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The Rauner-Madigan standoff, Collinsville TIF and other ramblings

Ortbals Headshot 1 1 16    Those of you who know me know that I rarely suffer for lack of an opinion. Sometimes, in fact, I have them lined up jockeying for this limited space. This is one of those months so I’ll try to throw my two cents into multiple pots.
    Last year I wrote an editorial in which I opined that Gov. Bruce Rauner had badly misplayed his hand and painted himself into a corner. I said then that I saw no end to the standoff and I still don’t. He needed to go behind closed doors and offer the Democratic leadership something in return for accepting some of his Turnaround Agenda. He offered nothing, demanded everything and now, here we sit—another year older and deeper in debt. Holding the budget hostage while demanding things he’s never going to get isn’t the way to turn around anything and it’s hurting everything from transportation to social services and all the private sector companies that work with them. At the 11th hour, they stuck some bubblegum in the hole in the hull of the ship of state but we may not see a real resolution until 2019.
    Those who criticize the city of Collinsville for creating its latest TIF district to revitalize the beleaguered commercial area from Fairmont Park to the Horseshoe Restaurant don’t know anything about tax increment financing, urban redevelopment, real estate, business, finance or much of anything else. That area has been declining for a long time and, without city intervention and leadership, you could certainly expect anchors like Shop N Save and Rural King to head for greener pastures. Facing serious problems like flooding, poor infrastructure and a declining tax base, it was necessary to not only establish a TIF district but overlay it with a Business District that could start generating revenue right away. The city’s leadership and investment will give the area’s anchors the confidence to stay and improve and others the impetus needed to entice them to invest. The same folks that criticize their action would surely criticize their inaction when the inevitable abandonment occurred. Sometimes city leaders simply need to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism and do what they know is right.
    The city of St. Louis needs to come up with a solution to its crime problem. I grew up in the city and lived there until 1986. I taught school there and received my Master’s Degree from St. Louis University in 1980. The place was a dump. But the transformation that has occurred in the city’s central corridor since then is truly astounding. From Washington University on the county line to the renovation of Forest Park; the Washington University Medical Center; the Central Wet End; Cortex; St. Louis University; Wells Fargo; and now City Arch River. Billions in investment that is put at jeopardy by the outrageous crimes being committed in Downtown St. Louis.
    Public safety is paramount. More than 80 percent of the metro population lives outside of the city of St. Louis and they are not going to go downtown if they don’t feel safe. Nor will convention planners opt for the Lou with an on-going rash of car-jackings, shootings and murders. The city needs to quit making excuses and slam the lid on crime.
    The rise of Donald Trump as a politician has revealed a seamy underbelly of American society. One that is racist, bigoted, militaristic and nationalistic (i.e., fascist). No, I’m not talking about all Trump supporters but clearly there is a base that fits that profile and we may be witnessing the birth of a neo-Nazi party in the U.S.
    The National Socialist German Workers’ Party did not spring out of nowhere in 1933. It started with a small group of hotheads right after WWI. Adolf Hitler, who was paid to spy on various discontented groups for the army, found one to his liking and became its 55th member. It was a fringe political party throughout the 1920’s and received just 2 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 1928. But then they ran into a stroke of luck. The New York Stock Exchange crashed in October 1929 plummeting the U.S. into an economic depression. Congress helped out by passing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff the next year which delivered economic calamity to Europe. As Germans flailed about, searching for someone to make Germany great again, there was Hitler and the Nazi party. They received 35 percent of the vote in the 1932 elections and became the nation’s largest political party.
    Trump may be deposed at the Republican convention or he may make it through and be defeated in November but that white supremacist base isn’t going away. All they need is a charismatic leader and an economic calamity to put them in the driver’s seat.
    Since no one who aspires to a political future will sign on as Trump’s running mate, I think Bruce Rauner would be a good choice.
    And finally, if you wonder why it’s so hard to even get Congress to vote on gun control legislation that is supported by upwards of 85 percent of Americans, you can thank gerrymandering. All those Republicans in the House are scared to death to step out of line lest they be challenged for reelection by an even more conservative candidate. Compromise? Fugetaboutit!
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 659-1977.

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