Governor Bruce Rauner on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have reshaped the Metro East Sanitary District, saying the legislation - sponsored by local Democrat legislators - was a politically-motivated attempt to undercut the board led by Republican Steve Adler.
Senate Bill 2368, sponsored by Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) and Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville), would have required that one of five commissioners on MESD, in effect, be the mayor of Granite City, Democrat Ed Hagnauer. It also would have required board's executive director, Adler, be a resident of the district on the date of enactment. Because Adler resides outside the MESD district in Alton, he would have effectively lost his job upon enactment.
Rauner penned the veto at MESD offices in Granite City, and in a press statement called the measure a "state intrusion on local government business with no evidence that the change would benefit MESD taxpayers."
In his veto message, Rauner wrote, “As currently comprised, the district is being effectively managed and has made great strides toward financial stability that will allow it to better address the needs of those it serves going forward. This change to state law is both unnecessary and inappropriate as a politically motivated maneuver that will undercut the good work of the Board of Commissioners.”
Rauner further stated that the bill seemed to be geared toward "manipulating the balance of power on a local government board, and would grant undue influence to a single municipality over decisions that affect a much broader population."
Adler also reacted the Rauner's veto, calling out House Speaker Michael Madigan, Hoffman "and their local Democratic pals" who he said "still believe in the grand old days of the East Side Levee District."
"Politicians come first and taxpayers come last; everyone in between has water around their ankles," his statement reads. "I think it's important that people disregard what politicians say and look instead at what politicians do. Our actions at MESD include balanced budgets, real flood control strategies, and using no more labor than required to accomplish the tasks at hand. Namely, the first successful Army Corps of Engineers certification for our levee system since before 2010."
The bill passed May 30 along party lines. Democrats could still take action by attempting to override the Governor's veto in the fall session, which would require a three-fifths majority vote in both houses.
The MESD is a levy maintenance district that provides flood protection, surface water drainage and sewage treatment to communities near the Mississippi River in Madison and St. Clair counties. It was created in the 1940s to protect munitions, refining and steel operations essential to the war effort.
Control of the board is political. The board chairman in the county that has the greatest equalized assessed valuation - which has been Madison County since the late 1970s, according to Adler - appoints the executive director and can choose three of five commissioners at least one from his or her opposing political party. The other two commissioners are chosen by the St. Clair County board chairman, one from each party.
Adler was appointed to head MESD by Republican Madison County Board chairman Kurt Prenzler and has maintained that since assuming leadership last year he has reformed operations. He said that financial problems had beset the district, which lost $8 million in 10 years under Democrat leadership.
Under Adler, the district has cut two dozen jobs and ran a surplus budget in 2017 for the first time since 2007.
Other area Republicans weighed in on the veto, including candidate for the 111th House District, Mike Babcock of Bethalto, who is running against Rep. Monica Bristow (D-Godfrey).
“This bill is the definition of a backroom deal,” Babcock said. “Its sole purpose to protect political cronyism in local government and I totally support Governor Rauner’s veto. Monica Bristow needs to explain to the people of this district why she voted for a bill that hands the sanitary board back to those who mismanaged it for years.”
Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) said the bill would have been detrimental to Metro East taxpayers.
“Today, MESD is operating at a surplus and now can afford to make repairs due to the fact that new leadership took over in 2017,” Meier stated.