Guest Column: Rockford to benefit from this year’s state budget

After four intense months of negotiation and compromise, legislators were able to come to an agreement about this year’s budget priorities and adjourn for the summer. Although the process is never easy, I am very pleased with this year’s result. We were able to pass a balanced state budget that increases funding for education and health care without raising taxes. I also worked to make sure Rockford’s priorities were reflected in this year’s budget, passing legislation to bring new economic development opportunities to the banks of the Rock River, increasing funding for Rockford’s anti-truancy programs and providing property tax relief for local seniors.

As it is every year, working to improve education was one of my top legislative priorities. I worked to secure an additional $6.3 million in new funding for Rockford schools, bringing the total state funding level for local schools to nearly $88 million. I also supported the creation of a pilot program to reduce class size, providing students with more one-on-one attention and voted to dedicate $45 million in state funding to make preschool more accessible to local families.

While we must continue to work to improve our local schools, we must also focus on creating safe and healthy learning environments for our children. This year, I joined my colleagues in supporting House Bill 2414, which bans the possession and sale of semiautomatic assault weapons, such as Uzis and AK-47s, in Illinois. I believe this common-sense measure will help prevent gang violence without impeding on the rights of law-abiding citizens. During the decade when the federal assault weapons ban was in place, the national murder rate decreased by 25 percent. If the federal government refuses to take action, then I believe it is up to the state to keep these weapons off our streets.

In addition to fighting to protect our neighborhoods, I also worked to bring economic development and jobs back to the banks of the Rock River. In the final hours of session, I was able to incorporate Rockford in an innovative new pilot program to redevelop downtown river communities. The River Edge Redevelopment Initiative offers businesses significant tax incentives to develop dilapidated and polluted riverfront properties. This program promises to attract new businesses, tourists and jobs to downtown Rockford, and I am excited to bring this inventive program to our community.

Rockford is at the crossroads of the northern Midwest, and maintaining and updating our transportation infrastructure remains a vital part of our local economy. I worked to incorporate $48.8 million of local road improvement projects, scheduled to begin this year, into the state budget. These projects include: resurfacing and gutter improvements on State Street from Rockton to Chestnut, intersection improvements and curb and gutter reconstruction on Illinois 251 from 15th Avenue to Harrison Avenue, resurfacing on U.S. 20 from Cunningham Road to I-39, and bridge rehabilitation on I-39 over the Kishwaukee River. Improving our transportation infrastructure is crucial to attracting commerce to our community, and I remain committed to improving Rockford’s roadways, train lines and air travel.

Other highlights in this year’s budget include a $5 million increase in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding and nearly $35 million for a wage increase for state child care and home health care workers, two professions that are dominated by women and are typically underpaid. I also worked to secure $250,000 for Operation CeaseFire, an intensive community outreach campaign that works to “stop the shooting.”

Rockford is a diverse community with a number of competing needs, and as state representative, it is my job to help determine which needs are the greatest and make sure the state meets those needs. I am very pleased with this year’s budget because we were able to dedicate more funding to education, improve health care coverage for working families, offer financial incentives to create jobs in our community and improve our transportation infrastructure. When all is said and done, Rockford definitely comes out ahead in this year’s budget.

State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67) represents Rockford in the Illinois House of Representatives.

From the May 17-23, 2006, issue

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