Halvorson’s ‘Special Interest’ Airport Bill

Commentary
By State Rep. David Miller

Now that the third airport debate has resurfaced, it’s important to put the latest “special interest airport bill” sponsored by State Senator Debbie Halvorson (Senate Bill 2063) into context. I am well situated to place it in this context because I sought an opinion from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to determine the correct path for building a new airport. A similar request was made of the Attorney General by Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.

Several Illinois laws – including the Municipal Code, Aeronautics Act, Joint Airports Act, Intergovernmental Cooperation Act and the Illinois State Constitution –all authorize the construction of airports in Illinois.O’Hare, Midway, Joliet, Lansing, Rockford – all were built under these statutes, as were virtually every commercial airfield in Illinois for a century, including several airports in Will County.

But SB 2063 proposed a new “special interest” airport law. It would allow “private actors” appointed by politicians to serve as commissioners to oversee the construction, development and management of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport. More specifically, this new law would have prohibited elected officials (read: accountable) from running an airport, but require private citizens (read: unaccountable political contributors and influence peddlers) to do so.

That model – infamously employed by the Teachers Retirement Fund and the Illinois Healthcare Facilities Planning Board – is what landed Antoin “Tony” Rezko in prison.

Cynics might suggest that contributors be barred from serving on an airport board, but there is another problem with unaccountable “private citizens”, “appointed” to run an airport. We simply cannot ignore the history of Illinois politics – “don’t send noboby who nobody sent.” In short, the Halvorson Bill, SB 2063, would bring the “Chicago patronage way” to the south suburban airport, by allowing certain politicians, in state and county government to make appointments of “private actors” to the airport board.

That would sound the death knell for the airport because it would discourage the only means for paying for the airport. The federal government doesn’t build airports, the State of Illinois can’t afford to build an airport, and no private developer will invest in a facility run by unaccountable actors.

SB 2063 was noteworthy for another reason: integrity. ALNAC governments devised a plan, and identified the means of financing the construction of the facility. ALNAC then organized itself to secure the plan and the financing consistent with Illinois law. Since public financing is not available for the construction of the airport, Halvorson’s legislation essentially tells the private sector to take it or leave it. Do business the way we do business or not at all. If you want to do business in Will County you need to “court” a commission of “private actors.”

This is the model that is making our state unfriendly to business.

SB 2063 was suspiciously noteworthy for another reason: transparency. It passed without fanfare or publicity by its sponsor, the Majority Leader of the State Senate. It’s almost unimaginable that legislation effecting one the most contentious issues facing the south suburbs in 30 years managed to “slip through” the Illinois Senate without public notice. (Fortunately, the bill died in the Illinois House.) Lastly, on the same date of its passage in the Illinois Senate, after having learned of his newly gained status (5 appointments to the airport board), Will County Executive and former Senator Larry Walsh was so ecstatic that he celebrated and was arrested later that same evening for driving under the influence according to The Joliet Herald News.

The makeup of the new airport board is very important to the prospect of this airport. ALNAC’s plan is designed to protect not only the future of our region, but future airport commissioners from doing something wrong. And it’s a model that is free from Chicago style politics and insider deals.

ALNAC’s participating governments have studied airports. ALNAC has been endorsed by The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The SouthtownStar, The Defender, The Hammond Times, The Kankakee Daily Journal and more. They have participated in public debates and conceived a model that minimizes risk. They have entered into intergovernmental agreements of common and shared purpose to create 15,000 jobs during an economic slowdown. They have secured $300 million in private sector commitments. And they have eliminated bogus “finders fees”, “unnecessary consultants” and hidden patronage.

ALNAC’s private developers partner, meanwhile, who have built airports around the world, have said repeatedly that they have no tolerance for Chicago-style graft and corruption.

If Will County truly wanted to build an airport, not only would they join ALNAC’s lead, which is legal and tested, they would have followed the existing statutes that built dozens of airports in our state, which ALNAC did and Attorney General Lisa Madigan confirmed. But they did not. Instead, they sought to circumvent existing statutes and create “special interest legislation” that does not serve the state or the interest of the people.

Halvorson tries to defend her opposition to ALNAC (actually, Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr.) by saying “I won’t let Chicago politicians tell us what to do.” Yet, she admits to meeting with Mayor Daley on airport financing; asking Congressman Rahm Emanuel for strategic advice; seeking Gov. Blagojevich’s legislative support; and serving as Emil Jones’ majority leader.

In short, Senator Halvorson relies on the Chicago machine for just about everything, yet attempts to bad mouth Congressman Jackson as a “bigwig from Chicago.”
Halvorson says it’s about “local control.” ALNAC is run by University Park, a Will County home-rule community that borders the airport footprint, and is legally constituted under existing statutes.

Someone should tell Halvorson that there is a difference between local control and Rezko control.

State Rep. David Miller represents the 29th Legislative District.