Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Friday that increases the size of America's Central Port and gives it additional powers.
The legislation expands the district's boundaries to the north to include the townships of Wood River, Alton and Godfrey in Madison County and the townships of Elsah and Quarry in Jersey County. The district currently covers the townships of Granite City, Venice, Nameoki and Chouteau.
The legislation also gives the district authority to build and operate manufacturing facilities, residential facilities and cultural facilities such as museums. And, the port will now have the ability to borrow money for up to 20 years, rather than the current limit of three years.
In addition, the legislation officially changes the name of the Granite City-based port from Tri-City Regional Port District to America's Central Port.
"This is a big day for jobs," Quinn said, noting that the port is "right in the heart of the heartland, in the middle of the country."
The Democratic governor said Madison and Jersey counties "are economic dynamos, and we want to keep that momentum going."
The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, and in the House by Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton.
Haine said: "Shipping on the Mississippi has an enormous economic influence on the entire region. We are expanding the benefits of the port district to match that wide-ranging impact."
Beiser said: "America's Central Port is a leading inland waterway portal to the nation and the world. Community leaders wanted to expand its reach in the metro-east area to attract more jobs, encourage more commerce and continue the successful operation of the port."
Quinn said the port "has proven itself to be an economic development powerhouse that benefits the whole region. With this new law, the port district can now work together with even more communities to drive economic growth."
The legislation takes effect Jan. 1
NEIGHBORHOOD RECOVERY INITIATIVE
Quinn spoke candidly afterward about now-defunct Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which Republicans say the governor started shortly before his 2010 election as a way to shore up voter turnout in Chicago. The program distributed grants to Chicago organizations for anti-crime efforts, but a state audit found "pervasive" problems in the way the program was started and operated.
Quinn said he shut down the program when problems surfaced, and he just recently signed legislation to provide more oversight of state grant programs.
"I think there's a violence epidemic going on in Chicago. There was in 2010 and there is today, and we cannot stand by and look the other way," Quinn said.
He added, "I think that was a well-intentioned effort to do something about the violence and provide employment to a lot of young people and keep them out of trouble. But having said that, when I saw that it was not going in the right direction, not going in the direction I wanted, we defunded the program, we abolished the agency and ended it. I think that's the long and short of it."