Rockford casino, Rock Valley College cash, part of Senate state budget fix
FridayPosted Jan 13, 2017 at 6:33 PM Updated at 3:47 PM
By Isaac Guerrero
ROCKFORD - Rockford would get a casino license, the state income tax would rise and dollars would flow to long-stalled capital projects at Rock Valley College and the city's airport if lawmakers approve a budget framework introduced in the Illinois Senate this week.
Legislators won't debate the plan, a package of 10 separate bills crafted by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, until the week after next.
There's hope, though, said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, that the Senate deal has a legitimate chance of passage because it contains budget and government reforms sought by both Democrats and Republicans. It's also a package deal, Syverson said.
"Each bill has a poison pill in it," Syverson said. "So if one doesn't pass, none of them do. The reason for that is that there are things in these bills that everybody hates and things everybody likes. You're not going to get Democrats to support worker compensation reforms on its own and you're not going to get Republicans to support a tax hike on its own, but if you put all these things together, the hope is that you force a vote on all of it and we can move forward."
A stopgap budget bill would give the state authority to spend money through June 30. Another bill, if approved, would allow Illinois to sell $7 billion worth of bonds to pay down its $10 billion backlog of bills.
Additionally, the Senate proposals include an increase in the state income tax from 3 percent to 4.95 percent, minor pension reforms, school funding and worker compensation reforms, a phased-in minimum wage increase, a two-year property tax freeze and a bill that would make it easier for local governments to consolidate.
Another bill would ask voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution to establish term limits for legislative leaders but not rank-and-file lawmakers. Still other proposals would make it easier for state universities and community colleges to outsource work and streamline how they buy goods and services. A tax on sugary drinks may also end up in the proposals, Syverson said.
Here is how a few items in the Senate proposals would affect the Rockford area:
Syverson and Sen. Terry Link, D-Gurnee, are co-sponsors of a gaming expansion bill that is among the legislative proposals introduced in the Senate. Just like the perennial gaming expansion plans that are floated each year only to fall under their own weight, this one would give Rockford a casino license. Additionally, new casinos would be allowed in Danville, Lake County, Chicago and the south Chicago suburbs, and Illinois' horse racing tracks would be allowed to install slot machines.
The bill calls for five percent of revenue from a Rockford casino to be split among local governments as follows: 70 percent to Rockford; 20 percent to Winnebago County; 5 percent to Machesney Park; and 5 percent to Loves Park.
Rock Valley College
Expansion of gaming would provide funding for stalled capital projects, including millions of dollars Illinois owes Rock Valley College for improvements at its North Mulford Road campus. State aid is helping Rock Valley renovate and expand two classroom buildings, but Gov. Bruce Rauner froze capital funding July 1, 2015, as he and lawmakers could not agree on terms of a budget. The state owes Rock Valley $8.95 million in capital funding, said Beth Young, Rock Valley vice president and chief financial officer.
Budgetary woes also led the state to cut the level of operating cash it sends Rock Valley. The college is owed $9.4 million in state aid for fiscal 2016 and the current fiscal year. The series of bills introduced in the Senate this week, if approved, would resume the flow of operating cash and capital funding for higher education, Syverson said.
In 2014, then-Gov. Pat Quinn promised $16.5 million as the state's share of the $40 million jet repair and maintenance center at Chicago Rockford International Airport. Only about $1.5 million was paid to the airport. After Rauner froze the rest of the funding in 2015, several local banks stepped up to provide the airport with a bridge loan. The money ensured the project was finished on time, but the airport is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest every month. A budget deal is crucial to freeing up the state funding for the jet repair hub, Syverson said.
"Whether it's Rock Valley or at the airport, there are many important projects that have been held up," said Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford. "I expect any final budget resolution will allow these grants to be released so the state can fulfill its commitment."