Mayors say they oppose STAR bonds bill

Ann Knef Oct. 29, 2009, 6:16am

As state legislators prepare to take up the controversial STAR (sales tax and revenue) bonds bill in veto session this week, Troy Mayor Tom Caraker said he and a group of city leaders stand in strong opposition.

He said he wasn't going to be "politically correct" and keep quiet.

"It is the most unfair, irresponsible piece of legislation that has passed the General Assembly," Caraker said.

The STAR bonds bill, sponsored by Sen. James Clayborne (D-Belleville), would capture at least $15 million a year in state sales tax and channel it to developers. The bill supports a proposed 900-acre development in Glen Carbon called University Town Center (UTC).

Bruce Holland of Holland Construction is president of UTC. John Costello, son of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville), is a principal of UTC. The bonds would be repaid with proceeds from the five percent tax that the state would normally collect.

Gov. Pat Quinn did not sign the bill that passed in the summer. Instead, Quinn offered an amendatory veto that would split taxes with developers on a 50-50 basis. The bill is set to be heard this week, according to the Illinois General Assembly website.

"The Illinois General Assembly is going to give away $15 million a year when they can't reimburse Medicaid ...let alone not pay the schools?" Caraker said. "The State of Illinois is borrowing $1 billion to make payments on these things...then turn around and give $15 million to a private developer?"

In a phone interview Thursday, Caraker said Holland met recently with him and mayors from Edwardsville, O'Fallon, St. Jacob, Pontoon Beach and Collinsville, as well as other city officials to try to "sell us on STAR bonds."

He said there was "unanimous" opposition.

O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham confirmed that he was strongly opposed to the project. Messages have been left with Edwardsville Mayor Gary Niebur, St. Jacob Mayor Ray Muniz, Pontoon Beach Mayor Harold Denham and Collinsville Mayor John Miller.

Glen Carbon Mayor Robert Jackstadt has said previously he stands behind the project.

Caraker said University Town Center would "absolutely stop any future development" in surrounding communities within 25-50 miles.

He said he is "pro growth," but that this proposal would make it difficult for Troy to compete if businesses could go to Glen Carbon and get 100 percent subsidized construction.

He called the developers' assertion that 10,000 jobs would be created in the project "irresponsible."

"I am a strong union supporter," he said. "But, there could never be 10,000 jobs. It would be virtually impossible."

Caraker has been mayor of Troy since 1997. He operates a Troy business, Flo-Systems, a water systems company.

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