Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are smaller bites easier to digest?

The waiting list of construction projects isn’t getting any shorter, and the cost of gas and materials isn’t getting any cheaper, so any talk of a statewide capital plan to fund those projects is important. But frustration can worsen when the Illinois House and Senate and the governor’s office seem so far away from making any kind of deal but continuously promote their own plans and try to make the others look bad.

Most recently, the House Democrats are taking this approach: If you can’t get a $34 billion capital plan for road and school construction projects done, then at least try to capture nearly $2 billion of the federal funds that are earmarked for Illinois but that are vulnerable if Illinois fails to act.

House Democrats this afternoon advanced measures that would attempt to capture $1.8 billion in federal funds designated for some Illinois infrastructure projects. (For those who like details: SB 1116 and SB 1460 would allow the state to issue $360 million in bonds to pay for the projects over many years. The state would have to repay the debt in increasing amounts every year, starting with about $2 million the first year and $20 million down the road.)

The governor’s office wasn’t too pleased with the plan, as indicated by this statement offered in an e-mail: “The House move puts us 1 percent closer to meeting our state’s infrastructure needs. Before the House starts pounding their chests and congratulating themselves, it’s our hope that they go back to work and pass the other 99 percent necessary to meet our infrastructure needs and create thousands of jobs.”

Proponents of the capital construction plan for Illinois compiled by former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard often say the state could lose out on money sitting in Washington if Illinois doesn’t provide its share (the feds pay 80 percent; the state pays 20 percent).

The House Democrats are trying to send a signal to the feds that Illinois has the money ready to go to fund the projects most at-risk of losing the federal funds, said Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat sponsoring the measure [emphasis added]. “This would allow us to make our 20 percent payment. In turn, we would expect the federal government to then come up with the 80 percent. But these are projects that our congressmen have determined and earmarked in a federal transportation bill.”

Steve Brown, Democratic spokesman, said the measure aims to bring in $1.2 billion for highway projects and $600 million for mass transit projects. He said House Democrats proposed those amounts in response to information from the Illinois Department of Transportation about the federal dollar amounts at risk without a state match. But IDOT couldn’t confirm that information or interpretation of the situation. Department spokesman Mike Claffey said IDOT didn’t have a comment but was looking into the legislation.

And as Hannig said, no one really knows when the federal earmarks will expire. “I think the view is that the sooner we try to access this money, the better, clearly.”

If the couple of measures won House approval, it still would need to pass the Senate. “If it passes, we’ll take a look at it when it gets here,” said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic leadership.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How about this for an approach to this issue?

The House should convene a Committee meeting and compel testimony from the Director of IDOT as to the capital funding needs of each and every state project which has been designated for federal matching funds.

Testimony on the record; under oath, and subject to penalty of perjury, could remove political influence from aspect of either the timeliness or the veracity of the responses provided.

Each project should be addressed individually; one by one. Any discrepancies could be identified and addressed so that the capital funding arrangements to be voted upon by the House would be agreeed upon by IDOT, as having met the threshold necessary to receive the designated federal funding matches.

This would eliminate the need for the Senate to conduct a similar hearing when considering the legislation, and the opportunity for the Executive Branch to forestall a careful analysis of the issue, or influence the outcome through obfuscation.

The hearing could commence this morning, and run continously until all programs and their requires state and federal funding have been identified and agreed upon before a House vote is taken.

Refusal to testify; or the inability to provide the requisite back up information to support any assertions made by IDOT should not be tolerated.

Staff representatives for Congressman Costello, Johnson, and Lipinski; all members of the federal House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would be asked to certify the amountse identified by IDOT, and to be voted upon by the Illinois House.

Instead of simply playing politics with this issue, let's simply air the facts in a transparent fashion in open public meetings. That way nobody can try to point the finger at someone else, and say their numbers are wrong, or they did not address the full gamut of projects for which pending federal funding was at risk.

The list of projects; there required state and federal funding needs could then be published for all to see.