December Media Tips - Metropolitan Planning Council

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December Media Tips

Greetings, loyal Media Tips readers,

The Great Tree Debate of 2005 (Holiday v. Christmas v. Choose-Your-Own-Celebration) got us thinking about our own evergreens – those stories that remain fresh, months after we first planted the seed here in the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) Media Tips.

Regular Media Tips readers know we send four tips each month, featuring recent events, perspectives, and breakthroughs in issues important to the region, such as affordable and workforce housing, transportation planning and funding, and urban and regional development. MPC had much to celebrate this year – and some of our accomplishments even made headlines, for which we are grateful (especially to those of you who called us!)

Yet, we are far from having worked ourselves out of a job. The Council’s vision of a region where all residents have access to affordable homes, transportation options, quality schools, clean and abundant water, and job opportunities has not been met. With that in mind, we offer a few evergreens – a sampling of 2005 stories that will merit continued attention in 2006.

WATER

With Nary a Drop in Sight, Water Conservation Education Is Essential

Mother Nature’s lackadaisical attitude – and the ensuing drought – grabbed headlines this summer, with the region’s general sentiment summed up in this gem: “Mother Nature needs to get off her cloud.” While community water shortages, sprinkling bans, and farmers’ fears framed coverage of the drought this summer, the onset of wintry weather tricked most into believing the dry spell over. In fact, according to the most recent report from the Illinois State Water Survey, northern Illinois experienced the driest March to November period on record, and most of the region remains in a severe or extreme drought.

Meanwhile, record-level housing development in several growing counties makes water an even more pressing issue. MPC and its partners see a great need statewide to raise awareness of what everyone can do to protect and preserve water quality and quantity. Changing Course – a study of the region’s water resources released in December 2004 by MPC, the Campaign for Sensible Growth, and Openlands – and two companion ideas@work publications, Sensible Water Strategies and Watershed Planning for Sustainable Communities, outline specific actions that residents, commercial and industrial businesses, and municipal and county governments can take to safeguard our water supplies. Recommendations include landscaping with native plants instead of turf grass; reducing nonporous surfaces by limiting the size of parking lots and driveways; and developing county watershed plans. All three publications are available on the Campaign’s Web site, www.growingsensibly.org.

In addition, on Jan. 9, 2006, the three organizations will release a follow-up to Changing Course, entitled Troubled Waters: Meeting Future Water Needs in Illinois. The report will highlight the challenges to maintaining a sustainable water supply in Illinois and the Chicago metropolitan region, and recommend that Illinois develop a statewide framework for regional water supply planning and management to meet the needs of a growing population.

Currently, no comprehensive statewide or regional plans or entities exist for managing the water supply. Instead, water supply is managed by communities, counties, and private companies in an isolated manner. Indeed, the work is so fragmented that, as MPC has learned through our community outreach on this issue, officials in one county were surprised that growth in a neighboring county would affect their water supply! Because aquifers and watersheds are regional in nature -- cutting across political boundaries -- it is vital that local leaders recognize the important of managing water at the regional level.

“Explosive population growth is certain to increase the strain on our water supply, and we must absorb the fact that, even in the Great Lakes region, water is a precious commodity that must be preserved,” said Scott Goldstein, MPC vice president of policy and planning. "Managing water at the regional and state levels is the best way to ensure that we will continue to have a clean and abundant water supply as we continue to grow.”

MPC contact: Scott Goldstein, Vice President of Policy and Planning, 312.863.6003, sgoldstein@metroplanning.org
Contact: Joyce O’Keefe, Deputy Director, Openlands, 312.863.6263, jokeefe@openlands.org

EDUCATION FUNDING AND TAX REFORM

Education Reform Must Top Candidates’ To-Do Lists in Election 2006

Yes, that is an echo you hear ringing in the halls of the State Capitol: at the start of the 2005 legislative session, Senate President Emil Jones urged the 94 th General Assembly to overhaul Illinois’ “terrible, terrible, outrageous” school-funding system. Unfortunately, despite groundbreaking consensus building statewide, real reform failed to occur in 2005 – and Jones’ sentiment remains relevant as we head into the new legislative session.

In 2006, MPC will continue to help lead the A+ Illinois campaign for statewide education funding and tax reform, not just because guaranteeing every child in Illinois a quality education is the right thing to do, but because our state’s fiscal health depends upon it. We all face an uncertain future if we fail to fix Illinois’ broken school funding system. As manufacturing jobs decline, workers need new skill sets and technological proficiencies to compete for better-paying jobs. Yet, the state’s failure to adequately fund our public schools means many Illinois students are not receiving the training they need to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

While Illinois’ own Education Funding Advisory Board has set the foundation level – what is needed to provide each child an adequate education – at $6,405 per pupil, we are falling about $1,200 per-pupil short of hitting that mark, putting the rest of the burden on local school districts. And local property taxpayers, already overburdened, are increasingly saying “no” to school funding referenda, exacerbating local school funding dilemmas. The result: financially strapped schools are being forced to cut programs and positions, instead of investing in smaller class sizes, better teacher training, and other efforts proven to enhance student learning. Meanwhile, Illinois’ extreme over-reliance on property taxes is leading to economic disinvestment in many communities statewide, as commercial and industrial business owners – feeling the pinch of sky-high property taxes – move operations to (lower tax) neighboring states or overseas.

