By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn approved a controversial economic stimulus plan today that is meant to bring development to an area of southern Illinois with double-digit unemployment rates.
Senate Bill 2093 will allow Holland Construction Services to use Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) bonds to fund up to half of the construction of a planned 400-acre shopping and entertainment complex near Marion. That will mean the sales tax dollars generated by the estimated $378 million development would help to fund its creation instead of going to state government. Fifteen percent of any new property tax revenue from the complex would go to area schools.
“We have a lot of folks in southern Illinois who need a job. And we want to help them get that job and keep that job,” Quinn said at a Marion news conference. “This legislation is going to help us create jobs — and real jobs that you can depend on; you can support a family on.”
The plan is a pilot program exclusive to this project. However, critics say it is only a matter of time before other areas want to do the same.
In the days leading up to the passage of the bill, Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley came to Springfield and testified that her city, about 40 miles away, would be hurt by the plan. She and Sen. John Jones, a Republican from Mount Vernon, asked that the town be included in the legislation, but the General Assembly did not comply.
Detractors say Illinois cannot afford to lose large chunks of tax revenue during a budget crisis, especially if projects similar to the one near Marion are eventually allowed to spring up throughout the state. The Illinois Department of Revenue estimated that STAR bond district alone would cost the state $287.5 million to $437.5 million in future sales taxes revenues.
But those in favor of the plan say the lost revenue is a tolerable trade-off for new business in an area that has historically relied on coal mines, many of which now closed, as a major employer and which has been hit hard by the recent financial turmoil.
Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said people in his region have hoped for new jobs for years. “When I was a little boy growing up in southern Illinois watching the coal mines close, and as I grew up and we got older, we saw Maytag close and Circuit City leave, we always wondered if this day would come. We knew if we worked together, and we took a leap of faith, and we joined hands as a region, that we could do it.”