Monday, October 26, 2015

Our View: Rockford, Winnebago County should OK reworked airport funding deal - Opinion - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

Posted Oct. 25, 2015 at 5:45 PM

Chicago Rockford International Airport continues to build the two maintenance, repair and overhaul hangars that will house AAR Corp.'s airliner-repair facility beginning in 2016. It's the biggest construction project at the airport since UPS built its air freight center in 1993. The work is proceeding well, and the project is on time and within budget.
However, airport leaders have had to do some recalculations about how to keep construction workers on the job. It's not because of anything they did; it is because Illinois hasn't passed a budget, something that was supposed to happen in May. After talking to our state legislators, we don't expect to see a new budget until early 2016.
This adversely affects the MRO project because the state committed in 2014 to paying $16.5 million of the $40 million price tag. The airport has received $1.5 million from the state, but the remainder has been delayed because of the political impasse over the budget.
Meanwhile, the MRO is supposed to open in the first half of 2016. It is crucial that it happens on time.
Gov. Bruce Rauner is sympathetic. The project is the poster child for meeting all three requirements of state assistance for capital projects: It creates good jobs, it's a public-private partnership, and it has an education component, which is Rock Valley College's brand-new aviation technology center, directly across the street from the MRO buildings. Courses are underway and the interest is intense. There's a long waiting list to get in next year.
When students complete the RVC program they will be qualified to apply for the 500 jobs that AAR will have at the MRO. These jobs often start at $50,000. And while AAR is an Illinois-based company with seven jet-repair facilities in the U.S., Rockford's will be its first in Illinois. So it's a net win for Illinois.
After talks with the governor's office, Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, secured a letter from Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director James M. Schultz, confirming the state's intent to help pay for this project. It concludes: "At such time as which the airport demonstrates evidence of the $10 million match in federal funding for the project AND the state’s funding is appropriated during the current fiscal year, the department would be pleased to reimburse the airport for its project costs."
The federal government's share is being secured by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Rockford, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline. The airport has received $2.5 million of the U.S. money for the MRO.
Rockford has committed to $5 million of the MRO project; Winnebago County intends to contribute $8 million, and the airport will give $4 million.

The way the city and county agreements are written, the state's money is supposed come in first, then the local shares will kick in.

  • Now, because of the budget impasse in Springfield, the city and county agreements must be changed to keep construction on time.
    A consortium of at least five banks, led by Alpine President Bill Roop, has agreed to back the MRO project if the city and county change their agreements with the airport and make the money available now.
    That would allow the airport to sell $17 million in bonds, to be funded by the banks and paid back to them with the federal and state government money when it is received.
    There's no risk to the city or county. When the bonds are sold, work on the MRO can be completed on time and we can begin creating jobs — and new taxpayers — in Winnebago County. However, the city and county must act now.
  • By The Editorial Board
    Rockford Register Star

Our View: Rockford, Winnebago County should OK reworked airport funding deal - Opinion - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

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