Rauner: Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation will fund overdue renovations
After taking rhetorical shots at the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which he said blocked state-backed legislation, Gov. Bruce Rauner, as part of Ag Day recently at the State Fair, announced the formation of a private Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation to do what the failed legislation would have done.
"We have not invested properly in our fairgrounds," Rauner told the crowd of applauding and cell phone-wielding fair attendees. "You guys know when you walk around. Roofs leak, walls are cracked, potholes everywhere, damage. We've allowed this wonderful institution, which is one of the most important ways to market and promote farm families and agriculture anywhere in the world, we've allowed this to go to ruin. We cannot tolerate this anymore. We will not tolerate this anymore."
After a few more comments, the governor read a proclamation celebrating the establishment of the foundation to support the infrastructure and capital improvements at the Springfield and Du Quoin fairgrounds. The Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield includes more than 170 buildings, including structures that are more than 100 years old, according to a press release issued by the governor's office after the announcement.
The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds includes more than 20 buildings on more than 1,200 acres, with buildings that are more than 93 years old.
"Many of the buildings on both fairgrounds are in dire need of restoration, including paint, plumbing, roofing and structural repairs. Combined, the fairgrounds carry $180 million in deferred maintenance costs," the press release said.
Rauner said during his comments at the fair that he and other lawmakers proposed legislation last year for government-funded support for fairground infrastructure and capital improvement.
"The General Assembly would not act on the bill," Rauner said. "It has kept it to the side and blocked the legislation. The wonderful thing for the people of Illinois is that now private citizens, farm families, community leaders, agriculture executives are stepping forward to take the leadership on this initiative. We're not going to wait."
Many supporters are ready to support this new foundation with donations, Rauner said, adding that he and his wife look forward to doing so and urging others to do the same. The foundation will be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with no government control of any kind, Rauner said.
"The General Assembly won't do it, so private citizens are going to do it," Rauner said.
The announcement was part of the State Fair's Ag day, with plenty of awards and recognitions handed out by visiting dignitaries, including Rauner and Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. "I thank you for what you do," Sanguinetti told the crowd. "Every year, we come to the fair to find out what's growing in our farms and what's cooking in our kitchens. And it's because of all of you."
In his own remarks, Rauner recalled his own farm-family background dating to the 1850s in Illinois, a background he said instilled in him hard work and love of community and the country.
"You are the backbone of America," Rauner said. "You are the core for the prosperity for the people of Illinois. I'm all in for you, God bless you for your hard work. The theme of our State Fair this year is producing our future. That means great products, but that means our future. Our future is our children and our grandchildren. All of us are dedicated to making Illinois the best place in America for our children and our grandchildren so they can have a great future here."
Rauner also used the occasion to sign into law legislation to allow the state's Department of Agriculture to recognize farms and other agribusiness that have been in the same family for generations. House Bill 5790 will expand the current Centennial and Sesquicentennial Farm Program to add Bicentennial Farms to a list of those that can receive recognition. House Bill 4318 creates a new program to enable the Department of Agriculture to recognize agribusinesses that have been operating for 100 years or more or more than 150 years as the same type of agribusiness.
"Generation to generation of hard work, bequeathing a better future for our kids," Rauner said. "Right now, it's my honor to sign these two bills."