Policy Agenda 2001 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Policy Agenda 2001

Our priorities for legislative or administrative action in 2001 and beyond.
Over the past several years, Northeastern Illinois has experienced an economic boom that has seen companies expand, unemployment lines thin out and consumer confidence swell. However, our success has been accompanied by some avoidable side effects that threaten the region's continued prosperity. Traffic congestion, a disconnect between the location of housing and jobs and the loss of irretrievable green space are three concerns that hit home with regional residents.

Working with a wide range of partners, MPC has identified the following policy priorities that require legislative or administrative action in 2001 to address pressing regional needs.

State of Illinois

In 1999 the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois Growth Task Force, which met four times over the Spring and Summer to pursue the following mission:

  • To begin a public discussion in Illinois leading to a set of land use, housing and transportation goals;
  • To promote balanced land use, housing and transportation policies;
  • To encourage orderly development that preserves farmland and natural areas, and increases housing options and transportation alternatives; and
  • To propose possible legislation to reach these goals.

Many of the following recommendations were gleaned from the Campaign for Sensible Growth's 1999 research with the American Planning Association and discussions within the Task Force and its affiliated working groups. Each item is targeted toward state action --some legislative, some administrative-- needed to improve cross-agency coordination while building on existing strengths and providing new tools and incentives to local leaders. MPC looks forward to working with Chairman Sen. John Maitland (Bloomington) and other legislators to build consensus around tools and incentives to achieve sensible growth.

Encourage Comprehensive Planning. Illinois should seize the opportunity to: a) update its 1920s state planning enabling legislation; b) provide funding for comprehensive plans and updates; c) provide consistency among comprehensive plans, zoning and other supporting ordinances, including facility plans and annexation decisions; and d) encourage public participation processes, locally and regionally. Communities would apply for designation to be eligible for state incentives after developing comprehensive plans. The components of a comprehensive plan should include: Issues and Opportunities, Land Use, Transportation, Community Facilities, Telecommunications, Infrastructure, Housing, Economic Development and Natural Resources.

In 1999, the State of Wisconsin adopted a major land use planning initiative, called "Smart Growth For Wisconsin." This initiative will help slow urban sprawl and preserve natural resources as well as cultural and historic sites, critical challenges also facing the State of Illinois. The Smart Growth For Wisconsin initiative has received broad-based support from Realtors, environmentalists and local government leaders.

Provide Technical Assistance to Local Governments for preparing and implementing comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, model developments and other land use innovations that advance sensible growth.

Rep. Doug Scott (Rockford) sponsored a bill in Spring 2000 that outlined the mechanics for a $2 million technical assistance program administered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

It was defeated on the House floor despite broad support from developers, the municipalities, counties and a range of environmental and community partners. Later in the summer, however, Governor Ryan allocated $750,000 of Illinois Tomorrow funds for a similar initiative. Additional resources are needed to expand the program to meet the need in fast-growing and declining areas statewide (see graph above.)

Implement a Planning Negotiation Act authorizing county and municipal governments to enact ordinances that would help negotiators resolve disputes over planning, zoning, subdivision and capital expenditures. This tool would assist in the early resolution of local disputes, decrease local controversies and solve some disputes prior to costly administrative or judicial proceedings.

Launch a State Investment Program to package a variety of state incentives to reward local communities for implementing balanced growth strategies. This voluntary program should provide competitive grants to communities to implement innovations like transit-oriented development, industrial redevelopment, employer-assisted housing, intergovernmental preservation of natural areas, intermodal freight facilities, and native landscaping to reduce flooding.

Create an Effective Planning Structure for Illinois with the primary task of connecting state land use decisions, coordinating action across departments on state investments and developing a state resources management plan. A strengthened planning function would build on Governor Ryan's Balanced Growth Cabinet, enhance recognition by state agencies of local government plans, and serve as a central ombudsman on planning issues for local governments, developers or land owners seeking permits or other regulatory actions from state agencies.

The planning structure would have a core staff in the governor's office of experienced professionals and conduct outreach to help develop a vision for future growth and development for the State of Illinois.

Expand State Support of "Live Near Work" (Employer-Assisted Housing - EAH) which helps entry-level workers achieve home ownership near their jobs, while addressing statewide concerns over traffic congestion and the lack of housing options. MPC worked with several legislators last year to outline a proposal for $2.5 million state matching fund administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

An EAH pilot program with a company in west suburban St. Charles, IL has helped 14 employees become homeowners (paying well below the average sale price of comparable homes in their communities), and has saved the company over $100,000 in recruitment and training costs over the past year. These employees live closer to their worksite, thus reducing traffic, tardiness and turnover. A $2.5 million state fund providing a dollar-for-dollar match would entice more employers to participate, resulting in higher worker retention, and improved quality of life for new homeowners.

Establish a Local Legacy Program to provide incentives to counties to inventory their ecological, agricultural, scenic and historic resources, develop a resource protection plan, and implement that plan. A statewide Local Legacy Fund would be established to fund resource protection measures, including land acquisition and the purchase of development rights (PDRs) in counties that have developed a comprehensive resource protection plan. While the program would operate within a county framework, counties would collaborate with municipalities to develop the plan. A Local Legacy Program has three components: a) inventory of resources; b) development of a plan; and c) establishment of Local Legacy Funds.

