When it rains in Maywood, the town’s police department floods.
“Every time it rains to any significant amount, we actually have to relocate our prisoners because the area is under water,” Mayor Henderson Yarbrough told a panel of state legislators during a recent hearing on capital improvements. “This has been going on for years, and it gets worse each and every year.”
Yarbrough said he hopes that Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $26 billion capital bill would provide the funds to fix Maywood’s waterlogged police station and other infrastructure woes. He noted the town of 26,900 has an unemployment rate of 12 percent, and needs about $7 million in sewer improvements.
Maywood also needs $4 million to relocate its municipal complex, which sits on a landfill, and $2.2 million to reconstruct the train depot, which is vital to redeveloping the downtown.
Yarbrough urged the state legislators to pass the capital bill, which would create 340,000 jobs through road construction projects.
“While we need in excess of $50 to 60 million, the village of Maywood is willing to share and share alike. We’ll settle for about $10 million right now,” Yarbrough told the panel.
The state has not had a major capital bill since convicted former governor George Ryan’s Illinois First bill in 1999. Although Quinn passed a $3 billion mini-capital bill in early April, that bill only funds minor road improvement projects such as resurfacing and repaving.
Many testifying at last Thursday’s hearing held at the Austin Town Hall contend that any capital bill should include money to develop human capital. Community groups, elected officials and organized labor want the capital bill to contain funding for education, job training and social service for daycare and homeless prevention.
Ernestine King, executive director of the Greater Garfield Chamber of Commerce, said the capital bill should provide incentives for business and job creation. The chamber serves both East and West Garfield communities.
Both communities, she explained, suffer from high unemployment and dropout rates, underperforming schools and a large ex-offender population. King said incentives to spur business and job development could help stabilize the area, especially along Madison Street. She said the street hasn’t seen any major development in the last 30 years.
“Madison Street is a major corridor in the area,” she said. “It has 153 businesses and only 5 percent are black in a community that is 95 percent black.”
King said she is not trying to minimize diversity but “we need resources … for training local residents to create their own businesses.”
Besides roads and bridges, Kim Jackson, of the Lawndale Christian Development Center, said improving access to the information super highway should also be included. Jackson said low-income residents are “left behind” because they’re using obsolete technology or don’t have computers, let alone broadband or WiFi Internet access.
“We haven’t heard anything around infrastructure improvement for technology,” said Jackson, who contends fiber optics could help bridge the digital divide in poor communities.
Funding for youth jobs must also be incorporated into the bill, Jackson added. In North Lawndale, she noted youth unemployment is at 60 percent. She contends there is a misconception that youths don’t want to work. Gainfully employed youths, Jackson added, are less likely to be involved with gangs and drugs.
“If monies are going to come into our communities, it definitely should impact our young people by them being employed,” she said.
Ald. Ed Smith (28th Ward) was the lone West Side aldermen to speak at the hearing. Smith quipped that his colleagues couldn’t attend the event, because they were busy fielding pothole complaints. But Smith noted the infrastructure needs for both downstate Illinois and urban communities are similar.
Both suffer from deteriorating bridges and roads and crumbling schools. But Smith added that investing in schools is necessary to keep students competitive in a shrinking world, thanks to the Internet.
“We are competing with everybody in the world because you can get on (the Internet) in 10 seconds,” he said. “We have to prepare our kids to … be competitive with kids all over the world … We have to fix our school system.”
To pass a capital budget, Smith contends the legislators cannot put the needs of Chicago or southern Illinois over each other.
“We all have to work cooperatively in this package because we are all in the same bag,” he said.
Despite the state’s financial crisis, State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7th Dist.) contends state legislators understand the need for a capital bill.
“I don’t think you can find one person in Springfield that doesn’t want to pass a capital bill,” she said. “They know it is necessary.”