More groups are opposed to STAR bonds legislation

Ann Knef Feb. 24, 2010, 11:38am



Citizen action groups are lining up against legislation that would divert state sales tax revenue to support development of a giant retail and recreation project at the crossroads of Interstate 255 and 270 in Madison County.

Richard Ellerbrake of Lebanon, spokesperson for Stop158: Citizens for Smart Growth, said his organization is strongly opposed to funneling sales tax to developers of the University Town Center in Glen Carbon. He said it would be one of the biggest TIF-type local development incentives in U.S. history and one that might be vulnerable under current economic conditions.

Developers include Bruce Holland and John Costello, son of Congressman Jerry Costello.

"Population growth is sluggish, retail is hurting, public coffers are depleted, and resistance to higher taxes is growing rapidly," Ellerbrake said. "Six Flags, the region's recreation destination, is trying to emerge from bankruptcy. It is unlikely the area could support a similar project."

Ellerbrake said his group promotes "smart" growth—that which works regionally, using tax money to repair and replace aging levees, roads and bridges, sewer and water systems and strengthens health and educational facilities.

Sales tax and revenue (STAR) bond proposals are being heard this week in Springfield as amendments to two separate bills – the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Administrative Act and the State Facilities Closure Act.

State Rep. Tom Holbrook (D-Belleville), who had become chief sponsor of the proposal after the measure sputtered last year, filed an amendment to Senate Bill 2093—the mental health bill—in January. On Tuesday, State Sen. James Clayborne was re-designated chief sponsor of the bill.

And, Clayborne last week attached the STAR bonds bill to House Bill 2376, the facilities closure bill.

Supporters of the legislation have said the project would create 10,000 new jobs.

Ellerbrake said it was "particularly outrageous' that one of the STAR bond measures was "hiding" in a mental health bill.

Frank Heiligenstein, a St. Clair County Board member and president of Citizens Federation of St. Clair County, urged legislators to drop the STAR bonds proposals all together, rather than trying to "tweak" it.

"In addition to the rerouting of sales tax revenues, what type of horizontal displacement of area businesses will occur and how many of these businesses will be closed because of this subsidized competition?" he asked legislators in a letter dated Feb. 23.

Citizens Federation is comprised of approximately 400 families. The organization follows tax-related state legislation for its members.

Heiligenstein also said that TIFs have caused fiscal shortcomings for state and local governments.

He said that in 2009, TIF districts in St. Clair County took $58 million in property taxes "off the table" for local units of government.

"Over 65 percent of those funds are going to public schools," he said. "Most of those schools are experiencing revenue shortfalls, especially since the state is not making the state aid payments in a timely manner."

The Southwestern Illinois Council of Mayors, made up of more than 40 area mayors, also objects to the legislation saying that many of the provisions in the STAR bonds legislation threaten to drain tax bases of neighboring cities and villages.

The Illinois Department of Revenue Director predicts "cannibalization," warning that the Glen Carbon project wouldn't create new sales but would only capture sales from other stores.

In its fiscal note, the revenue department estimates that between $450 million and $525 million in annual sales will be displaced from the surrounding communities to stores in the STAR bond district once the development is completed.

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