College of Lake County and three other 2-year schools would be part of a test job-training program under a measure recently passed by the Illinois Senate.
It would allow the colleges to custom-design workforce training programs to benefit new or expanding companies, and those businesses would have to create new jobs.
Still in need of House approval, the community college workforce proposal would mimic similar initiatives in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. Proponents note successes such as Eastern Iowa Community College, which has funded 294 projects creating at least 20,655 new jobs since 1983.
Community colleges in those states have been able to borrow to pay for training costs of new employees who would work at eligible businesses seeking a major expansion or starting operations. The schools recover the expenses over 10 years by taking a percentage of the new or total employees' state withholding taxes, or from property taxes created by the participating business.
CLC President Jerry Weber said he'll continue to press for Illinois' community college job-training legislation if, as he expects, it doesn't gain House approval during the current General Assembly session.
Weber said community colleges can play a role in offering businesses incentives to bring new jobs to Illinois, where the unemployment rate in April was 9.3 percent compared to 7.5 percent nationwide.
"It's just using another tool that other states are using," he said.
Although the proposal passed in the Senate, some concern surfaced about allowing the 2-year colleges to borrow money to create new job-training programs on a larger scale. Senators voted 31-20 in favor of the legislation April 25 before sending it to the House for consideration.
Republican state Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington said he strongly opposed the proposal, mostly out of concern CLC and the other schools would have an unfettered ability to increase debt loads and pass the expenses on to taxpayers without a referendum.
"I think that is sneaky and wrong," Duffy said. "When CLC borrows the money, Lake County property taxes will increase to pay for the loans. Lake County property taxes are already some of the highest in the country. Many people cannot afford to stay in their homes because they cannot pay our sky high property taxes."
However, Weber said Duffy's concern about CLC is unfounded because it is among the suburban schools subject to the state's tax-cap law, meaning there's a limit to what it can borrow before needing taxpayers' approval.
Under the bill, CLC and the other three schools would be allowed to recoup program costs through "tuition, student fees, or special charges" to the company that would benefit from the worker training. Weber said CLC would be excluded from a provision that lets the other schools repay borrowing costs through property taxes.
CLC board President Amanda Howland said Lake County taxpayers won't be stuck with the tab if programs are created for the job-training proposal.
"I'd tell people, don't be worried," Howland said.
Blackhawk College in Moline, Belleville's Southwestern Illinois College, Illinois Eastern Community College in Olney and CLC would be in the test program.
Results would be reported to the Illinois Community College Board and the General Assembly to determine the feasibility of statewide implementation. Precise timelines were not included in the bill.
Under the bill passed by the Senate, the businesses that benefit from the training would have to create new jobs -- not positions for replacement workers or laid-off employees.
Eligible businesses would include manufacturing, processing, product assembly, services for interstate commerce and research and development.
It would exclude retail, health care and professional services, or companies that close in one area of Illinois and open elsewhere in the state.
Jim Nelson, vice president of external affairs for the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, said the proposal is something his organization supports. He said manufacturing companies often can use help in training employees.
Nelson said the manufacturers' association has had a long relationship with Illinois community colleges for employee training. The program, he said, would add another incentive for businesses to expand their workforces.
"We make better widgets than community colleges," Nelson said.
"And community colleges make better teachers."