Senate Week in Review: March 12-16
Springfield, Ill. – A series of Senate hearings focused on a statewide review of Illinois’ enterprise zones kicked off in Carbondale March 15, while a half-billion-dollar state bond sale earlier in the week prompted words of caution from a major bond agency, according to State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).
The bipartisan Special Senate Committee on Enterprise Zone Extensions met at Southern Illinois University’s Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, beginning the first of several statewide hearings to evaluate the state’s enterprise zones. Enterprise zones are widely regarded as an effective economic development tool, with a proven record of creating jobs and spurring business investment by offering attractive tax incentives to employers.
Senator Rezin explained that Illinois has almost 100 enterprise zones, established 30 years ago to create jobs and spur economic growth. With several enterprise zones scheduled to expire in the coming year, lawmakers have begun reviewing the program.
Since being established, the zones have contributed to the creation of more than 900,000 jobs and led to nearly $50 billion in associated revenue. Bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 3688, has been introduced to extend the length of the zones by 25 years, create up to 10 new zones over the next 10 years, and implement transparency and accountability for these zones.
Lawmakers anticipate the public hearing and review period will provide helpful feedback from business and community leaders that will enable the state to improve effectiveness of the zones going forward. As the state looks to improve the economy and create jobs, many legislators say that enterprise zones should be a key component of that growth.
Growing the economy and addressing the state’s fiscal problems were underscored early this week when the state borrowed $575 million for capital construction bonds March 13.
Illinois received another reminder of the costs and risks of its ongoing budget woes when the state paid a 4.19 percent interest rate with the latest bond sale, up from 3.9 percent in January. The Bond Buyer, a financial newspaper, reported “Illinois continues to pay an interest-rate penalty for its fiscal challenges, which include mammoth unfunded pension liabilities, an $8 billion backlog in bills and rising Medicaid expenses….”
With the state’s credit rating ranking at or near the bottom in the nation, Illinois taxpayers are paying about 1.5 percent more in interest charges than the best-rated government bonds.
Illinois is already saddled with the worst credit rating in the nation by one of the major bond rating firms, and state lawmakers received a warning from another rating agency. The Fitch Ratings service cautioned before the bond sale “additional payment deferrals in the budget, could lead to negative rating action.”
This is significant because avoiding those additional payment deferrals will require a budget that cuts at least $2.7 billion out of the Medicaid program and holds almost all other areas of the budget to zero or negative growth.
Sen. Rezin met with several groups this week throughout her district. Wednesday she met with administrators and nurses at the Illinois Valley Community hospital to tour the new obstetrics and intensive care units. While there, she discussed the burdens imposed on small community hospitals by the increasing number of psychiatric patients the hospitals are admitting due to the statewide shortage of inpatient mental health treatment facilities. Later that day, she spoke at the St. Bede Academy Rotary Interact Club’s kick-off ceremony and met with the club’s founding members. On Thursday, Sen. Rezin spoke to the Three Rivers Manufacturers’ Association where she discussed the budget and other issues affecting the profession.
Lastly, the LaSalle Veterans’ Home has compiled a wish list of items and services that they would like to receive in 2012. If you would like to give of your time or resources, you can find the list by clicking here.