Governor candidates back new building plan

SPRINGFIELD - With the largest statewide public construction program in Illinois history nearing its end, all of the 2014 candidates for governor say the state should approve another one. But their ideas on what it should look like and how to pay for it vary.

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat seeking re-election, signed the current capital construction program weeks after taking office in 2009. The six-year, $31 billion statewide initiative was the first of its kind in about a decade, and Quinn's office says it has been used to fix thousands of miles of roads, update transit systems and put thousands of people to work.

Quinn has said he expects the legislature to consider a new plan this spring. He told The Associated Press his administration is still looking into how to fund it, but suggested the state could eliminate some corporate tax breaks - which he described as "loopholes" - to come up with some of the money. Lawmakers approved video gambling and tax hikes on liquor and other products to help pay for the current building program.

"I really feel this is important if we're going to have a strong economy," Quinn said of a new statewide plan.

All of the Republicans seeking the March GOP nomination - state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, businessman Bruce Rauner and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford - said in response to an AP questionnaire that upgrading the state's infrastructure is key to attracting and keeping business and residents in Illinois.

Dillard noted the state has a backlog of projects waiting to be completed.

"This is not good for economic development or the future of our infrastructure," the Hinsdale lawmaker said.

The most recent analysis of the state's needs by the American Society of Civil Engineers concluded nearly three-quarters of Illinois' roads are in poor or mediocre condition and almost one-fifth of its bridges are either "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete." In the Illinois State Board of Education's most recent survey, school districts reported more than $7 billion in capital needs.

Dillard, who voted for the 2009 plan, said any new capital program should be paid for through a mix of bonds and "pay-as-you-go." He said he would consider a combination of options for funding, including user fees and private investment.

Earlier this year, Dillard also proposed cutting the state's 5 percent sales tax on gas and using the remaining sales tax revenue as backing for up to $1 billion in bonds to fix bridges and roads. That option would reduce revenue in the state's general fund budget by about $450 million - money Dillard said would be made up by growing the economy.

Brady voted for current program - known as "Illinois Jobs Now" - but against a separate bill that allowed video gambling to help fund it.

"What we have seen recently from the Democrat administration is not a Road Plan, or a Capital Plan, or an Infrastructure Plan, and it certainly is not a Jobs Plan just because it has 'jobs' in its title," the Bloomington lawmaker said. "It is simply a Spending Plan."

He said he would task his budget office with conducting a thorough assessment of Illinois' capital needs and coming up with a 30-year plan for when to complete them, including sources of funding to pay the bonds. One funding source should be collecting sales tax from out-of-state companies that sell goods online to buyers in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court recently threw out a law that allowed the state to collect that so-called Amazon tax.

Brady also said lawmakers should stop using money from the state road fund - which is supposed to be used for improving roads and bridges - for other purposes.

Rauner, of Winnetka, said he supports a "responsible" capital bill but also thinks Illinois needs to look toward "other creative infrastructure options." He points to Indiana, where government has partnered with private investors to complete projects such as a freeway bridge over the Ohio River. A developer used its own funds to construct the bridge in exchange for annual payments from the state for 35 years.

"While not every project makes sense for a public-private partnership, they can take some of our largest projects off the books, freeing up resources for other areas of the state," Rauner said.

Rutherford said the state needs "an ongoing process" that includes updating Internet, electric and natural gas services. He said he would use "a bipartisan process of integrated planning, improved system efficiency and sound, sustainable funding principles." The Chenoa official's spokesman declined this week to specify what those funding principles could include.

Tio Hardiman of Hillside, who is challenging Quinn in the Democratic primary, said he would seek federal funds and raise the cost of tolls to finance a construction plan.

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