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updated: 4/7/2013 7:48 AM

Video gambling won't fund state's next construction plan

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SPRINGFIELD -- Those who've won, and especially those who've lost, on the new video gambling machines across the suburbs are helping to pay for a rash of road and bridge construction across Illinois.

The construction projects, such as the western bypass around Algonquin and the widening of Butterfield Road in Warrenville, soon will be done. But that doesn't mean money from video gambling will go on to pay for more projects.

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Instead, revenue from video gambling -- and from various vehicle fee and alcohol tax hikes approved along with it -- will go for years to pay off debt on the current construction work. New capital projects will need a new, different funding source.

A new capital spending bill "definitely would have to create new revenue streams," said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "Lawmakers can't say, 'Let's use the video gambling again,' because that's still paying for the last one."

Creating new revenue will be tough. New taxes and fees can be politically toxic, especially now, when lawmakers face an unfunded state pension liability of nearly $100 billion and when the income tax hike approved in 2011 is just a year and a half from expiring.

The money from the 2009 plan funded five years' worth of projects with 20 years' worth of gambling revenue, Whitley said.

Despite the political difficulties, state and local officials alike voiced how important it is to invest in future capital projects.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, said the state has an obligation to keep its road and bridge system in good repair, especially around Chicago.

"We have a city with 3 million people and a region with 8 million more," Tryon said. "We need an adequate transit system for them."

Tryon added that allowing the infrastructure to decline sends a bad message to Illinois businesses. And he warned the longer officials wait to commit money to maintain roads and bridges, the more they will deteriorate and become even more expensive to fix.

"A road project today doesn't get cheaper in the future," Tryon said.

Algonquin Mayor John Schmitt was more direct.

"If this state is going to get off its (rear) and get its infrastructure up to date they are going to have to spend state money," Schmitt said. "It can't be done on the meager resources that municipalities have."

In lieu of the usual state aid, communities like Algonquin have had to seek out other ways to build and maintain roads, Schmitt said. He said several road projects have been completed by requiring land developers to pay for roads.

"Randall Road has been improved to the tune of $10 million without a penny from taxpayers," Schmitt said.

Financial turmoil at both the state and federal level will likely further complicate future state-funded road projects.

Illinois' 2009 capital spending plan came a full 10 years after the last one, Gov. George Ryan's famous Illinois First program in 1999. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich made a capital plan a priority but could never get a bill passed. Gov. Pat Quinn sealed the deal with lawmakers in the first year of his term.

Whitley said in the past the federal government would fund as much as 60 percent of construction, but other problems have reduced federal contributions over the years.

"We need to take care of ourselves," Whitley said.

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