CHICAGO -- The price tag for a proposed $987 million expansion of the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago grew by another $350 million last week as downstate legislators in the Illinois General Assembly added capital projects to the financing bill.
The bill, which is pending before the state Senate, was amended last Wednesday to include $250 million of bonding authority for water projects and $100 million for school construction in communities outside the Chicago area.
Judith Erwin, in spokeswoman for Senate President Phil Rock, D-Oak Park, said the amendment was the only way the bill was able to win approval from the Senate Executive Committee last week.
"We didn't have the votes without" it, she said.
State Sen. Vince Demuzio, D-Carlinville, the sponsor of the amendment, said it "just enhances the McCormick Place bill." Others, however, interpreted the addition of $350 million of bonding authority to mean downstate Democrats in the Legislature would support the bill only if the amendment benefiting their constituents stays attached.
Last year, downstate legislators tried to get $450 million of similar projects added to a package that included $1.38 billion of financing for the convention center expansion, as well as a 75,000-seat domed stadium. But the entire financing plan was cuttled by legislators, many of whom saw it as merely as gift for the Chicago Bears.
Earlier this year, the authority dropped the stadium from its plans to concentrate on getting financing for the one-million-square-foot expansion of McCormick Place through the General Assembly. Last month the authority unveiled a financing plan that calls for the issuance of $900 million of special obligation revenue bonds, backed by new or increased taxes on convention-related services, plus a share of the state's sales tax.
Still, it remains uncertain as to whether the bill will be passed by the time the current legislative session ends on June 30.
While Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley has thrown his support behind the plan, aides to Republican Gov. Jim Edgar said it is still udner review by his office. House Majority Leader Jim McPike, D-Alton, has warned that legislators may have a hard time supporting McCormick Place in view of the state's serious budget situation.
A recent review of the McCormick Place financing plan by the General Assembly's bipartisan Economic and Fiscal Commission found only minor problems with the package, mostly dealing with out-year revenue projections of existing taxes and the viability of some of the new "untested" taxes proposed in the plan.
Authority officials have contended that the tax package, which is estimated to raise $53 million in 1993 and then increase to $90.6 million a year for the period of 2003 through 2021, would be sufficient to meet debt service payments on the 30-year bonds and that the state sales tax would be used only for enhancement.