By Cynthia Ellis
U.S. Sen. Mark, Kirk R-Ill., is looking to the past in order to see into the country's future transportation needs.
Kirk visited Cope Plastics on Monday and touted his public-private transportation plan, as well as the climate for small businesses in Illinois.
"We're here because we really want a reality check on how small businesses are doing," Kirk said.
Kirk said the big focus in Congress this year is going be the transportation bill, which typically is passed during an election year. He said that two solutions have come up for it - an increase in the federal gasoline tax and a 30 percent reduction in the Transportation Fund.
The 18-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax no longer provides enough revenue because today's vehicles get better gas mileage, and Kirk said he believes raising the tax places limits on the working class.
"I believe if gas prices go above $4 a gallon, it will tip us back into a recession," he said.
Instead, he said he supports public-private partnerships.
Kirk said that the administration of President Abraham Lincoln is known for three things- victory in the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Transcontinental Railway Act.
"We built the largest infrastructure program in the history of the United States when Abraham Lincoln was borrowing money from everyone and spending it all on the Union Army," he said. "So, what money did he use to build 2,000 miles of railroad?"
He said the United States has forgotten how to mobilize private money for public purposes.
"In Illinois, until last year it was illegal (to have partnerships), because unions had such a control over our state," he said.
Kirk said he wants a federal bill to eliminate the barriers for private-public partnerships. He said the legislation he is proposing - the Lincoln Legacy Development Act - would remove federal restrictions, provide states greater flexibility to generate transportation revenues and enhance access to private capital investment in road, rail, air and port structures.
The act would allow the private-public partnerships to mobilize $100 billion in funding.
"It's a way to not borrow more money," he said.
He said an example would be new bridges built across the Mississippi River; however, they would charge tolls to motorists using them.
"The question is, 'Do you not want the work at all?'" he said. "To get all this, I need partners, and we need to have people who are fiscally conservative, but pro-economic development."
Moving away from the topic of transportation, Kirk said he was concerned about the pull that Missouri had on Illinois employers. He said he was supporting a local candidate who he felt understood the limitations there are on small business and the competitive advantage that Missouri and other states offer to employers.
Kirk introduced Jason Plummer, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the seat from Illinois' 12th Congressional District. Plummer's family owns R.P. Lumber Co.
Plummer said the state was facing many issues, including a lack of jobs, and with neighboring states continuing to offer businesses better deals, the unmployment rate only would continue to increase. He said whether it's because a business moves out of state or simply closes because it no longer can compete with those in neighboring states, something needs to be done.
"It's tough out there," he said.
Plummer said he received a letter that H&H Construction Services Inc. in Carlinville was closing because it no longer could compete with Missouri firms. He said the company has been in business for 50 years and employs 100 people.
Plummer and Kirk said that the interests of small business such as Cope Plastics need to be protected.
Jane Saale, president and CEO of Cope Plastics, asked what the company could do in the approach.
Kirk told her the company should pull together information about what it costs to operate per employee at its facilities in Iowa and St. Louis, compared to the plant in Godfrey.
"If that came to us, that would be pretty powerful," Kirk said.