NORMAL — A plan to expand the taxing power of the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority has hit some turbulence.

Officials hoped State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, would push legislation allowing the authority to tax all of McLean County and to dramatically increase tax rates, but he will not, Barickman said in a letter.

"While the expansion of the taxing district could reduce the per-household tax burden of supporting (Central Illinois Regional Airport), it also would create a new tax on thousands of additional families," Barickman wrote to Carl Olson, CIRA's executive director, on May 4. "I believe this idea still needs more study and discussion. Thus, I do not plan to advance any such legislation."

The airport authority (BNAA) wants to expand its taxing area from Bloomington-Normal to all of McLean County. Under its current levy, the owner of a Bloomington-Normal home valued at $150,000 would pay $20 less in property taxes, and the owner of a comparable home elsewhere in the county would pay a new tax of $47.

The measure also would free BNAA to nearly double its tax rate in the future. The authority is currently limited to levying 4 cents per $100 of assessed value, but that cap would increase to 7.5 cents — though officials have said they don't plan to increase the levy.

Though Olson said discussions with Barickman continue, without him BNAA would have three options: drop the idea, pass a referendum or find another legislator to sponsor a bill.

Olson told the board May 9 that CIRA officials are contacting Illinois airport authorities that might be interested in expanding their tax base to suggest their legislators push a proposal that also would affect McLean County.

"Generally the other airports are interested in partnering with us and joining in this initiative," he said. "We don't have a rock-solid commitment ... but those conversations are progressing."

Olson mentioned the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority, which operates Quad City International Airport; Springfield Airport Authority, which operates Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport; and Waukegan Port District, which operates Waukegan National Airport, as examples.

“Maybe in the future there will be reason to make changes to our district, but probably nothing in the foreseeable future,” said Mark Hanna, executive director at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, which taxes 12 of Sangamon County's 25-plus townships. “I’m not sure this would go anywhere given the fact there’s not even a state budget.”

Officials at Quad City International Airport and Waukegan National Airport did not respond to requests for comment.

The Quad City Times has reported Molly Foley, immediate past chair of the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority, has said the authority needs to consider expanding its taxing district from eight of Rock Island County's 24 townships to all of Rock Island County and possibly Mercer and Henry counties.

Olson declined this week to identify other legislators the airport has contacted, though he confirmed they're in both the Illinois House and Senate.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, represents CIRA alongside Barickman but said he's "focusing on other issues right now in the House.”

"They haven't contacted me," said State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth. "However, the areas I represent in McLean County have contacted me and have opposed the Airport Authority's proposition."

State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican who also represents the Springfield airport, did not respond to a request for comment.

"It would certainly be helpful to have bipartisan interest in this," said board member Alan Sender. "The issue right now is time. This board has taken a position, but the others have not. ... It's possible the General Assembly will be there beyond May 31.

"Whether this will move forward is very hard to determine at this point," he continued. "This deals with property taxes, which is in some respects a third rail in Springfield."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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