Advance Property Tax Reform. The 2001 Spring Session of the Illinois General Assembly represents a unique opportunity to tackle both state support for public education and statewide property tax reform. The continuing appropriation enacted under the 1997 school funding reform law expires in 2001 - forcing a re-examination of school finance and tax policy. The over-reliance on local property taxes in Cook County and statewide deters business growth, affects the availability of housing for the growing workforce and unfairly links the opportunity for a quality education to where a child lives. MPC will work with regional and state partners through the Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities coalition. Coalition priorities are to: a) ensure that the foundation level is sufficient to provide a quality education for every student in Illinois; b) increase the state share of public school funding; c) support funding options that decrease reliance on local property taxes; d) enhance quality and preserve local decisions on school funding; e) support quality reforms that improve education results for all children; and f) support policies that improve access and use of technology in all public schools.

Reduce Cook County Taxes on Apartments and Manufacturers. Cook County Assessor James Houlihan has proposed reducing multi-family assessment levels from 33% to 26%, and industrial levels from 36% to 33% to unlock the county's growth potential and reduce tax pressures on homeowners. MPC supports these changes and is working to make sure they do not negatively impact schools or homeowners.

Cook County assesses business property and multi-family housing at higher levels than single-family homes.

In fact, business property taxes are two to three times higher in Cook County than in other areas of the state and other parts of the country. These higher property tax burdens discourage industrial, commercial and apartment development, limiting both employment and housing options.

Enact Comprehensive County Plans that work to simplify zoning regulations and bring housing closer to jobs. MPC encourages more coordinated planning between government agencies and other organizations to produce efficient, sensible and environmentally friendly growth. Examples of these efforts include:

  • The New Lake County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which is intended to promote development patterns that are not entirely automobile-dependent; increase affordable housing, shopping and employment opportunities near transit stations; support public investment in transit and pedestrian facilities; and help ensure a safe and attractive pedestrian environment near transit stations.
  • Still needed are incentives for expanded housing near transit and job centers.
  • McHenry County Consolidated Plan Update presents an opportunity for a holistic approach for housing and community development in the urban/rural area of McHenry County. The Consolidated Plan, last enacted in 1995, set aside funds to be spent primarily on housing, public services and infrastructure improvements.
  • Cook County Economic Development Program - MPC supported recent efforts to create a South Suburban Tax Reactivation Program for declining townships in south Cook County. MPC will work with other stakeholders to evaluate its implementation and look for opportunities to expand the program.

Regional

Support the integrated work of the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) 2030 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) Regional Plan. The CATS 2030 RTP is mandated by federal law to begin in early 2001 and should be based on NIPC forecasting. These two organizations must commit to work together in new ways to ensure that future transportation investments help achieve a preferred, balanced land use plan. The Campaign for Sensible Growth will assist NIPC with its ambitious strategy for public involvement. Commitments made in a 2000 Interagency Agreement should be pursued and reevaluated with civic partners in mid-2001.

Federal

Expand the Federal Transportation New Start Program, which would provide additional resources to modernize and extend metropolitan Chicago's aging rail network. These investments are needed to improve access to job corridors and to lessen traffic gridlock. Nationwide, there is $8 billion available for "New Starts" but more than $19 billion in projects in the planning pipeline, including several major ones in the Chicago region. Business Leaders for Transportation will continue to advocate improvements to the way we prioritize projects, coordinate closely with the Illinois congressional delegation, and seek opportunities to link with others around the country on expanding transit funding.

Invest in freight rail and intermodal transportation using funding from the Transportation and Infrastructure Finance and Restoration Act of 1998 (TIFIA). This provides federal credit assistance to major transportation investments of critical national importance such as intermodal facilities, highway trade corridors and transit and passenger rail facilities. Part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the TIFIA credit program is designed to fill market gaps and leverage substantial private co-investment by providing supplemental and subordinate capital. Business Leaders for Transportation has identified investment in freight infrastructure and joint communication facilities as a critical unmet regional need. MPC believes federal dollars can aid the planning process, unlock the growth potential of freight and distribution centers, and leverage private sector dollars.

Continue and expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC), which was created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and funds housing for low- and moderate-income households. Each state receives a uniform tax credit of $1.25 per person that it can allocate towards funding housing development that meets program guidelines. Currently, legislation is pending to increase this per capita allocation to $1.75 per capita. These tax credits are used to leverage private capital into new construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of affordable housing. Metropolitan Chicago urgently needs such resources to leverage more housing for a growing entry-level workforce and for Chicago Housing Authority relocatees.

Many of the early tax credit deals are about to expire. The minimum affordability period of an LIHTC project is 15 years and the first housing built under the program is almost that old. In Chicago alone, almost 50 percent of all LIHTC housing will be eligible to go "market rent" in the next five years, further expanding the need.

For more information, contact Peter J. Skosey, Vice President of External Relations at 312.922.5616 ext. 142 or email pskosey@metroplanning.org.

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