EAST MOLINE – Cheri Bustos, a Democratic candidate for Congress, doesn’t live on 10th Street in East Moline. And she doesn’t belong to the country club at the end of that street.
But TV watchers are hearing plenty about both in her congressional race.
In Tuesday’s election, Bustos will face incumbent Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, in the 17th Congress-ional District, which includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.
In recent days, the Republican National Congressional Committee has been running a commercial attacking Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman.
The spot contends she’s a tax raiser who voted to spend $625,000 in taxpayers’ money to improve her street, which connects to Short Hills Country Club.
The ad refers to a since-completed project improving East Moline’s 10th Street. Bustos actually lives at the end of a cul-de-sac on 10th Street Place, whose only access is 10th Street.
She maintains the vote on the project occurred before she joined the council in 2007. But the GOP committee points to her four related votes for the project in 2010 and 2011. For instance, she voted on the project’s contractor.
East Moline City Manager Cole O’Donnell said the multi-year project started before Bustos was a council member and was completed while she was in office. She resigned in September 2011 to focus on her campaign for Congress.
O’Donnell wasn’t the manager during the project, but said he has researched it because of the publicity. He also said he hadn’t taken sides in the congressional race.
The city, he said, decided to improve the street because it had had a number of water main breaks. With many patches, the street was in poor condition, so the city put in a new water main and fixed the road surface, he said.
“The thing that irritates me about the NRCC ads is how they’re saying that under these tough economic times, the East Moline City Council voted to waste money on fixing the road,” O’Donnell said. “One of the primary functions of a local government unit is to repair its infrastructure.”
The bulk of the funding for the project came from water and sewer fees and sales tax revenue, O’Donnell said.
‘It wasn’t done for Cheri’
Alderman Jeff Stulir defended the project.
“It wasn’t done for Cheri,” he said. “It was done for all of the people in the area. They [GOP committee] were playing it off that we were doing it for the country club.”
When the city decides on projects, he said, it looks at how many water main breaks have occurred on a particular street.
The National Republican Congressional Committee also included in its ad that Bustos voted for a 4.9 percent increase to property taxes.
That’s true, but defensible, O’Donnell said.
“What would happen in a perfect world is that we would never raise taxes,” he said. “But there are pension funds, health insurance costs. You need additional funds. The council can vote to hold the line on taxes, which can result in service cuts and layoffs of personnel. Or it can raise taxes to a certain amount and cover everything we need.”
If anything, he said, the council should have increased property taxes by 10 percent in 2011, which the council did the next year – after Bustos resigned.
“After she left, we made up for the fact that we were behind in our pension obligations,” O’Donnell said.
Schilling’s campaign also has taken Bustos to task for water and sewer rate increases. According to Schilling’s website, Bustos voted to increase water rates each year through 2010, a 57 percent increase over 3 years. She also voted to hike water and sewer rates even further in August 2010, the website said.
City officials, however, said federal environmental regulations required updates to water and sewer infrastructure, which forced such hikes.
“If those fees weren’t increased, we would have been in violation of EPA rules,” O’Donnell said.
Stulir agreed, saying a consultant recommended the increases.
“It wasn’t Cheri Bustos standing up and saying it was what we needed,” he said.
‘Bustos Billboard’ also a topic
Ed DeJaynes, who succeeded Bustos in East Moline’s Ward 4, said the 10th Street project was needed.
But he said Bustos’ experience serves as a caution for voting on projects close to home.
“If [a project] has to do with my ward, I would vote present, not for or against it,” DeJaynes said. “That way, there would be no conflict of interest.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee also has criticized Bustos for voting to approve a $40,000 electronic sign, which it calls the “Bustos Billboard.” It is used to promote local events.
Katie Prill, a spokesman for the committee, said Republicans wanted to highlight Bustos’ record.
“Will she explain why the $40,000 sign and the $625,000 road were priorities when her community was suffering high unemployment?” Prill siad. “She raised taxes on her community to connect her home to the country club. That’s not what the people of the 17th Congressional District want.”
Responding to the ads
Schilling spokesman Jon Schweppe said in an interview this week that questions about the country club advertisements should be directed to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But on Wednesday night, a country club advertisement began with Schilling saying: “I’m Bobby Schilling, and I approve this message.”
The ad said Bustos voted many times for tax increases and for the $625,000 road.
“Her record in East Moline was one of raising taxes and raising fees repeatedly,” Schweppe said during the interview. “The parkway costs $625,000. Meanwhile, she was raising property taxes and sewer fees and garbage fees.”
Bustos spokesman Arden Manning defended his candidate.
“The key thing with the road, it started before she was on City Council,” Manning said.
Many of the ads imply Bustos is linked to the country club, a claim her campaign says is patently false.
“The only club Cheri has been a part of is the Y,” Manning said. “They know it’s not true.”