Jobs, pay and tax hike referendum among issues highlighted at Hampshire Area Chamber luncheon
By Denise Moran For Sun-Times Media January 23, 2014 11:04AM
State Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley), left, and Kane County Board member T.R. Smith (R-Hampshire) talk to Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon attendees this week. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2014 6:20AM
HAMPSHIRE — Issues ranging from job growth to a Kane County tax hike referendum were highlighted at a Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week featuring state Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley) and Kane County Board member T.R. Smith (R-Hampshire).
Both talked about current issues facing Illinois and how these matters are affecting businesses and residents in the state.
Pritchard said that Illinois experienced a less than 1 percent job growth rate in the past year. That compares to North Dakota’s job growth rate of 3.5 percent, he said.
“Illinois is not employing people at the same rate as its neighboring states,” Pritchard said. “Illinois ranks 50th in prospects for 2014 job growth. It ranks 47th in unemployment at 8.8 percent, which is only slightly better than Michigan, Rhode Island and Nevada. The slow job growth has cost Illinois $6 billion in lost tax revenue over the last decade.”
People are leaving the state, said Pritchard, who noted that United Van Lines reported 62 percent of moves in Illinois are outbound. Only New York and New Jersey have more outbound moves.
There is a debate in Illinois about raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
“I don’t think it (raising the minimum) will happen nationally,” Pritchard said. “It could happen here.”
The minimum wage in Illinois is currently $8.25. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers in Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa pay the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. Michigan’s minimum wage is $7.40.
Pritchard said that the recent pension reform legislation in Illinois did not accomplish desired goals.
“There were unconstitutional changes to benefits, an insignificant reduction in budget pressure, and an unfunded obligation still at $80 billion,” Pritchard said. “The pension reform fails to correct the average career salary and end-of-career salary jumps.”
Medicaid covers more than 3.4 million people in Illinois, or one out of every four Illinoisans, he noted.
“We’ve expanded Medicaid under the federal program,” Pritchard said. “However, over half of the people getting Medicaid are not qualified to receive it.”
In order to grow jobs in Illinois, Pritchard recommends “balancing the budget and paying bills, invest in and expect college and career readiness, become more business-friendly and take steps to help businesses succeed, modernize all types of infrastructure, reform tax code and fees, and create a positive image of Illinois as a desirable place to live and work.”
Smith talked about the referendum question, which will ask voters in March to approve a Developmental Disability Service Board to help the more than 1,200 Kane County children and adults who are on the waiting list for services and the nearly 20,000 others who will need services in the future.
If the referendum for a property tax rate hike of .1 percent is approved, the owner of a home with an equalized assessed value of $200,000 would pay an extra $52 a year in taxes.
“If approved, the referendum would raise property taxes,” Smith said. “It’s a heartfelt situation. There is another organization that has come out against this. Area residents will be getting information from both sides.”
Smith said members of the group AID (Association for Individual Development) originally came before the county board. They brought some of the disabled persons they want to help with them. They asked for an amount that was approximately one-sixth of the county’s budget. After the county voted down their request, they worked to gather signatures so that they could put the matter before the voters.
Smith voiced concern over the proposed Longmeadow Parkway Bridge Corridor.
According to the Kane County Department of Transportation, the proposed four-lane Fox River bridge crossing and four-lane arterial roadway corridor with a median, approximately 5.6 miles in length, is meant to alleviate traffic congestion in northern Kane County. The proposed east-west road would pass through portions of Algonquin, Carpentersville and Barrington Hills as well as unincorporated areas of Kane County.
The project earmarked $4 million in federal funds for right-of-way acquisition and engineering. It has an estimated total cost of $117 million for the remaining phases.
“They want to make it a toll bridge,” Smith said. “My concern is if there is not enough money generated from tolls, the cost will go to the taxpayers.”
Hampshire village Trustee George Brust asked about the transportation impact fee in Illinois that only applies to DuPage and Kane counties.
“I’ve been trying to get rid of this fee for the past six years,” Brust said. “T.R. has worked with me. If you build a business in Kane County, you are assessed the transportation impact fee. We need to let the county board know that their tax is killing businesses here.”