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McLean County airport bill nears final passage in Springfield

Central Illinois Regional Airport
Ralph Weisheit
WGLT file
The bill would expand Central Illinois Regional Airport’s taxing boundaries – from just those living within Bloomington-Normal city limits to everyone in the county. The bill passed the Illinois House on Wednesday.

A bill that would change who pays property taxes to support the Central Illinois Regional Airport is one step closer to final passage.

The bill, SB 684, passed the Illinois House on Wednesday. It now moves to the Senate for final passage, as the spring session winds down in Springfield. It then needs Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature.

The bill would expand Central Illinois Regional Airport’s taxing boundaries – from just those living within Bloomington-Normal city limits to everyone in the county. Those living in rural areas would see a property tax increase, while those in the Twin Cities would see their taxes go down.

The bill has faced opposition from many living in those rural communities, as well as the McLean County Mayors Association and the McLean County Farm Bureau. Airport leaders who have sought the change for years say it would allow more financial flexibility in case of federal funding cuts, or an economic development opportunity, and better reflects that CIRA serves the entire county, not just Bloomington-Normal.

As the bill passed the House on Wednesday, Democrat Sharon Chung of Bloomington voted “yes.” Opposing the bill were all four House Republicans who represent parts of McLean County: Dan Caulkins, Dennis Tipsword, Bill Hauter, and Jason Bunting.

Caulkins, who lives in Decatur, said the issue should have been brought to a referendum.

“This is an issue that greatly affects everyone in McLean County. This is a property tax increase on every small community, every farm, in McLean County,” Caulkins said Wednesday. “And yet none of these people have had any input on how this process is going down.”

Hauter and Caulkins criticized the fact that the bill was sponsored by two Democratic lawmakers who don’t live in McLean County: Sen. David Koehler of Peoria and Rep. Jay Hoffman from Swansea near St. Louis. Hauter called it a “venue-shopping technique.”

“It’s a loss of local control, and it’s an insult to the representatives in the district. It’s an insult to the voters and the County Board. Vote ‘no’ on this bill,” Hauter said.

Airport leaders and the bill’s supporters say the legislature has made similar changes for other smaller airports across Illinois, including in Peoria County.

The bill would create the Central Illinois Regional Airport Authority. Hoffman said the bill was amended to change how the Airport Authority board members will be appointed. The version that passed the House includes a seven-member airport board – three appointed by the McLean County Board chair (two from small towns with less than 5,000 residents, one from an unincorporated area); two appointed by Bloomington’s mayor; and two appointed by Normal’s mayor.

“I attempted to address some of the issues that were brought up in committee, regarding the makeup of the board and ensuring that all parts of McLean County have representation. By doing that, I believe that the board is reflective of the entire community, including Bloomington, Normal, and all of the areas around McLean County outside of Bloomington-Normal,” Hoffman said.

Property taxes make up only a portion of the airport’s overall budget. And the airport’s tax rate makes up a small portion of a homeowner’s overall property tax bill, relative to local school districts and city governments. The owner of a $180,000 home in Bloomington-Normal last year, for example, would have paid around $85 in taxes to the airport.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.