Gov. George Ryan proposes $2.5 million for three MPC-backed programs: A Live Near Work Fund for housing; Technical Assistance to help local governments plan sensibly; Local Legacy to help towns and counties identify and protect natural assets.
It didn't get much press, but the Fiscal 2002 budget message Gov. George Ryan delivered to the Illinois General Assembly on Feb. 21 asks for $2.5 million for a trio of programs developed by MPC and its partners in the Campaign for Sensible Growth.
Not that other growth issues were ignored in the $50 billion spending plan, beginning with Ryan's headline-grabbing call for the start of land acquisition for a third regional airport in south suburban Peotone. Many observers missed the significance, however, of the governor's mention of additional funding for Illinois Tomorrow, his year-old and still-evolving set of balanced growth initiatives.
In order to "help cities and villages plan their futures wisely," Ryan told a joint session of the Senate and House, Illinois Tomorrow should be expanded with:
- $1 million to renew and amplify Technical Assistance to Local Governments. Begun last year as a $750,000 pilot run by the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA), the Balanced Growth Capacity-Building Program was quickly and heavily over-subscribed by local governments seeking grants to do comprehensive planning aimed at sensible growth. Complementary legislation create a $6 million fund has been introduced by Rep. Doug Scott (R-Rockford) as HB 505.
- $1 million to create a state Live Near Work Fund. This would match dollar-for-dollar investments private companies make to help their entry-level employees buy housing closer to their jobs. As detailed in HB 504, which calls for a $3 million fund—also introduced by Rep. Scott—the fund would make matching grants to employers (for mortgage and closing-cost subsidies) and direct grants to non-profit housing groups (for housing counseling assistance to employees of participating companies). The idea is to replicate the successful model MPC helped create for System Sensor, Inc., a manufacturer in west suburban St. Charles. Sixteen System Sensor employees have become homeowners, 20 more are in the process of buying homes, and the company has saved $100,000 in recruitment and training costs in the first year of the program.
- $500,000 to create a Local Legacy program, similar to one in Maryland, that would provide state assistance for counties to inventory their ecological, agricultural, scenic and historic resources; to develop a protection plan; and to implement the plan. Program specifics are in H.B. 2358.
"Inclusion of these programs in the governor's budget is a significant victory for those who want a more coordinated approach to growth and development across the state," said Peter Skosey, MPC's vice-president for external relations.
But one victory doesn't win the war, Skosey cautioned. He urged sensible growth proponents to ask their legislators to support both the governor's funding proposals and the companion enabling legislation.
If there was a disappointment in the governor's budget message, from MPC's perspective, it was in the area of public school funding.
The civic, labor and business coalition that MPC has helped form—Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities—had called for a substantial increase in the state-guaranteed "foundation level" of minimum per-pupil spending.
But instead of raising the level to $4,700, as the coalition urged, Ryan called for a $135 increase to $4,560, which fails to meet cost-of-living expenses and is insufficient to produce quality outcomes.
Network 21 remains convinced that adequate and equitable funding of Illinois public schools will not be achieved until the principal funding burden is shifted away from local property taxes. This broad-based coalition will build support for comprehensive action on school quality, adequate funding and tax reform in 2002.