Friday, May 28, 2010

So Just How Big a Deal is It?

Bob Butler cried tears of joy tonight as the Illinois Senate gave him what will likely be the crowning achievement in his nearly five decades as mayor.

That's just how big a deal this evening's vote in favor of Senate Bill 2093 was.

Never could Marion's fiesty mayor of 47 years be described as speechless, but when the Senate Labor Committee approved the bill this afternoon, all he could do was grin as he left the room afterwards.

Tonight, he cried, when the Illinois Senate passed the STAR Bonds bill on a 2-to-1 margin with 34 ayes, 17 nays and 3 voting present.

Never one to shy away from emotion in a city council meeting or an interview with reporters, Butler's usually known for his quick wit or sharp retort like his "stop whining" comment to Mount Vernon at a recent Southern Illinois Mayors Association meeting.

City Hall followers have seen him mad, angry, exasperated, enthralled, engaged, and in any number of emotions, but tears of joy may have been a first.

The STAR Bonds bill, otherwise known as the Innovative Development and Economy Act, represents more than just another economic development tool for the city. As critics repeatedly pointed out today, it could be as much as $400 million in rebates to developers over the next few decades if all goes as planned.

All being more than 6,000 construction jobs and nearly 5,000 permanent positions.

To put those incentives in perspective that's 100 times the amount the state kicked in for the Southern Illinois Miners stadium at Rent One Park five years ago.

That's around 10 times more than the state-funded improvements on Route 13 and the new upcoming I-57 interchange in Marion that's now just starting.

Potentially it's a bigger impact than the coming of the mall and the first use of tax increment financing districts 20 years ago. In a word, it's huge.

Historically, it's like getting the interstate finished and open with two interchanges at the edge of your city — something that happened to Marion during Butler's first term.

And it almost didn't happen.

The Senate's Committee on Assignments sent the bill to the State Government and Veterans Committee for a 10 a.m. scheduled hearing this morning. But opponent and Mount Vernon state Sen. John O. Jones sits on that committee. Apparently, the votes weren't there, or at least represented too much of a risk.

So back to the Assignments state Sen. Gary Forby carried the bill. It could be sent to the Executive Committee some thought which didn't meet until much later. In the end, it went to Labor, a committee normally chaired by Forby himself, for mid-afternoon.

He opened the committee for business then turned over the gavel to another so he could testify on his bill's behalf. Supporters, opponents, lobbyists and media packed Room 212, the ornate hearing room on the second floor of the Capitol that once housed the Illinois Supreme Court.

Dozens signed slips stating their support or opposition. Forby and developer Bruce Holland testified in favor. Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesney spoke in opposition to SB 2093, but in favor of another bill that would add Mount Vernon to the mix.

Forby's two state Reps, John Bradley and Brandon Phelps, started the session with last minute lobbying of the committee members themselves. For 15 minutes Forby delayed the start as the crowd continued to draw its way inside.

During the testimony, Bradley repeatedly left his seat crouching at Forby's side with an answer or suggestion to an opponent's remark. An expectant father in a maternity ward couldn't have been more anxious. This was their baby. It was time to deliver.

The committee voted 8-2 in favor and sent it to the Senate. Another committee took over the room. Forby needed a breather and headed back to his office. They'd passed the first challenge. Now he had just an hour to prepare for the next.

When the Senate opened for its final session Forby took to the floor and argued his case. Opponents of the bill split between those who thought it went too far, and those who argued not far enough. Include Mount Vernon at the very least, they pleaded, if not the entire state.

After 40 minutes the acting Senate President called for the roll. Backers had hoped for 36 votes, the super majority needed to override any vetoes, but settled for the 34.

Still afterwards,the developers felt satisfied. If needed there might be some ayes in those who voted present, not to mention the vote of the Senate leader himself, John Cullerton, who was not present and didn't vote. The moves today through the committees, not to mention the almost last minute vote on the bill itself wouldn't have happened without his blessing.

As the supporters and opponents left for their long drives home, the question for the developers and lawmakers became what to do next.

With President Obama arriving in Chicago today, Gov. Pat Quinn had left for the Windy City prior to the vote. He wasn't in town, but his staff remained, and Bradley and others immediately reached out.

Then there were calls to others who had helped, letting them know the joyous news. For the younger Hollands, the developer's son and nephew, they told the same message but to a different audience — the companies that had been interested for months in the plan.

While it's true as Forby and Holland often had to admit today, that no one had signed on to the project as yet, it didn't mean no one was interested. The calls went out; the bill has passed. Let's get together and talk.

They'd been to this point before the previous year when lawmakers passed the bill for Glen Carbon, before Quinn's amendatory veto. They made some changes and addressed his concerns in the new bill that passed today. And now they wait.

And so do we all.


618football said...

Here is a petition to let Great Wolf Lodge know that we want them to come to Southern Illinois. We went last year to Kansas City and had a blast. The kids ask every week to go back.

Tim said...

Thanks for keeping us up to date on this Jon!