Metro-East News

Metro-east leaders have their capital bill wish list, but paying for it remains elusive

The metro-east’s and southern Illinois’ wish lists for a capital bill include road improvements and building construction, but a way to pay for the projects remains elusive.

Members of the state Senate Subcommittee on Capital met Monday at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville for the first of five regional hearings on local construction needs around the state. The remaining four hearings are scheduled around the state this spring.

Lawmakers have all been generally in favor of investment in the state’s infrastructure, the question ultimately will be how to pay for a major program.

Finding a palatable way to pay for a capital bill would be the biggest challenge of the legislature.

“We saw a number of needs today,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who is a co-chairman of the committee. “We have an incredible amount of needs. Obviously here in the metro-east, we appreciate the advocacy. We didn’t hear a lot of specific on ideas on how to pay for those needs. That’s why we’re going to continue to have hearings.”

When state Sen. Martin Sandoval D-Chicago, asked representatives from Southern Illinois University if they would be willing to pay a higher gas tax, or tax on candy or license plate renewals, taxing freight or pollution, few, if any people raised their hands.

Senators said they would need to have support from people asking for funding on ways to help pay for the construction projects.

“We’re going to have to make the case for revenue to 12 million taxpayers in the state of Illinois, and it would be helpful if we had organizations making requests for capital, also publicly support the revenue needs in order to make that happen,” said state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, as well as other lawmakers, have floated the idea of a gaming expansion. The idea of a sin tax did have some support from some speakers on Monday.

There was opposition to a vehicle mileage tax, which has been bantered about, but a legislation to bring it forward has been tabled.

When the last capital bill was enacted, lawmakers legalizing video gaming terminals at bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations as well as increases to license plate fees, and increased taxes on candy and liquor.

As for a future capital bill, which legislators hope to pass during this general assembly, universities and community colleges are already hoping for money for $2.14 billion worth of projects.

Representatives from the campuses of Southern Illinois University gave their pitches including a updated mass communications media arts building in Carbondale and a nursing building in Edwardsville.

Marc Kiehna, a Randolph County commissioner, gave his pitch for the long proposed Southwestern Illinois Connector Project, which has a taskforce working on the project which would connect Carbondale to the metro-east with a four-lane highway.

Kiehna said the overall cost is estimated to be $400 million and would be on mostly rural land.

“We’re looking for ways to spur economic development in our area,” Kiehna said.

He added he has pitched the project to U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, about finding federal dollars for the project.

Fairmont City Mayor Michael Suarez asked the committee not to forget about small communities downstate in a capital bill.

“I want to make sure my village or small communities are not forgotten about,” Suarez said.

East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood, whose town has factories that bring in a lot of workers from out of town, said roads in the village are deteriorating.

“Our roadways have been ignored for decades,” Silkwood said. “I’m optimistic our leaders will be able to come together and pass a proposal that puts Illinoisans to work while investing in the future.”

Silkwood said people don’t like to pay taxes, but get frustrated when they don’t see any results from those taxes. He added there needs to be an effort of educating the public of what the money is being used for, even recommending signs along highways saying improvements were paid for with a capital bill.

“We can’t afford to spending money on engineering to have projects ready, just in case,” Silkwood said.

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Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.