Senators hear broad support for public transit upgrades, more affordable housing

04292019CM0263CHICAGO – Support for public transit upgrades and more affordable housing in Illinois were two common themes lawmakers heard in Chicago as they continue to discuss a statewide construction plan.

Members of the Joint Subcommittees on Capital, led by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and State Sen. Martin A. Sandoval (D-Chicago), heard ideas from transportation experts, local government officials, community infrastructure groups and other interested parties about what infrastructure projects desperately need investment as well as potential revenue sources to pay for them.

“We had a hefty agenda today and I think that plainly reflects the needs in the state,” said Manar, chair of the Appropriations II Committee. “We have a lot of important individuals and organizations involved in this process and I want to encourage everyone to help us advocate for a capital bill to bring infrastructure investment to Illinois.”

One major issue before the subcommittees was the need to upgrade public transit systems in northeastern Illinois. Leaders from the Regional Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and PACE all asked for funding to perform needed maintenance and upgrades for a network regularly used by a third of the state’s residents.

“Where transit grows, the economy grows and so does the community,” said Kirk Dillard, Chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority. “We must maintain our mass transit system.”

The lack of affordable housing in Illinois was another major issue brought before state lawmakers.

Representatives from the Housing Authority of Cook County, the Northwest Side Housing Center, Communities United and St. Anthony Hospital testified in favor of using funds from a statewide construction bill to build more affordable housing for struggling urban families.

“The need for affordable housing in this state is as great as it has been in recent history. The National Low Income Housing Commission estimates that Illinois is currently facing a shortage of nearly 300,000 affordable units,” said Rich Monocchio, executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County. “It’s imperative that the state make a substantial investment in the production of affordably priced housing.”

“I want to thank the folks that testified on behalf of affordable housing. I think that’s an important topic,” said State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). “I look forward to working with you all and the legislature to get that as a part of a capital bill.”

Senators continued to seek testimony with suggestions about potential revenue sources that could pay for infrastructure projects. Former Republican Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood advocated for an increase to Illinois’ motor fuel tax.

“The debate in Illinois is not about what to fix. Everybody knows that. The debate is how do we pay for it,” LaHood said. “My suggestion and my recommendation is that we raise the gas tax.”

Illinois’ motor fuel tax has not been raised since 1990. Since then, nearly 30 states, including Indiana and Iowa, have increased gas taxes to fund transportation projects.

The subcommittees will hold two more hearings on the following dates.

  • Friday, May 3 in Grayslake – University Center of Lake County, 1200 University Center Dr., Grayslake
  • Thursday, May 9 in Springfield – Capitol Building
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