect the taxpayers to pay her bills.

I think she will hit a nerve with small business owners and farmers who are now waiting to find out what will happen with the estate tax after 2010. I know not many people are going to cry for millionaires, but when that millionaire is a 90 year old New Lenox farmer whose 150 acres are valued at 20,000, that farmer's heirs will have to come up with 1,100,000 in estate tax money--assuming a 1,000,000 exemption and a 55% rate--or sell the family farm, unless they have that cash lying around and want to spend it to keep the farm. Is that fair? There may be special government programs or estate-planning mechanisms to avoid the tax, but not every elderly man or woman will have the resources to access those government services or financial services.

I think the fiscally conservative voter will listen to Crenshaw's personal story, her narrative of personal responsibility, and feel connected.

Bottom line: I think she connects. Again, I'm not saying I agree with all of her positions, but I think she does a good job speaking her mind in a clear, honest manner.

What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Old Will County, New Will County

In the last 10 years, Will County, Illinois underwent many changes.  Land was paved over for subdivisions, strip malls, and, as seen here, a Dollar Tree Warehouse.

Whenever I drive past this old corn crib in front of the Dollar Tree Warehouse on Laraway Road in Joliet, I am struck by the contrast created by the placement of the two buildings.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Manhattan Mayor Bill Borgo states arrival of Metra means "You're no longer considered in the boonies"

The Joliet Herald News ran an article on July 25, 2010 headlined "Metra SouthWest Line Keeps Saturday Service."  The article discussed funding for Saturday service on the Metra SouthWest Line.  The article also discussed the recessions impact on ridership, and then quoted Manhattan Mayor Bill Borgo as such:

"In the meantime, Manhattan Mayor William Borgo, who along with other mayors along the southwest corridor lobbied for Saturday service, said Manhattan's Metra station is a key piece of the tiny town's long-term planning. On any given day, about 40 cars can be spotted parked in the Metra lot, he said.

"When you get a Metra station, it means you've kind of arrived. You're no longer considered in the boonies," Borgo said. "No doubt as the years progress, this (line) will continue to thrive and to expand, and 30 years from now they'll say, 'Gosh, do you remember when only 40 cars parked here every day?' "

When I read the mayor's statement, my first thought was: "boonies"? Are you serious? Why use such an unaffectionate term for the rural area that exists to the south of Manhattan? If you go over to or any Chicago-area biking website, you will see that many people take the Metra to Manhattan in order to enjoy the "boonies" aka the Wauponsee Glacial Trail and the area around Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. They come to Manhattan to see some open-space and view the open area of Midewin as they ride or walk on the Wauponsee. I don't think many are coming to Manhattan to eat at Subway or Manhattan Family Restaurant. 

Call me old fashioned, but I really don't think some of the "development" aka empty buildings and empty residential lots growing up in weeds are better than rural landscape. And by the way, at least land in farmland is producing a property tax to the local tax base and producing grain that can be exported. I'm not sure if those foreclosed, belly-up platted-out subdivisions are contributing to the tax base or the larger economy.

I would hope a mayor from a town such as Manhattan, a town that has a long history as a farming town, would not use a term that suggests he does not value agriculture or open-space.

Furthermore, it suggests he may not realize Midewin and the bike path are resources unique to Manhattan--Midewin is the largest Federal Prairie east of the Mississippi--that could in the future serve as an economic engine. 

In a broader sense, maybe this negative attitude toward the rural landscape contributes to suburban sprawl and the housing boom we've seen over the last decade in Will County, aka, "Oh that's just the boonies, it will be SO MUCH BETTER when we have some strip malls and some McDonalds and a humungous Jewel and some Gas Cities, lots of Gas Cities." 

Video of the Manhattan Metra Station:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer in Rural Will County, the BP Oil Spill, and Agriculture's use of Fossil Fuels

Nothing says summer in rural Will County like the smell of freshly baled hay.   Warm summer nights combined with the sound of hay racks pulling in the drive will always remind of my childhood growing up on a Will County farm.

The hay baled in Will County is used for a variety of agriculture industries.  Some is sold to local horse farms and stables.  Some is used to feed cattle.  Some is sold to distributers who make a living buying hay, transporting it, and selling hay where it is needed around the country.  No matter what the hay is used for, it takes a lot of physical labor and gasoline or diesel fuel to go from a standing grass or alfalfa field to a rack of baled hay.  

The hay must be cut, then raked over so it can fully dry, and then baled:

Yesterday I was listening to the Ed Schultz Radio Show while the host and guests discussed the BP Oil Spill.  One caller discussed her view that all Americans share blame for the oil spill because we all buy oil products which produces demand and a market for the oil.  I have to agree with that caller in a way because when we go to fill our cars with gasoline, we know the gas did not just magically arrive at the station.  It had to be harvested, refined, transported, and pumped into the gas tanks under the pump.  All of these steps required the use of fuel and energy.  We all know there is a risk of an oil spill at each step in the process.  