A+ Illinois already has begun reaching out to candidates for local and state offices, encouraging them to have the courage to stand for real change: a fairer, more balanced state tax system to increase the state’s share of education funding and reduce the over-reliance on property taxes to fund education.

“Candidates who take a no-tax pledge are effectively saying ‘I will not govern,’” said MPC President MarySue Barrett. “We encourage candidates not to tie their hands in this way, so that Illinois’ next wave of leaders can come to the table with community, civic and business leaders and develop a long-term solution to our state’s long-standing school funding mess.”

A+ Illinois Contact: Bindu Batchu, Campaign Manager, A+ Illinois, 312.863.6014, bbatchu@metroplanning.org
MPC Contact: MarySue Barrett, President, 312-863-6001, msbarrett@metroplanning.org

REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AND LAND USE PLANNING

Regional Planning Board Can Pave the Way to Healthier Communities

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Regional Planning Board. Though unlikely to register a blip on Top Story of the Year lists, the creation of the new Regional Planning Board rocked the planning world in 2005. Why? Because the board – created by merger of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) and Chicago Area Transportation Study – was in the works for decades and has the potential to rock Chicagoland in the near future, saving money and vastly improving the way we grow by coordinating and guiding northeastern Illinois’ land use and transportation plans.

“Until now, regional land use and transportation planning has occurred with little coordination between NIPC and CATS,” said MPC President MarySue Barrett. “With oversight of both land-use decisions and road, freight, and transit projects, the board will link economic development, housing, transportation, and natural resources decisions affecting our growing region.”

“Time spent stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic is costly to businesses and families. With the region expected to grow by almost two million people and one million cars by 2030, we must plan now to avoid the kind of traffic jams that cripple regional economies,” said George Ranney, Chicago Metropolis 2020 president and CEO, and vice chair of the Council’s Board of Governors.

Indeed, state leaders are debating a new state capital investment plan to replace the expired Illinois FIRST. And, while the urgency for such a plan has intensified since the U.S. Congress passed a new surface transportation package this summer, MPC reminds state and regional decision makers that a laundry list of projects is not a plan. What Chicagoland needs – for a strong economy and healthy communities – is a combined transportation and land use plan that makes the best use of limited state resources by giving priority to projects that reduce congestion and air pollution, and boost local economies through compact, mixed-use development near transportation. That’s sensible growth.

MPC believes the Regional Planning Board can and must play a strong role in guiding the development of a capital spending plan that points the way to sensible transportation and land use development. For instance, the Regional Planning Board can ensure that Metra’s STAR line, which will link 100 communities from O’Hare Airport to Joliet , isn’t just a new route to take commuters from point A to point B. With the board’s guidance, the region can maximize this $1.2 billion investment by increasing transportation linkages, changing land use, where needed, and creating new economic development clusters along the 55-mile route.

MPC contact: MarySue Barrett, President, 312.863.6001, msbarrett@metroplanning.org
Contact: James LaBelle, Deputy Director, Chicago Metropolis 2020, 312-332-8156, jim.labelle@cm2020.org

WORKFORCE AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING

MPC, Local Leaders Seeking Creative Solutions to Workforce Housing Shortages

Experts advise families to spend no more than 30 percent of household income on housing. Yet in Illinois, more than 1.2 million households earning less than 80 percent area media income ($46,540) are doing just that – or are living in overcrowded, substandard conditions, according to “Building for Success,” the state’s first-ever comprehensive housing plan, released in January 2005. Where housing is less expensive, job opportunities are scarce – contributing to the traffic congestion, economic disparity, and racial segregation challenging Chicagoland and the rest of the state.

In 2006, MPC will continue to support full implementation of “Building for Success,” and advocate for more state-sponsored incentives to enable municipalities and developers to build and preserve more affordable and workforce housing for the people who – and in the neighborhoods where – it’s most needed. “Building for Success” offers capacity-building assistance, calls for an exploration of incentives, and outlines areas where this could occur; but it falls short of providing a competitive edge to towns that are helping the state save money by supporting housing for the local workforce, and enhancing quality of life by linking housing, jobs and transportation.

More tangible support to municipalities is a necessary next step. On Dec. 14, 2005, over 100 municipal leaders and developers attended a forum to explore how they can better work together to advance the governor’s housing plan, and what else they agree is needed from the State in order to accomplish those goals. A common goal among all parties is to achieve our vision: a region where valued members of our communities, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses can live near work; seniors can age in the communities where they raised their families; recent graduates can find that first apartment; and families can raise their children in a single school district, rather than move year-to-year in search of housing within their means.

MPC contact: Robin Snyderman, Housing Director, 312.863.6007, rsnyderman@metroplanning.org

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