McHenry County Board hires federal lobbyist for infrastructure funding

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board went through with hiring a federal lobbying firm to fight for funding with the new administration, despite some objections.

Board members voted, 13-8, to hire Washington, D.C.-based The National Group on a one-year, $45,000 contract.

Supporters argued that President Donald Trump’s desire to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects requires that McHenry County secure a place in line, especially since Trump has no ties to Illinois, unlike his predecessor or the Democratic candidate that Trump defeated in November.

Board member John Reinert, R-Crystal Lake, said that McHenry County’s property tax burden might not be so high if it had better roads to help businesses get their goods to market.

“What would our county look like if we did get federal tax dollars? Maybe it would look like Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, where all of our residents are leaving [to] because they have better infrastructure,” Reinert said.

But opponents, both on the County Board and in the audience at Tuesday evening’s meeting, questioned the move both on financial and ethical grounds.

Member Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, said county leaders are fooling themselves if they think any federal money is coming from a Trump infrastructure plan. If anything does happen, he said, money will go to “big, big projects that he can cite as his legacy, because that’s what he’s all about.”

“We’re not gonna see a penny. It doesn’t matter whether we have a lobbyist or don’t have a lobbyist. So we’re just throwing money down a rat hole here,” Walkup said.

Member Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, has expressed philosophical disagreement with spending tax money to convince other governments to spend taxpayer dollars.

But to audience member Joe Monack of Woodstock, there’s another reason why the county shouldn’t hire a federal lobbyist – the federal government is wallowing in debt.

“I just don’t understand why we’re trying to bring home bacon from public entities that are broke. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like trying to extort a transient,” Monack said.

Having a federal lobbyist is not foreign to the County Board. It had one for much of the Obama presidency, but the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 to ban earmarks made hiring a lobbyist less and less lucrative. The County Board let the lobbyist contract expire about 2½ years ago.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Friday that the budget blueprint to be released next week includes a big “first step” of Trump’s infrastructure plan.

In a tweet, Spicer linked to an article in Bloomberg News that the president’s spending blueprint will include $200 billion in federal infrastructure funding over the next 10 years.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 13-8, to hire a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm to bring back federal funds for infrastructure and other projects.

Board members John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; Jim Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry; Tom Wilbeck, R-Barrington Hills; and Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, voted no.

Members Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, and Larry Smith, R-Harvard, were absent.

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