Coalition pushes for support of capital plan

Dan Petrella

It has been nearly a decade since the Illinois General Assembly passed a capital bill to address the state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed a $25 billion plan — called the Illinois Works capital program — to address crumbling roads and bridges, aging buses and trains and deferred maintenance of facilities at the state’s public universities and other schools.

 The governor appointed a bipartisan task force — headed by Republican former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard, a former Democratic congressman — to promote the plan to the public and urge legislators to pass it.

The Illinois Works Coalition held a breakfast meeting in Naperville Wednesday to gather input from local business leaders and elected officials and encourage them to throw their support behind the plan.

“This is the most important issue facing the state of Illinois,” said DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, a member of the coalition. “We need to come together, and we need to tell our legislators to put partisanship behind us and move forward with this.”

The governor’s plan would devote $14.4 billion to repairing roads and bridges, $4.9 billion to school construction projects and $3.2 billion to upgrading public transportation and airports. The remaining money would be used for economic development, environmental and energy projects and upgrading state facilities.

About $11 billion of the money would come from the state under Blagojevich’s proposal. The revenue source has not been determined, but an expansion of legal gambling and the lease of the state lottery are possibilities. The state Senate passed a bill in September that would widely expand gaming, but it has not been called for a vote in the House.

Schillerstrom said there are a number of possible revenue sources, including increased driver’s license and vehicle registration fees, but he said raising the sales tax or state income tax is off the table.

The plan would allow the state to access about $10 billion in federal money that requires matching state funds. The remaining money would come from local sources.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition is a separate nonpartisan group that advocates for investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure. The group’s chairmen are Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and Michael Carrigan, the president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Whitley spoke at Wednesday’s meeting and expressed the group’s support for the Illinois Works plan. The group is calling for $14.4 billion in state transportation funding, the same amount called for in the Blagojevich’s proposal.

“If you want to see the results of investment in infrastructure, drive on (Interstate) 355 from Bolingbrook to I-80, or drive the Dan Ryan (Expressway),” Whitley told the Illinois Works Coalition members. “These projects are over. Where are we going to go next?”

Poshard spoke about the importance of repairing aging facilities at state universities.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has more than $800 million in maintenance projects that have been put off due to lack of funding, and the Southern Illinois University system has about $400 million worth, Poshard said.

This buildup has led to increased tuition as operational funds are diverted to maintenance projects, Poshard said. This makes it increasingly difficult for middle- and lower-class families to afford a college education, he added.

“How does America stay competitive in this new world economy if we allow these kind of things to happen?” he said. “We can’t.”

Hastert said it is important for local officials and voters who support the capital plan to contact their legislators.

“In order to vote for something, you need to know that the support is there,” Hastert said. “There’s a lot of competition out there. There’s a lot of need when you start to do the state budget.”

Dan Petrella can be reached at

By the numbers

75 percent Decrease in transportation funding since 2003

23 percent Increase in construction costs from April 2003 to 2008

1,145 Miles of bad road statewide in 2003

3,376 Miles of bad road projected by 2013

614 Structurally deficient bridges in 2003

796 Structurally deficient bridges in 2006

Source: Transportation for Illinois Coalition