The mayors of Rockford and Peoria testified before a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon on how vital a historic building tax break is and how dozens of renovation projects could be at risk if it expires.
Proposed legislation seeks a five-year renewal of the 25 percent River Edge Historic Tax Credit. Aurora, East St. Louis and Elgin also benefit from the break.
But Senate Revenue Committee chairwoman Toi Hutchinson said supporters of the tax break will have to justify to lawmakers the cost of renewing the credit in the middle of a budget crisis.
"We do need to make the argument for why we do what we do, why we spend where we spend," said the Democrat from Olympia Fields. She said she appreciated that the mayors were willing to visit Springfield and testify to importance of the tax breaks.
The (Peoria) Journal Star and Rockford Register Star report the tax credit involves projects totaling tens of millions of dollars and thousands of workers.
The tax break draws private investor interest to communities with struggling economies, said Rockford Democrat Sen. Steve Stadelman, chief sponsor of the legislation.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said the tax credit program spurred projects and has had "powerful impact" on the community.
"There's no doubt that, in Rockford, the projects scheduled for move forward now simply could not have been financed without this critical redevelopment tool," Morrissey said.
Rockford has 10 projects in development that are in the tax credit program, Morrissey said, with eight more in the proposal stage.
Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis told the Journal Star the program has "worked magnificently for us." He said the rehabilitation of the Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel might not have happened without state and federal historic tax credits.
The tax credits expire at the end of 2016. But waiting till next year to renew them could make developers hesitate on projects, said Michael Freilinger, who heads the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria.
"The developer is not going to be putting money into a project that'll take two or three years to complete if they don't know those tax credits are going to be there beyond 2016," Freilinger said.
A vote on renewing the tax credits could come later in the spring, said state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria.