Jacobs Speaks of County, Northwest Illinois Issues
By Tom Kocal,
"It's good to see Americans taking time out of their day, whether its to watch a presidential debate, or to be here with me this afternoon, it's important that we communicate with each other, especially with these difficult economic times that we are facing."
That is how Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-36, Moline) welcomed the people in attendance at the Surf's Up Java Hut in Savanna Wednesday, October 8. Hosted by Java Hut owners Kurt (also a Carroll Co. Board member) and Luanne Dreger, those in attendance were Kurt's parents, Mary Ellen and Jack Dreger; Carroll Co. Sheriff Jeff Doran; CC Economic Development Corp. Director Laurie Gungel; Savanna Mayor Bill Lease; CC Administrator Michael Doty; Jo-Carroll LRA Exec. Director Diane Komiskey; CC Board member Ron Preston; Tom Patel, owner of the Executive Inn, Thomson; John Cox, JoCarroll Energy Board member; Warren Jackman, Riverport Railroad, and Floyd England, Savanna businessman.
"Dollars are tight right now, as you all well know," Jacobs said. "State of Illinois revenues are down by $30 million in the last quarter. Transfers from the general fund are down $70 million, Riverboat revenues are down about $40 million, interest income is down by $40 million.
"The good news is the gross personal tax is up . . . sales tax is up . . . corporate income tax is up. We've had 13 commercial banks fail in Illinois this year, and I'm hearing there are other banks having runs on money. That concerns me. I don't think people need to get excited. The federal government will eventually get this stabilized. But I'm glad I'm not in the federal government. They have to make some very important decisions.
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"But I would hate like heck to give anyone $750 billion. I don't care who you are." Jacobs feels that the change in Washington this November will be good for America.
The Thomson Correctional Center opening is good news for Thomson and Northwest Illinois, Jacobs said. But Pontiac is still fighting to keep the PCC open.
"The news today is that DOC has transferred 100 prisoners out of Pontiac. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it is the beginning. These transfers will help the governor get around the lawsuits filed by the labor union and by the City of Pontiac, who say that it should not be closed."
Saying it is never good to close any government facility, the governor is now making tough decisions to transfer some inmates from Pontiac to East Moline. But these are only temporary steps. Eventually, Jacobs says they will be moved to Thomson. He has voiced his opinion that Pontiac should be closed, and Thomson opened, and has lost some union support because of it.
"But we should not run the state government for the benefit of our employees. State government should be run for the benefit of the taxpayers. We should help our employees, yes. But Illinois has come to a place where we can no longer do what's 'political.' We're going to have to do what's right."
He is not pleased with the state's $60 billion budget last year. Jacobs has seen a vast increase in the dollars spent by the Illinois legislature since he has been in office. And it is tough for him to see all the good community projects come forward and tell him of their financial needs. It's become even more difficult to have to tell them no, especially when they deal with children's issues. He says that Illinois will be forced to make decisions that are not going to be "wonderful decisions."
"I'd much rather be in the position of cutting ribbons, than cutting departments. We have enough revenue, but we have a spending problem."
The issue of a Carroll County Port Authority was discussed. Jacobs and others feel that Savanna and Carroll County have not taken full advantage of its river front potential. A port authority, tied in with our rail system, would be a benefit to many.
"Rail is going to be a growth industry in Illinois, especially within the next 10 years," Jacobs stated. "Illinois is currently doing OK in manufacturing, with manufacturing orders increasing, with job creation. But with the current financial crisis, I hope we don't catch a cold, just because everyone else is sick."
He hopes that some of the Bailout Bill money will come to Illinois. The state doesn't have much of a "rainy day fund." Like any household, Illinois needs to plan ahead better.
"The federal government, six months ago, said they were going to give Illinois $12 billion. Now it doesn't look like they have $10. Things have changed fast, and there is enough blame to go around. But I'm going to stay focused on state issues."
Education funding and property tax reform are still Jacobs' priorities. School funding is disproportionate, and he wants to remedy the problem.
Rural economies are sluggish, but he feels are more capable than others to take this downward turn in the economy and turn it around, because of their "close-knit, self-reliant" attitudes. "It is important that we project more confidence in the community. There is no benefit in wringing our hands. We need to figure out ways to move forward."
Savanna's infrastructure, health care in Illinois, Western Illinois University's campus in the QCA, and other topics were discussed. All good projects, but still dependent on government funding. Jacobs warned that "We must be careful not to become a socialist country. We are a Republic. We need to make sure that we don't become government-led, government-controlled. In my experience, there is not a lot of good coming from the government. There are some good things. But as a whole, government is slow to react, it's built to move very slowly. And that's what was amazing to me that they would move on a $750 billion Bailout in 3 days. It must have been very dire circumstances."
Regarding the relationship with he and Gov. Blagojevich, Jacobs says they disagree on many things, but they do agree on some. It is a compromise system.
"We respect each other. I agree with the governor on health care, on education, especially his Early Childhood projects, getting kids in a school environment earlier.
"Ultimately, I think the governor is headed for a court date. The noose is tightening. Perhaps it is a function of Chicago politics, but the governor started out as very bright, energetic, someone I admired. It's troubling to have seen him fall so far. It's bad for Illinois. We just want honest government, and whether you agree with him or not, we just prefer someone with the strength to do that.
"Government can't solve all of our problems. We need to take responsibility for our needs. We've got to look at ourselves, and work on our issues."
Laurie Gungel, CCEDC director, brought up the county needs of $4.5 million in infrastructure improvement projects needed for economic development. "They're not the exciting ribbon-cutting part of development, but we really need this work done in our communities."
The Capital Bill is needed, Jacobs said, but the high-profile projects seem to take the bulk of the funding. "No one wants to fund projects that they can't see," he said.
"But we want our water to run, too," Gungel added.
Savanna Mayor Bill Lease told Jacobs of some of his city's ongoing projects. Since 1996, some work that should have been done on the sewer plant was recently completed at a cost of $300,00. A $320,000 water tower renovation project was completed.
"We're working on a $450,000 project for sewer re-lining on the east end of town. Sewer pipes have collapsed, and we have water service issues due to old age. It's cost us over $1 million so far. And we need to look at a new sewer plant within the next 5-7 years, at a cost of $10 million. Our current plant was built in 1947."
Lease said Savanna's needs will exceed $15 million.
Jacobs wondered if costs could be reduced by sharing services with other communities and businesses. Lease said they are working with Metform to extend water and sewer to their facilities on the south end, with funding assistance from Metform and the state.
"It's ongoing. Something is always needed, and it's tough on our small communities," Lease said.
Jacobs said he is willing to pursue assistance, but he doesn't see the Capital Bill passing.
"The federal government should give us the $12 billion that we paid to them for capital projects. It's our money anyway. Help us. We're being penalized because we can't put up a $12 billion match. They could change this program in seconds. They have on other issues. For the federal government to decide what's best for my state, is wrong. Local government, in the end, knows what needs to be done. Let's figure out a way to move that money straight to local government."
"We've got to figure out a way for this state to move forward, and I will continue to work with friends on both sides of the aisle. We have many great programs going in this state. But we can't continue to direct them to just the special interest groups."