Cultra has capital projects on his agenda

DeWayne Bartels

PEORIA— When an Illinois appeals court last week ruled the state’s funding plan for its 2009 capital construction program is unconstitutional, Illinois State Sen. Shane Cultra went on the offensive.

Cultra (R-53rd District), who represents part of Woodford and Tazewell counties, met with members of the TimesNewspapers editorial staff on Thursday to talk about the capital bill and other state issues. 

Cultra — who is filling the unexpired senate term of Dan Rutherford who won election as Illinois Treasurer — said the state needs the revenue the capital bill was going to bring in. 

“The capital bill is important to the state, to schools,” Cultra said.

The Illinois General Assembly, in 2009, approved a vast construction program to improve highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects throughout Illinois.

To fund the $31 billion program, the legislature approved a group of tax hikes and other revenue creators, such as increased license fees, to pay off the bonds for those projects.

That was where the appellate court found a legal flaw. The court said the bill containing the revenue enhancements and new funds violated a requirement in the Illinois Constitution requiring each bill to deal with a single subject matter.

If the appellate court decision is upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court, the decision will wipe out video gaming, higher liquor and vehicle fees and increased sales taxes on some products. 

The appellate court decision is headed to the Illinois Supreme Court, according to Gov. Pat Quinn. 

“While the administration’s request for a stay is pending with the Illinois Supreme Court, capital projects already in progress will continue as scheduled,” the governor’s statement said. “We would expect the Supreme Court to rule on a request for a stay in the very near future.”

Cultra said he is hopeful the supreme court will expedite the issue and find in favor of the original bill. 

Cultra said if the legislature is forced to re-do the bill it could be a tough sell because the legislature would be forced to create several bills at a time people are reeling from the highest tax hike in state history.

“People are already up in arms,” Cultra said. 

However, Cultra said, if the supreme court forces the legislature to break up the original bill he is confident this issue would receive bi-partisan support in the general assembly.

“It’s something I look to both parties to work together on,” Cultra said. 

Cultra also addressed the issue of jobs. 

On Thursday the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the unemployment rate dropped in the Peoria metro area in December. That continued a trend of declining jobless numbers through 2010.

December unemployment rates fell in every Illinois county for the first time since 1974, according to the state.

Cultra said he was unaware of that news. He said he found that hard to believe and that the governor needs to do much more to promote business growth, especially after signing into law a massive tax hike that will negatively impact business.  

“We need to streamline government regulation,” Cultra said. “The governor can make things happen if he wants to make them happen.”

Cultra said he hopes the current situation forces the governor to action. 

“We need to create a job-friendly environment. We need tort reform. We need workman’s compensation reform ... We’re doing everything wrong. When we are hurting people’s pocketbooks we are doing something wrong.”

Cultra said any positive movement will have to be initiated by the Democrats. 

“Right now we are in such a minority. We just have to keep fighting,” Cultra said. 

Cultra added there is a simple solution to make the state business-friendly if only the Democrats would embrace it. 

“The state ought to be going to Caterpillar, for example, and asking them what they need to build plants here instead of China,” Cultra said. 

“The problem is the “(Democrats) are controlled by trial lawyers and labor unions. The policies they want are good for them in the short run and kill jobs in the long run.”

Doug Finke of GateHouse News Service contributed to this story.