The same caller suggested we all do one thing each week to reduce our use of fossil fuels.  The example the caller gave was to not eat meat one day a week: "Meatless Monday."  The caller explained that it takes a lot of fossil fuels to produce meat.   When the caller said this, I instantly thought of the hay baling I watched during the past weekend.   I thought of not only the oil used in baling the hay, but also of the diesel and gasoline used by the tractors that cut and rake the hay.  I thought of the diesel used by the trucks that haul the cattle from the cow-calf operator to the sale barn to the feedlot and then finally to market or the slaughterhouse.  It takes a lot of fuel to produce meat in this country, although the rising interest in local agriculture may shorten the miles meat travels from farm to plate.  

The BP Oil Spill has also prompted more calls for the US to develop its capacity to produce green energy.  In a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama called the nation to action, stating:

"The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.  It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.  

But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.   
Now, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future."
Full speech:
Under such cap and trade legislation, farmers may be able to utilize conservation methods to earn income. Others argue the legislation will increase farmers' operating expenses.
At any rate, I hope the research and development money and capital do come off the sidelines and get involved in developing agricultural equipment that runs on solar and other forms of clean energy. That hopefully would reduce imput costs for farmers---if there were tax credits for purchasing the most likely high cost new technology-- while also decreasing emissions.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's Really Scary in Joliet, Illinois

While searching for "Joliet" in the YouTube search box, I stumbled upon this video by a group called the Illinois Paranormal Research Association:

As explained in the video, the group is investigating paranormal activity at the Hiram B. Scutt Mansion, located at 206 Broadway in Joliet, Illinois.

According to the City of Joliet's Historic Preservation website:

"The Hiram B. Scutt Mansion is a west-facing, three-story, red brick, Second Empire/Italianate style structure built circa 1882 on a Joliet  limestone foundation. The Mansion was designed by architect James Weese for Hiram Scutt, a prominent Joliet businessman who was President of Citizens Electric Company and held numerous early patents on barbed wire.  The mansion thus became known as "Barb Villa". The structure is dominated by a 3½ story protruding tower and is capped with a Second Empire mansard roof. A distinctive, bracketed tin cornice, interspersed with disc bosses, accents the mansard roof. The structure is a Local Landmark and individually listed on the National Register.  In later years, the home served as a residence for young women and was called the "Hannah Harwood Girl's Home"."

I'm not interested in paranormal activity and its investigation, although a quick google search surprisingly yielded a plethora of links regarding paranormal activity in Joliet.  Rather, what struck me about this video were the shots of Downtown Joliet.  From about 1:07 to 2:00, this video pans across Downtown Joliet at both an elevation and street level.  Visible are Joliet landmarks such as the Joliet Catholic Victory Light Tower and the bridges over the Des Plaines River.  The shots also show--at least this was the impression I was left with--a desolate and crumbling downtown.  There are few pedestrians, few signs of life on the street--apart from a few cars.  Maybe the video was shot very early in the morning, and that accounts for the lack of activity.  I used to drive through the same area every day, however, and while there were often some people in the streets, it was not a bustling, steady crowd; not many shops.  

As visible on the video above also, one of the newest buildings is the riverboat casino and hotel. While the hotel and casino obviously bring in revenue and create jobs, I'm not sure they are going to spark a revival downtown.  Silver Cross Field--another recent development--is also visible, but again, it is uncertain if it will spark sustained redevelopment downtown.  The Casino and ballpark are obviously different industries than the manufacturing companies that used to be based in Joliet, such as The American Steel and Wire Company, which is profiled in the 1909 Joliet in Photos:

American Steel & Wire Company 
WIRE fencing is made in Joliet of Bessemer soft steel. Between the American Steel & Wire Company and the Illinois Steel Company the whole process, from coking
the coal and smelting the ores to the finished galvanized nails and fencing is 
carried on at this point. The Scott street plant, formerly the Lambert & Bishop mill, like its twin mill at Rockdale, has been greatly enlarged year by year, 
and both are known as big plants in their classification. These are again being 
enlarged the present season. A photograph gives but a portion of any of these     plants. ^ FrankJ. Whitgrove, superintendent at Scott street. "

I have always admired many of the older buildings in Downtown Joliet, such as the Rialto and Union Station. Especially compared with the new strip malls popping up in the suburbs, the older buildings downtown are unique and beautiful.  I hope redevelopment efforts in Downtown Joliet spark demand for a reuse of many of the downtown buildings.  For me, a lifeless downtown is far more scary than paranormal activity in the Scutt Mansion.

Welcome to Will County News Viewpoints!


Thank you for visiting Will County News Viewpoints.  As its name suggests, this blog will offer opinions on events affecting Will County, Illinois.

Before the recent economic bust, Will County was booming.  According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the population rose from 502,210 in 2000 to an estimated 685,251 in 2009.  Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, land prices soared and towns grew.  Strip malls also popped-up to serve the needs of those living in the new developments.

During this same time period, Will County became home to one of the largest inland ports in North America, the CenterPoint Intermodal projects in Elwood and Joliet.

The recession slowed building in Will County.  The question is: will development pick-up when the economy improves?  Will Chicago's suburban and exurban area continue to push into even the remaining rural areas of Will County?