QUINCY -- Calling Illinois the transportation hub of America, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the state has underinvested in its infrastructure.
"It has also not expanded to keep up with the rest of the economic growth across America," he said. "We need to do a big infrastructure bill. I'm going to be pushing to get a balanced budget and do a major infrastructure investment program, so we can be investing in the rail system, the roads and the locks and dams here in Western Illinois, but all across the state."
The comments came at a town-hall meeting with employees Monday at Phibro Animal Health's manufacturing facility in the South Quincy Development District.
Marcel Wagner Jr., president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation, made sure to provide Rauner an update on work for the Mid-America Port in the South Quincy Development District. The proposed port a mile south of Lock and Dam 21 would be equipped with warehouse space, cranes and other loading mechanisms to transfer cargo between barges, railcars and trucks.
It is expected to take $28 million to get the port operational and between $70 million and $80 million overall. A financial study of the project is being undertaken by the Mid-America Intermodal Authority Port Commission thanks to an $83,000 grant awarded through the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Former Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider is a consultant for the port district, and is seeking grants and other funding opportunities. Wagner said the authority recently applied for a federal Fastlane grant to fund construction.
Wagner mentioned how Phibro relies on the Mississippi River for the shipment of minerals to its facility.
"It's always nice when one of your companies says, 'The river is important to us, too,SSRq " Wagner said.
While not citing specifics on how to pay for a statewide capital plan, Rauner said he could go along with some new revenue and tax options being proposed by legislators.
"There's been many things that have been put on the table, and I'm flexible," Rauner said. "We'll work that out. We need to pay for it, and we can. We'll find the money if we have a balanced budget, and if we have more job creation."
Rauner said he would work with President Donald Trump's administration to "make sure Illinois is positioned well." He said the state can advocate for the expansion of the lock-and-dam system on the Mississippi River. Proposals call for doubling the sizes of lock chambers from 600 to 1,200 feet.
Rauner also addressed the state's ongoing budget crisis during his visit, praising Phibro for increasing the company's workforce in Quincy from 61 in 2008 to 160 in 2016.
"We learned that you guys want to expand your rail lines and go around the building and expand this location, but you have a bunch of red tape and restrictions that you've got to go through," he said. "We've got to eliminate, streamline some of that to cut the costs, so you guys can grow and compete."
Rauner pressed his belief that the state must enact term limits, redistricting reform, pension reform and business reforms to improve the state's economy.
"We've got to grow our way out of our problems," Rauner said. "We'll never be able to tax our way out of our problems, and we can't just cut our way out. We need to grow."
Rauner called claims that he hijacked a "grand bargain" to potentially end a nearly two-year deadlock without a state budget as "political spin."
The Associated Press reported Democrats accused the Republican governor of calling several GOP senators into private meeting urging to oppose measures in the proposed deal. Rauner denies it.
"When people say, 'The governor is sabotaging the negotiation,' good grief, just the opposite," Rauner said. "I'm encouraging them. What I've said is very simple. Don't do changes that sound good but aren't real."
"It's a headline, but it's not really a change," he said. "All I've said is let's do some packages of changes that actually move the needle, so we can grow more jobs and protect the taxpayer."
Rauner complimented the Illinois Senate for the continued negotiations, as well as the House for passing legislation that would create a permanent freeze on property taxes.
"I hope they can bring it to a conclusion and get a balanced budget soon -- like today, maybe," Rauner said.
He added that he would even support Senate President John Cullerton's pension reform bill, which would offer employees a choice between how future pay raises figure into retirement income or whether pensioners receive cost-of-living adjustments in retirement.
"I'll do their proposal as a compromise," Rauner said. "I'd rather do more, but I'll do theirs."
In an email, Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said Rauner's remarks were "great news."
"I hope he gets word to his side of the aisle so we can pick up where we left off and get closer to restoring stability for Illinois," Patterson said.
Rauner also attended a business roundtable at Knapheide Manufacturing and visited Sprout's Inn over the lunch hour during his stop.