State taxes on candy, fine wine and fees from video porker machines may produce a windfall for Austin-area community groups and agencies seeking to get a piece of the governor’s $29 billion capital spending bill.
In late May, the Illinois General Assembly shot down Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed 5-percent income tax hike, but handily passed his capital bill. The measure would produce billions in badly needed infrastructure dollars to fix roads, schools and mass transit. The governor still needs to sign the legislation before the money becomes available.
But for Bethel New Life, 4950 W. Thomas, the $450,000 in capital dollars it stands to gain is more about creating opportunity in the Austin community.
The faith-based, community development agency wants to build a 96-unit low-income senior housing facility. The group, which occupies the former St. Anne’s Hospital site, plans to tear down an existing parking garage on its campus to construct the facility.
The facility would be equipped to care for patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, who are often placed in facilities outside of their communities.
Richard Townsell, Bethel’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, explained that keeping seniors in their communities “is better for their socialization.”
Townsell noted the money from the capital bill is a drop in the bucket compared to the project’s overall cost of $24 million. But he commended state legislators for passing a capital bill that is the first in state history to include affordable housing.
Capital bills, he said “tend to be the big road [projects] that build the Dan Ryan and bridges and those sorts of things, which have no impact on our neighborhoods at all.”
Austin, he said, would benefit from the temporary construction jobs and more permanent positions this project would create.
While the Austin Chamber of Commerce is slated to receive $700,000 in capital funds to defray construction cost for a new facility, the agency’s volunteer executive director, Camille Lilly, is a bit more cautious.
“We’ve gotten dollars before [on paper], and we just haven’t received it,” Lilly said. “It is just what happens, but we still push forward.”
Plans to build a new facility for the organization have been on the table for years. The chamber, housed in Loretto Hospital, is eyeing at two locations for the new facility: Harrison and Laramie and on Madison Street.
The new facility would allow the chamber to create a resource center where entrepreneurs can obtain information on business-related programs like the Small Business Association. The goal is to further economic development, job creation and entrepreneurship in Austin, Lilly said.
Westside Holistic Family Service is in line for $350,000 in capital funds. Gale Lindo, the agency’s president, hopes to use the funds to renovate the agency’s alternative high school and relocate it to a different level of the agency’s headquarters at 4909 W. Division.
The move would expand the school from 10,000 square feet to 25,000, and include a science lab, computer lab, cafeteria and library/multi-purpose room. The expansion would allow the school to serve more students and offer smaller class sizes for more individualized instructions.
Lindo said she requested $2 million to do repairs to the entire building, but she added, “we will take what we can get.”
State Rep. LaShawn Ford said the spending in the bill is not pork, but capital dollars some matched by President Obama stimulus plan – to improve infrastructure. He said that Austin has been “out the loop” in terms of getting its fair share of capital dollars.
Many of its schools and roads are crumbling, he added.
“How’s this pork when we really have to make sure that we take care of the state’s roads and bridges,” Ford said. “And in Austin, if this is pork, we need a lot of it.”
But State Sen. Kimberly Lightford urged agencies not to start figuring those dollars into their bottom line just yet. Lightford noted the governor has threaten to withhold signing the bill until he gets an income tax increase to close the state’s $11 billion budget deficit.
“The governor hasn’t signed the capital bill yet and … we don’t have a balanced budget, so anything can happen,” Lightford said, noting that dollars listed in the capital bill could decrease or be eliminated altogether depending on the state’s budget woes.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that ain’t nothing done until it is all the way done.”
However, Lightford believes passing a 5- percent state income tax increase could take a bite out of the deficit. She called the increase a “solid” revenue source that could possibly bring in $8 billion to fund the state pension funds and put money in education. An income tax increase would allow the state to possibly cut $2 billion in social services instead of $8 or $10 billion, Lightford added.
“All of those programs that give our seniors assistance and help low-income families and provide subsidies will be at risk,” she said.
Lightford said the state has not increased its income tax in more than 20 years, but the hike from 3 to 5 percent “still keeps us as one of the lowest in the Midwestern region.”
“And it’s fair,” she said. “It is not picking on anybody. It is just a fair distribution.”
A sampling of capital projects for Austin:
Roughly $450,000 to the Resource Center for Westside Communities to purchase and renovate foreclosed properties for low-income housing.
$400,000 for renovations to Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake Street.
$400,000 for street lighting and resurfacing in the 29th Ward.
$350,000 to Westside Holistic Family Services, 4909 W. Division, to relocate and renovate its Westside Alternative High School.
$300,000 for infrastructure repairs and lighting upgrades in the 37th Ward.
$100,000 to Austin People’s Action Center for capital improvements, and roughly $450,000 to purchase and renovate foreclosed properties for low-income housing. That money also goes toward development and construction of a Women’s Wellness Center.
$100,000 to Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church, 116 S. Central, for a new training and educational development center at 112 S. Central.
$60,000 for general infrastructure at Michele Clark High School, 5101 W. Harrison.
$60,000 to Westside Health Authority, 5437 W. Division, for general infrastructure.
$50,000 to Spencer Elementary Math and Science Academy, 214 N. Lavergne, for infrastructure.
$50,000 to Access Community Health Network for renovations to the Austin Family Health Center, 335 N. Mason.
$50,000 to the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago, for general infrastructure improvements.
Roughly $45,000 to the Austin African American Business Networking Association for infrastructure.
View the entire budget at