“Illinois Jobs Now!” to bring state funds, jobs to Champaign

On July 13, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a series of bills making up the new capital construction program, which aims to put more people to work and breathe new life into the state’s economy.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the “Illinois Jobs Now!” plan will invest approximately $31 billion in various state projects and create and sustain more than 430,000 jobs over the next six years.

“This is a crucial economic recovery initiative that will generate what’s needed most in Illinois: jobs, jobs, jobs,” Gov. Quinn said in the statement. “Illinois Jobs Now! provides many long-awaited improvements to our bridges and roads, transportation networks, schools and communities.”

While the initiative is statewide, a substantial amount of that money will come to Champaign County.

According to information posted on the state government’s Web site, more than $70 million will go toward road improvements and bridge reconstructions from Illinois Route 47 in Mahomet to Prospect Avenue in Champaign.

The University of Illinois will receive about $160 million for Lincoln Hall renovations, an electrical and computer engineering building and a Petascale supercomputing facility.

Parkland College will also get more than $15 million to construct a student services center.

But while many of the program’s projects will certainly benefit communities throughout the state, one facet of the new plan has the potential to create more problems for some residents.

One of the bills signed into law as part of the program legalizes video gambling in bars, restaurants and a variety of other establishments. The new law allows about any business with a valid liquor license, including convenience stores, to operate a maximum of five video gambling machines.

Although Illinois already offers legalized gambling in its nine casinos across the state, critics of the new law believe gambling addicts may have a harder time resisting temptation when video machines are readily available in so many locations.

Others argue that passing a bill that encourages frivolous spending could create more financial hardship for those already struggling to make ends meet in the recession.

“That was a very difficult part of the legislation for me,” said State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana). “I do oppose gaming in general, but I think those who would be putting money into the machines are probably betting already.”

Nevertheless, Jakobbson said she believed the capital program would be more helpful than harmful to the people in her district because it would create so many jobs.

Of course, not everyone will benefit from that particular job market, and many will still have to deal with inflated prices and possible unemployment.

Opponents of legalized video gambling argue that some people, under additional strain from the recession and burdened with heavy debt, may look to the gaming machines for a quick fix to their financial problems. And that could lead to significant personal income losses statewide.

But State Senator Linda Holmes (IL-42), who sits on the Subcommittee on Gaming Activities, said the increased revenue from legalized video gaming would benefit residents by boosting both the state and local economies.

“I look at it the same way as I look at the bars in the state,” said Holmes. “We don’t close down our bars just because we’re in a recession.”

Holmes said the Illinois Gaming Board does offer assistance to those with gambling problems and addictions, but added that it is up to individuals to be responsible with their finances.

“We can’t legislate common sense,” said Holmes. “If people don’t have the money to spend on gambling, they shouldn’t be gambling.”