ROCKFORD — Four agencies have joined the Rockford Airport Authority in asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to protect a 25-acre prairie remnant from an airport expansion project.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a court filing last week that the Natural Land Institute has no legal status or jurisdiction to protect the Bell Bowl meadow, which is located on Rockford airport property.
“This case should be dismissed accordingly,” the filing states, the Rockford Register Star reported.
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The Natural Land Institute lawsuit, filed in October, claims federal agencies violated federal and state conservation laws when they approved a $50 million expansion project at Chicago Rockford International Airport.
The lawsuit alleges the construction work will disrupt the Bell Bowl prairie and that it is a remnant of an ancient prairie that is home to rare and endangered plants and insects like the rusty bumblebee.
The Natural Land Institute says its members have helped manage the prairie since the 1950s. The group wants the Greater Rockford Airport Authority to redesign the expansion, including a service road that would cross the prairie in Rockford, about 80 miles away. (130 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.
The project is on hiatus until March 1 so airport officials can determine if the federally protected rusty plate bumblebees are hibernating on the prairie.
The parties are due back in court on February 17.
9 things to know about Pritzker’s budget plan
The largest expenses of the Illinois General Revenue Fund continue to be K-12 education and pensions. These will represent 20.7% of the general expenditures proposed in the next budget, or approximately $9.6 billion.
The governor has proposed adding an additional $500 million to the pension payment beyond what is required by law for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
That’s notable, as previous governors have been widely criticized for undermining the pension system — something Pritzker proposed, then quickly abandoned, during his first year in office. Critics often point out that the state law governing pension payments already skews the system from what accountants suggest it should be paid.
The governor has proposed spending $300 million of the current year surplus to repay pensions, with $200 million added to the statutory payment in the next budget.
The governor’s office estimated that the $500 million increase beyond statutory amounts would reduce unfunded liabilities — which stand at about $130 billion — by about $1.8 billion. A pension buy-back program previously approved by the General Assembly reduced that liability by about $1.4 billion, according to the governor’s office.
Thomas J. Turney, The State Journal – Register via AP
Governor JB Pritzker speaks during his State of the State Address at the Old State Capitol Building February 2 in Springfield.
Thomas J. Turney, The State Journal – Register via AP
About 21% of the budget is spent on pre-K-12 education, an increase of $498 million from a year ago.
This includes $350 million for the evidence-based funding formula for K-12 schools, which prioritizes new funding to schools furthest from their “adequacy” goal, which account class size, local district property values and other factors.
The budget calls for an additional $54.4 million to provide early childhood education services for another 7,100 children, and an additional $96 million in transportation and special education grants for schools.
An additional $12 million would be added to the budget of regional education offices to address truancy and chronic absenteeism, and funding for agricultural education would increase by $2 million.
Temporary tax relief
The governor cited rising inflation as the basis for creating about $1 billion in temporary tax breaks for fuel, groceries and property taxes.
The fuel tax relief would not lower gasoline prices, but it would prevent a statutory annual fuel tax increase from taking effect this year. It prevents a hike of 2.2 cents per gallon of gasoline, according to the governor’s office — a taxpayer saved him $135 million.
The money from the fuel tax does not go to the general revenue fund, but rather to road construction projects. The tax holiday does not appear to affect a proposed $46.5 billion capital infrastructure budget, which is mostly an extension of Illinois’ 2019 rebuilding plan.
The governor also proposed reducing a 1% state food tax for the fiscal year, a savings for taxpayers pegged at $360 million. The state would reimburse local authorities for the effect of the tax exemption.
Illinoisans currently eligible for a 5% property tax credit under current law — that is, joint filers earning less than $500,000 and single filers earning less than $250,000 — would be eligible another 5% property tax credit under the proposal, up to $300. Savings to taxpayers are estimated at $475 million.
Rainy Day Fund
At its peak, Illinois’ “rainy day fund” contained only about $300 million since its inception in 2001, but that was reduced to almost nothing during a budget stalemate under the former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.
Pritzker’s budget proposes to add $600 million to the fund with an additional current fiscal year budget, while committing $279 million to the fund in fiscal year 2023 to bring the balance to $879 million .
The governor also offered to spend $898 million on reimbursing overdue health insurance bills.
The beleaguered Department of Children and Family Services would see a funding increase of $250 million, or 16%, to about $1.3 billion from general revenue. This includes pricing reforms for private sector providers to address staffing shortages, totaling $87.1 million.
The budget also includes $15.5 million to hire 360 additional staff to handle growing caseloads, improve caseload ratios and continue operations in licensing, monitoring and clinical services. .
Funding for nursing homes would increase by $500 million as lawmakers must pass fee reforms and a new provider assessment designed to maximize federal dollars, encourage improved care and staffing ratios.
Unemployment trust fund
As of Feb. 1, Illinois owed the federal government more than $4.5 billion for advances received to keep its unemployment insurance trust fund afloat during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. By September 30, Illinois will owe nearly $32 million in interest on the loan.
Failure by the state to take action to reduce the deficit could lead to massive unemployment insurance rate hikes for businesses and benefit cuts for job seekers.
The budget does not include money to repay the loan, but the governor’s office said it remains in negotiations with lawmakers and labor and business representatives on a solution. Serious consideration is being given to using much of the remaining $3.5 billion in US federal bailout funding to pay down the deficit, according to the governor’s office.
Pritzker noted that his budget includes an $18.6 million increase to allow for three classes of Illinois State Police cadets. Another $5.4 million will go toward the opening of a new forensic lab in Decatur in August.
The budget also includes $4.5 million to fund body cameras for ISPs under a criminal justice reform bill passed a year ago, as well as to provide the Council with training and standards. from Illinois Law Enforcement $10 million for the distribution of grants to local law enforcement for body cameras. .
The Department of Human Services budget includes $240 million as part of a two-year, $250 million commitment to the Reimagine Public Safety Act, which aims to invest violence prevention resources in some of the areas most dangerous in the state. Only $5 million of that comes from the general revenue fund, $235 million of which is funded through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The budget does not ask to raise taxes to create new revenues.
The state expects a 4% increase in tax revenue to $22.4 billion. Corporate taxes are expected to fall 5.4% to $4.4 billion, with sales tax falling 1.3% to $9.9 billion and other sources bringing in $3.1 billion.
The lottery is expected to bring in $754 million, legalized gambling $157 million, and adult-use marijuana $142 million. Federal sources account for just over $4 billion.