By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing lawmakers to approve more borrowing for capital construction projects before the legislative session is scheduled to end next month.
Quinn hopes to roll out a $12.62 billion capital construction program over the next six years. “We’ve got to make sure we invest in these important assets that we have. We have major railroads criss-crossing Illinois, major highways, and we also have local roads that are very very important to our commerce and to the people of Illinois to get to school, to shop, to go on vacation. We want to make sure we have a 21st century transportation program,” Quinn said.
Projects include revamping the Circle Interchange in Chicago, repairs to I-74 in eastern Illinois and two new bridges over the Mississippi River — one from East St. Louis to St. Louis and one to connect the Illinois Quad Cities with Iowa. The proposal also calls for construction on the Illiana Expressway connecting northern Illinois and northern Indiana. The plan would also make upgrades to mass transit across the state and includes projects to help unsnarl congested freight traffic.
According to IDOT, $9.5 billion would be spent on highways over the next six years. More than 70 percent of that would go toward maintenance work on existing infrastructure “That’s important because our system is aging. We built the system in the late '50s early '60s for the most part. Some of it’s even older than that,” said Anne Schneider, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation. Schneider said more than $2 billion would be spent next fiscal year under the plan.
While some of the projects will be administered on a pay-as-you-go basis, Quinn also needs the General Assembly to sign off on some borrowing. For the plan to move forward, legislators must authorize $2.7 billion in bonding. Quinn is looking for lawmakers to approve borrowing for projects associated with the capital plan known as Illinois Jobs Now, which was originally approved in 2009, but he also wants to add new projects. “We need to get the legislature to approve the final segment of our Illinois Jobs Now program that covers our transportation,” Quinn said. It would be the last round of borrowing associated with the capital bill, but Quinn said he would like to see more construction in the future. “I’ve talked to our legislature leaders and I think they understand how important it is that we complete that. But we also, I think, need to have a debate between now and the end of May about more capital, more investment in capital, more opportunity to issue bonds to continue the program. We’d like to have more financing so that we can do this program and more like it.”
But Quinn cautioned that lawmakers should first approve changes to the state’s pension systems to try to address the more than $90 billion unfunded liability. “Pension reform is paramount. This is the issue that we must address and resolve between now and May 31, and we can,” he said. “I think we can get this done and done in a way that resolves it so that we can address ... gaming or more capital in order to build more jobs. Those are things that need to be done as well. But we’ve got to do pensions first.”