Metro East Communities Need Infrastructure, Jobs, and Better Housing – Not More Empty Promises

The following op-ed was written by State Representative Kevin Schmidt and published in the Belleville News yesterday:

Metro East Communities Need Infrastructure, Jobs, and Better Housing – Not More Empty Promises

By: State Representative Kevin Schmidt

Politicians in Illinois love to come to the Metro East and promise to solve the problems of our region with one promise of state funding after another. The news crews show up and under the lights of the cameras our state’s leaders tell our communities the check is in the mail.

Then the politicians leave, and the problems remain. Meanwhile, the check never arrives. When the municipal building in Washington Park burned down, the community was promised funds to rebuild. Those funds have never arrived.

In Cahokia Heights, the community has only received a fracture of the promised funds to address the flooding that occurs every spring. Promises made. Promises broken.

Instead of empty words, the people in the 114th District need bold action. We need infrastructure improvement to improve the quality of life in our region and to be a catalyst for job growth.

One of the most important infrastructure needs is the 14-mile-long Harding Ditch. This ditch runs through Collinsville, Caseyville, Hollywood Heights, parts of O’Fallon, Fairview Heights, French Village, Washington Park, Belleville, Swansea, East St. Louis and, of course, Cahokia Heights. These communities all benefit from the maintenance of the ditch but not all of the affected communities contribute to funding the Metro East Sanitary District, which is tasked with maintaining the Harding Ditch.

I will be reaching out the Metro East Sanitary District to discuss changing the way the district is funded to resolve the flooding issues once and for all. Cahokia Heights and East St. Louis are minutes away from St. Louis. The flooding issues make it difficult to recruit businesses and grow the local economy. If we want to spur economic growth in our region, then we must turn infrastructure promises into infrastructure projects.

We need to do more than just give lip service to job creation. An analysis of US Bureau of Labor statistics shows that from Jan. 2000 through Oct. 2022, Illinois lost 106,697 net jobs while Florida gained 2.9 million jobs during the same time period. Burdensome business regulations, high taxes and poor leadership are hurting our state’s ability to compete with other states and border communities like those in the 114th District are hurt the worst.

If we make the infrastructure improvements we need and implement better policies at the state level, we can make our region a destination for jobs and opportunities. The cost of living in our region is affordable and the close proximity to rail, barge, and the interstate make our region an attractive place to build a business and for workers to live and work.

Infrastructure improvement will attract more businesses and more jobs, which will create a demand for more housing and in turn create even more job opportunities. In fact, I have had some conversations with some developers interested in building new homes in East St. Louis and Cahokia Heights. People want to invest in our region because they see the potential of what our region could be if our leaders were to turn political promises into meaningful action.