He is a gentleman and a farmer.
But the description "gentleman farmer" hardly captures Senator John Maitland of Bloomington, the Republican assistant Senate Majority Leader. He's no idle member of the rural gentry, as MPC discovered when we interviewed him at the tail end of the fall harvest season in his beloved Mclean County. This highly-regarded 21-year veteran of the Illinois legislature is a busy, hands-on farmer . . . though he graciously took the time to answer a few questions about his hopes for the Illinois Growth Task Force.
Senator Maitland chairs the Task Force, which, over the past year, has been gathering information and holding hearings to identify ways in which Illinois can better guide and nurture new development. The idea is to help counties and municipalities grow sensibly and to cut down on wasteful urban sprawl. The Task Force has 12 legislators and 12 non-voting public members, including MPC President MarySue Barrett, who also chairs a State Policies working group-one of three Maitland asked to develop consensus recommendations.
What, as you see it, is the mission of the Illinois Growth Task Force?
The need for better ways to grow has been discussed for years now, especially in the fast-growth parts of the state. And by the way, that includes Bloomington, which I represent. The House had its own growth committee a while back, but when their recommendations got to the Senate some members thought is was too much too soon . . . that we needed a joint House-Senate approach. My colleagues are especially convinced that what we don't need is a lot of new state mandates. We don't want Springfield telling communities how to dot every "I" and cross every "T."
How might the state foster smarter growth patterns without mandates?
Well, there's no doubt we need to be more orderly, more well-planned, in the way we grow. We need, for example, to be able to help older cities and towns redevelop their so-called 'brownfields." That may require some targeted tax breaks, something to encourage developers to take the extra risk. You know, it's so much easier to take a flat piece of clean ground than it is to deal with a mess somebody else left behind. We can't prevent John Q. Developer from buying 480 acres three miles outside of Bloomington. But there may be some ways to make other alternatives more attractive.
With 2,300 acres under cultivation, you obviously love and respect farming. How does the "sprawl" issue impact farmers?
Well, the situation now just tears me up. Near Bloomington we have some of the richest cropland in the world. We're getting 160 to 200 bushels of corn per acre; we're getting 50 to 60 bushels of soybean. Now, once that rich black dirt gets covered with asphalt, it's not going to grow any more corn or beans. Sooner or later, there has to be a reckoning. But it's not just a farm issue. No taxpayer should want badly planned or indiscriminate growth. When you add up the costs and benefits, it's simply a waste of everyone's money.
Realistically, what are the chances your Growth Task Force will produce a politically-passable legislative package by next spring?
They're good, I hope. I know there's a lot of talk about the (redistricting) re-map making everything that much harder during the spring session. But I don't see the map standing in the way of something like this. It has its own merits. The important thing will be to do what we do with incentives, not mandates. That means new state dollars, I suppose, but that's not out of the question if we weigh our short-term costs against the long-term costs of doing nothing.
Editor's note: Subsequent to this interview, Senator Maitland suffered a stroke while on a trip to Chicago. MPC joins all of Illinois in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.
This article was featured in the Winter 2001 edition of Regional Connection, MPC's member newsletter. To join MPC, click here.