Durbin warns Warehouse funds are now in jeopardy
GOP-led federal budget cuts approved Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives could cripple the city's progress on redeveloping the Warehouse District, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday.
The Illinois Democrat, speaking at Kelleher's Irish Pub & Eatery on Water Street, said the House-backed measure to slash $61 billion from the federal budget included cuts from previously approved but untapped TIGER II grants issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That includes $10 million for the redevelopment of the side streets throughout the Warehouse District, a project that calls for adding new residential and commercial activity south of Downtown.
"Clearly they are in jeopardy," Durbin said about the TIGER II funds, eliminated through a 235-189 budget cut vote. "It's the first time ever in our history we've even had one house of Congress to say, 'we're walking away from an obligation we've accepted.'"
The tone during Durbin's news conference was different than one he made in October when he came to Peoria to announce that Peoria was one of three cities in the state to get a piece of the $600 million TIGER II grant. All of that money is to be cut under the House-approved plan.
During the Oct. 19 visit, and also on Monday, Durbin said he believes the Peoria project to be one of the most exciting in downstate Illinois, mixing in public infrastructure work with private investment.
But he also warned city officials to be mindful of a political climate in Washington, D.C., that puts that money in limbo.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a couple of items related to spending some of that TIGER II money, including a $1.9 million contract for the first phase of engineering work.
"I'm hoping we can be successful in restoring the funds," Durbin said. "There are no guarantees in this business. It's a very difficult political climate. I'm sorry they are caught in the middle here."
Mayor Jim Ardis said he anticipates the votes related to the TIGER II money to be successful Tuesday.
"My gut feeling is the council will still be supportive on the funding of our pieces (Tuesday), hoping they can get these things taken care of in Washington, D.C.," Ardis said.
Other city officials called on Congress to maintain the TIGER II money in order to attract jobs and bring more people to live in Downtown Peoria.
"The funding from TIGER II is critical in making the project happen," at-large City Councilman Ryan Spain said. "It's the make-or-break issue if we can move forward in increasing our residential population in Downtown Peoria."
Durbin's trip to Peoria came after he visited Moline to talk about how the budget cuts would affect a passenger rail project for the Quad Cities. Both Moline and Peoria are represented in the U.S. House by Republican congressmen who voted in favor of the cuts.
A representative of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, did not return a request for comment.
A news release issued by Schock's staff on Saturday in support of cutting signs advertising stimulus projects, indicated his support in the overall House plan.
"We need to stop this runaway spending in Washington and start cutting," Schock said in the news release. "Taxpayers have repeatedly said 'enough is enough' to this type of wasteful spending. It's time Washington listens to the public and stops future generations from having to shoulder mountains of debt."