Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks
Greg Hinz On Politics
It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?
States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.
But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.
The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.
In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.
“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”
Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.
“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”
Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.
Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.
“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”
Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.
Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.
In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.
That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.
“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.
Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.