State capital bill hearing in Elgin: Fox Valley leaders list their wishes, ideas for funding

The wish list for what might be the state's first capital bill in 10 years is long, and the key question of funding kept coming up at a three-hour hearing held by state legislators Monday in Elgin.

Elgin's primary concern is the upgrading of Route 20 from Randall Road to Route 47, Mayor David Kaptain said. "This is a country road that is now handling traffic literally from tens of thousands of people," he said.

The state should restore the 5% share of income taxes to local municipalities that it stopped, which in turn could funnel the money into local infrastructure projects, Kaptain said.

"That is an excellent idea," said state Sen. David Koehler, a Democrat from Peoria. The hearing at Gail Borden Public Library was held by a subcommittee of the Senate's transportation and appropriations II committees.

The Metropolitan Planning Council described the state's transportation infrastructure as "failing" and calculated that $43 billion must be raised over 10 years to get it back to "good repair." The state's last capital bill was in 2009, and some lawmakers are pushing to fund one this year.

State Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the state transportation committee, proposed doubling the gasoline tax to 38 cents from 19 per gallon, which along with increases to driver's license and vehicle fees would yield an estimated $2 billion per year.

Sandoval also said he endorses requiring diversity among contractors for projects in the capital bill.

Sean Michels, board president of the Metro West Council of Governments, said there should be a variety of funding sources, such as increases to gas, alcohol and cigarette taxes; a portion of the recreational marijuana tax, if approved; and a tax on large warehouse distribution centers whose vehicles can damage roads the most, he said.

Elgin Community College President David Sam said the institution needs $15 million in new facilities for three new programs - mechatronics, cybersecurity and pipe welding - and a $2.5 million build-out for two other new programs, one for opticians and ophthalmic laboratory technicians, and one for dietetic technicians. "For every dollar spent on community colleges, the rate of return is unsurpassed," he said.

Lore Baker, president and CEO of the Association of Individual Development in Aurora, said the Keeler Center is "completely outdated and inadequate" for the needs of its 89 adult clients. Staff members, for example, put paper over fluorescent lighting fixtures because they might cause seizures, she said. It would cost $50,000 to $100,000 per person to rehab a nearby building, she said.

Baker suggested various funding methods for the capital bill: increasing real estate recording fees, a graduated increase to real estate transfer taxes, and a tax on private property rentals like Airbnb.

Improving Route 47, an estimated $310 million project from Woodstock to Huntley in various phases of engineering, is "the main topic" for McHenry County, the only collar county with no direct access to an interstate, said John Schmitt, Algonquin's village president who serves on the McHenry County Council of Governments' executive committee. "We're reliant on state local township and county roads to move all our of people and all of our commerce," he said.

Carl Schoedel, director of transportation for Kane County, said the county's No. 1 funding request is $45 million to pay for the nearly $30 million Longmeadow Parkway toll bridge and set aside money for maintenance. That would eliminate the need for a toll, "providing some relief to our taxpaying constituents," and the need to build and operate the toll system, which is "rather expensive," he said.

The county also hopes for $4 million from the state for a new $10 million multipurpose building for the coroner's office and sheriff's equipment, Schoedel said. The project is "shovel ready" with site work anticipated later this year, he said.

When it's time to select projects, "I can tell you that the ones that already have a head start are obviously going to rise to the top," said Republican state Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles.

Northern Illinois University has "thoughtfully prioritized" a list of 11 projects and hopes for a state investment of about $326 million, NIU President Lisa Freeman said. The highest priority is a new health informatics building.

Bipartisanship will be necessary as the state legislature grapples with proposals including the "fair tax," or graduated income tax proposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a plastic bag tax, a recreational marijuana tax, and a gambling tax "before we get to a capital bill," Sandoval said.

Similar hearings have been held in Edwardsville, Decatur and Peoria, and more are coming up in Chicago, Grayslake and Springfield.

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