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Candidates for governor talk agriculture policy in Lexington

Shuler Farms in Lexington 220824.jpg
Charlie Schlenker
Candidates for Governor of Illinois addressed ag sector leaders Wednesday at Shuler Family Farms in rural Lexington, IL.

Illinois candidates for governor talked agriculture policy at an ag sector roundtable Wednesday attended by more than 100 industry leaders. The session was held in McLean County at Shuler Farms in rural Lexington.

Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey and Democratic incumbent Gov. JB Pritzker showed some differences on ag policy and some agreement. For instance, on the need to expand rural broadband, both said they will rely more on Elon Musk and his Starlink satellite network than having the state lay cable for small numbers of households.

Even when they agreed, though, the two didn't always play nice. Bailey implied Pritzker would do away with the sales tax exemptions and incentives on seed, feed, fertilizer, and agriculture equipment. He said that would decimate family farms, which already have razor-thin profit margins.

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Charlie Schlenker
Darren Bailey of Xenia, IL.

"My opinion is it needs to stay as it is. We feed the world any kind of production business. That's the way it's been. That's the way it needs to stay. But I want to tell you it is under threat. So I hope you ask our governor that exact same question," said Bailey.

The roundtable did, in fact, ask it.

"I preserved the state tax exemption on agricultural equipment. And as long as I'm governor, no one is going to repeal it," said Pritzker.

The new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is a flashpoint for the two candidates. Bailey said he doesn't like it much at all.

"You've seen your electric bills double over the last few months. I'm sure you've gotten a letter warning you of impending brownouts and possible blackouts if the brownouts aren't controlled. So we've got problems. This energy bill that was just signed leads to a lot of those problems," said Bailey.

Bailey said the law will turn Illinois from a power surplus state to a deficit one.

"Illinois was once an energy exporter not very long ago. Now, we're on our hands and knees begging to buy energy from others. While our people, our businesses, and our hospitals worry if they can keep the lights coming on," said Bailey.

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Charlie Schlenker
Governor JB Pritzker at Shuler family Farms in Lexington, IL

Pritzker said increases in electric bills have nothing to do with the new law and that they relate to a multistate electricity purchasing group (MISO), not anything anyone in Illinois did or didn't do. The governor said Illinois remains an energy exporter.

"There have not been brownouts in Illinois that are due to the energy bill, nothing to do with that. And the energy bill hasn't closed off any electricity production. It has only increased it and kept plants open. Yes, in the future, far in the future, there will be coal plants and others that will be ramping down. But that is not happening today," said Pritzker.

Biofuels and transportation

Pritzker said the law prepares for a transition to cleaner power sources. Bailey said the law will hurt farmers and make fuels like ethanol and biodiesel less desirable as Illinois moves too fast to electrify vehicles. Pritzker said the goal is to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. That's less than a quarter of the total in the state. He said there's no danger farmers won't be able to sell ethanol or biodiesel for 10 years and probably much longer.

"We're still going to need biofuels because we want to reduce emissions. We want to make sure that people are getting lower cost fuel over time as we're moving toward EVs," said Pritzker.

Pritzker said he has encouraged the development of biofuels. Ag roundtable questioners had a concern that the climate jobs law might allow private businesses to exercise eminent domain and force a sale of farmland and other property for wind and solar projects. For Bailey it's a big deal.

"If there's one reason and one reason alone why I would vote no on this bill, it would be because of the eminent domain clause," said Bailey.

Pritzker said it's a non-issue.

"Darren Bailey is lying to you about a few things. There's nothing in the energy bill that makes it easier to impose eminent domain. Nothing. Absolutely nothing," said the governor.

Pritzker said that provision was taken out of the final version of the law before passage.

There was one clause in the bill that could make Pritzker's statement misleading — a provision to allow a company to force a sale to allow a high energy transmission line in seven southern Illinois counties.

Inheritance taxes

Farmers have a long history of worrying about inheritance taxes on both the state and federal levels. Farmland is an asset. If it's worth too much, when the owner dies, the family might have to sell off some land to pay the tax. Both candidates said they want to preserve family farms. Bailey and Pritzker have different takes on this issue. Bailey would eliminate the tax completely. Pritzker offered more nuance.

"I think it's totally reasonable for us to have a conversation, especially in light of inflation, about lifting the cap on that so that the exemption is higher than where it is today," said Pritzker.

Neither candidate favors statewide controls over the placement of wind and solar power facilities. Bailey said he views it as an issue of local control. Pritzker said it is a complicated, necessary, and ongoing dialogue between the state and the counties. Neither Pritzker nor Bailey would mess much with the livestock facilities management act and both promised to go to farmers first for ideas before any change. Both candidates said they view agriculture as key to Illinois prosperity. After all, three quarters of the landmass of the state is farm ground.

Bailey and Pritzker also got a lot of their standard stump speeches in. Pritzker emphasized improvements to the state over previous Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Bailey forecasted doom and gloom from Pritzker policies.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.