Phil Kadner: Sen. Kirk’s transit plan an insult to Southland
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 October 24, 2011 8:30PM
Updated: November 26, 2011 8:13AM
It’s not enough that this state’s elected leaders ignore the needs of the south suburbs, they often feel compelled to insult the intelligence of the people who live there.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) basically told a gathering of 200 Southland business and civic leaders that he has no plan to encourage economic growth in the region.
Speaking at a luncheon of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce at the Tinley Park Convention Center, the senator focused on one issue — the increasing cost of transportation in the United States and the federal government’s inability to fund needed projects over the coming decades.
Gas tax revenue, the primary means for funding transportation projects, is declining because people are buying more fuel-efficient cars, Kirk said.
During a PowerPoint presentation, Kirk said the government is faced with the prospect of allowing this to continue and falling billions of dollars short of its revenue needs, raising taxes or encouraging new public-private partnerships. He’s sponsoring legislation to encourage the latter.
Just as the transcontinental railway was built by giving railroads extensive rights-of-way, Kirk believes the private sector needs government authority to build and operate new highways (as toll roads), high-speed rail lines and airports.
Kirk is very enthused about the idea of new federal toll roads and a Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail line.
While talking about the need for private companies to build airports instead of the Federal Aviation Administration, Kirk used an overhead projector to display a chart. It listed dozens of public airports built in Europe and elsewhere by private developers in recent years.
At this point, I figured I knew where Kirk was going.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
(D-2nd) has a plan to build a third Chicago airport near Peotone through a private-public partnership.
Kirk, in the meantime, has helped secure billions of dollars in federal money for O’Hare International Airport expansion — a project, by the way, that the airlines (the private sector) say they don’t want or need.
Surely, Kirk was going to announce his support for Jackson’s third airport plan.
Nope. He didn’t say a word about it.
After the speech was over, Jeff Arseneau, chairman of the Southland chamber, was the first to ask the obvious. What about a South Suburban Airport?
If and when the airport is built, Kirk said, Will County should control and run it. But the FAA doesn’t have the funds to build the thing, so it should be done through a public-private partnership at some future date.
Was Kirk unaware that such a plan already exists?
As Kirk prepared to leave the meeting, I asked him about the South Suburban Airport again. He said again that it would take a public-private partnership because the federal government doesn’t have the money.
It sounded to me as if Kirk had no idea that Jackson had proposed such a plan, but a Jackson staff member said Kirk has been fully briefed on the plan.
So here is Kirk, talking about the need, the absolute necessity for public-private transportation projects. But he refuses to endorse the one project in Illinois that does exactly what he says the nation needs.
A project, by the way, that would create thousands of jobs and generate millions in tax revenue.
He evades the topic entirely during his speech and later talks about the need for Will County control if it ever happens, “far in the future.”
If that isn’t the very definition of hypocrisy, I don’t know the meaning of the word.
The only thing needed to make the South Suburban Airport a reality is political leadership.
Nearly 30 years ago, the FAA said a third Chicago airport was needed. A tri-state commission (representatives from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) was formed to pick the best spot.
Eventually, it decided on farmland between University Park and Peotone. But for decades the plan didn’t move forward.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other machine politicians didn’t want to risk losing any of the millions of dollars Chicago gets by charging airlines landing fees at O’Hare and Midway.
Jackson came up with a public-private partnership to build a third major airport only because he was told no federal money would be spent on the project.
Despite the economy being in a recession, with state and federal governments lacking funds and people begging for jobs, Kirk couldn’t bring himself to even mention the proposed airport without prodding.
Either the guy doesn’t believe a word he says or he thinks Southland residents don’t deserve the programs that he endorses for the rest of the nation.