Watson gives chamber members a capitol update

Four years ago, when area residents played a key role in staving off Gov. Rod Blagojevichs attempt to close Vandalia Correctional Center, their efforts were in the forefront as legislators worked to prevent something like this happening in the future.

Now, legislators are looking at Orgills plan to close its Vandalia facility as they consider ways to make Illinois more competitive in the arena of economic development.

State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) mentioned the proposed closure of VCC as he told Vandalia Chamber of Commerce members last week about Blagojevichs current proposal to close Pontiac Correctional Center.

After the plan to close VCC was shot down in 2004, the General Assembly approved the Facilities Closure Act, which required the state to hold hearings that would allow communities hosting prisons to state how the closing of their prison would impact their area.

This is one of the good things that came out of this whole (VCC) thing that you went through, that no one should have to go through, Watson said, in announcing that a hearing was scheduled in Pontiac next Wednesday.

This has been received very positively, and it shows that some good comes from adversity sometime, said Watson, who is the Illinois Senate minority leader.

Likewise, he said, legislators are looking at making revisions to state laws that prevent Illinois from being competitive from neighboring states when it comes to retaining existing industry and luring new jobs.

Those discussions come on the heels of Orgills recent decision to discontinue its operations in Vandalia and Memphis, Tenn., and build a new distribution facility in Sikeston, Mo.

I do have to compliment the mayor and city officials for everything they did to sway Orgill officials Vandalias way, Watson said. They put everything they could into this, and put their best foot forward.

And I think the state did a reasonably good job also of putting incentives out their for Orgill, he said.

The problem, Watson said, is that Illinois is limited by state statute in what it can offer.

We will look at what they do in Missouri, and get an idea of what they have legislatively that we dont, of what we can get into the legislative process to put us on an equal footing with Missouri, he said.

That was the difference (in the Orgill decision), from what I understand, Watson said.

Illinois currently ranks 45th in job creation, he said. Thats not acceptable, and our tax policy has a lot to do with that.

Its all about the cost of doing business, its all about the negative tax structure that we have, Watson said.

We have to create incentives, we have to do this to compete with other states, or other countries, for that matter. Its all about jobs, as far as Im concerned, he said.

Watson also talked about cuts in Illinois Historic Preservation Agency being implemented by the governor.

Its criminal to think that for the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincolns birthday, that were not going to have New Salem (State Park) open (seven days a week), Watson said.

The same thing would happen here, to shut down (the Vandalia Statehouse) for a couple of days a week, to laying people off.

I dont understand it, I dont get it, he said. Its different priorities by different people.

Watson also talked about the special legislative session that Blagojevich called for this week, not voicing much optimism for progress on such issues as a new capital bill.

Im sick and tired of whats going on, Watson said.

Its outrageous that we cant sit down as a group of people and talk civilly about what needs to be done in this state, because three people (Blagojevich, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones) wont sit in the same room together, he said.

The proposed capital bill has been cut from $34 billion to $25 billion, Watson said, but there is no plan on how to deal such ideas as the concept of using property tax monies to fund education.

Its all about today, he said. Theres no concern about tomorrow.

Watson said the states debt has climbed from $9 billion from the time Blagojevich took office to $22 billion. Now, they want to borrow another $16 billion, he said.

Now, that is just total fiscal irresponsibility, Watson said.

In other action at last Wednesdays Chamber meeting:

Ambassador Committee Chairwoman Dana Whiteman announced that a ribbon cutting had been held at Aldi and that several others are scheduled in coming weeks.

June Mahon reported that the visitor total at the Tourist Information Center for the month was 378 individuals from 28 states.

Joanna Helm informed chamber members that a Home and Lifestyle Expo, sponsored by the Chamber, in cooperation with The Leader-Union and radio station WKRV/WPMB, is being planned for Feb. 28 at the Vandalia Junior High School and the Vandalia Elementary School gymnasiums.

Dave Bell reported that work is continuing on the creation of a Web site and revised logo for the chamber.

Dale Timmermann told chamber members that preparation work has been completed on 10 storyboards that tell of Abraham Lincolns experiences in Vandalia. The boards will be finished and delivered in late September or early October, he said. Timmermann volunteered to present programs about the storyboards to community groups.

On the topic of tourism, Mayor Rick Gottman said that he will be sending letters to state politicians, encouraging them to keep Illinois historic sites open the full complement of hours rather than the reduced hours recently proposed by the governor. Keeping those hours of operation is particularly crucial now, Gottman said, as the state prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincolns birth next year.

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