Guest Column: Time for Illinois Legislature to move forward

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has again called on lawmakers to approve a capital construction plan, outlining in his State of the State address an ambitious $3.2 billion proposal that will leverage an additional $3 billion in federal matching funds.

The proposal will fund vital highway construction projects throughout the state, pay for new school buildings that are sorely needed and finance mass-transit improvements. Those projects will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs that will have both an immediate and long-term beneficial impact on the state’s economy.

The Legislature has rejected previous capital plans put forth by the governor since he took office in January 2003. As a result, Illinois has fallen behind on needed projects and will lose two more construction seasons if legislation is not approved during the current session scheduled to end April 7.

Opponents have expressed reservations about financing, called for greater details and stated a need for firm commitments on the projects that would be included.

Those on all sides of the political spectrum have long agreed on the need for a capital plan. They cite the jobs and opportunities that have been lost as a result of the extended construction slowdown, and the economic momentum that will result from having a plan in place.

Still, roadblocks remain and are perhaps more formidable now because the debate is occurring in the politically charged atmosphere of a year during which statewide officeholders and many legislators will be seeking re-election.

What is most needed at this time is a serious commitment by all parties to engage in a meaningful dialogue to resolve their differences and to address each other’s primary concerns.

Failure to do so will carry an even heavier price than in past years. More federal matching funds are available than ever before as a result of the new transportation bill that Congress approved last July.

It would be a great disservice to the people of Illinois if the state forfeited those funds because our elected officials cannot resolve their differences or are more interested in jockeying for political advantage.

With widespread agreement on the need for a capital plan, it is well past time to act on those intentions and see that legislation is approved.

The governor is to be commended for his persistence, but that is not to say his current proposal should necessarily be adopted without revision. Many complex issues are involved, and all parties must be open to compromise and reasonable alternatives.

What is most important is that all those involved commit themselves to making a good-faith effort to find common ground and that a capital bill be approved.

If that occurs, all sides will be able to take credit for helping to move Illinois forward.

If that does not occur, those who stood in the way will have to answer for jobs that are lost and opportunities squandered.

Mike Hilfrinke is executive editor of the Quincy Herald-Whig. His editorial is published here with permission granted through the Illinois Press Association.

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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