House passes legislation to help pay for Peoria museum

Adriana Colindres

By the slimmest of margins, the Illinois House on Wednesday advanced legislation that would let Peoria County seek voters’ approval for a special sales tax to help pay for the proposed Peoria Riverfront Museum.

The measure, which is the latest version of Senate Bill 1290, passed on a tally of 71-18. It needed at least 71 votes, a figure that was reached only after House Speaker Michael Madigan held open the roll call for a few moments longer than usual.

"That was close," Rep. David Leitch, the Peoria Republican who sponsored the bill, said afterward. "I was very worried about it because I wasn’t sure we’d have enough (House) members here."

Indeed, at least 24 lawmakers in the 118-member House had excused absences on Wednesday, including Republican Reps. Keith Sommer of Morton and Aaron Schock of Peoria.

The idea behind the so-called "museum tax" proposal is to generate money for the riverfront museum and perhaps also for a new county-operated Bel-Wood Nursing Home. To become law, the bill still must pass in the Senate and be signed by the governor.

Peoria County officials have not decided on the size of the proposed tax, if voters OK one, though County Administrator Patrick Urich has said it likely would be 0.25 percent. That amounts to 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

The plan surfaced earlier this year in the General Assembly, with the House and Senate approving different versions of the legislation. But before any bill can become law, the two chambers must pass identical versions of it.

The museum tax measure, previously in Senate Bill 2077, had been bogged down in a dispute between the House and the Senate over whether to include certain "rulemaking" language that Madigan wanted. The Senate, led by President Emil Jones, routinely deleted the wording from bills that arrived from the House, while the House routinely added the language to bills arriving from the Senate.

Dozens of other bills also stalled this year because of the stalemate over wording.

The disputed language, about 200 words, was meant to block Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his state agencies from writing rules about how to administer laws that the General Assembly approves.

The wording is not included in the bill that the House passed on Wednesday.

Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said he and Peoria labor leader Mike Everett recently have been in touch with Madigan’s office, trying to revive the museum tax plan.

"The speaker understood how important this was to Peoria," Koehler said.

The House’s legal staff took a different approach, coming up with alternative language in the bill that still would address Madigan’s rulemaking concerns while possibly being more palatable for the Senate.

Koehler said he is waiting to hear what Senate leadership thinks of the new tack.

"I’m hoping it’s acceptable, but I haven’t heard that yet," he said.

Leitch also praised Madigan for backing the museum proposal.

"This would not have passed without his support, and I’m grateful for his support," he said.

Everett said the riverfront museum and a related Caterpillar Inc. visitors center, with a combined value of about $150 million, are key to the Peoria area’s long-term future and "to keep the momentum going in right direction."

"It fits so well with some of the other things that are happening," said Everett, who is business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 34 in Peoria and president of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades.

"The reason this one is important is because this one makes Peoria a destination, a global destination in the eyes of Caterpillar. It’s just a whole different tier of what will be coming to Peoria."

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or