Home / Community Development / Illinois looks to surrounding states’ state fair foundations (UPDATE)

Illinois looks to surrounding states’ state fair foundations (UPDATE)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has suggested that a private foundation could help pay for $180 million in repairs and maintenance at the state’s two fairgrounds amid a state budget impasse.

States surrounding Illinois — like Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana — take many different approaches to fair foundations, including a mix of public and private funding. Their fundraising campaigns often focus on capital projects and rely on techniques from corndogs to decorative bricks to pay for the annual events.

The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation was created to fund the restoration of the historic grandstand at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Since 1993, the foundation has raised more than $115 million for 40 projects, including most recently the MidAmerican Energy Stage. In addition to state revenue, funding includes a combination of corporate, individual and in-kind donations.

An effort called the Corndog Checkoff, which allows Iowa residents to donate a dollar to the foundation on their state income tax forms, has raised $1.9 million since 1993.

Unlike most states, Minnesota and Wisconsin are able to put on their fairs without the help of state funding.

In Minnesota, the state fair’s foundation concentrates on capital projects, while the revenue from the St. Paul fair covers operating and program expenses, according to fair manager Jerry Hammer.

“We don’t report to the administration. Nobody here is appointed by an elected official. We prefer it that way,” Hammer said.

Hammer believes Illinois would “do better” if it wasn’t “wrapped up in state government.

“The fairs I know of where government is involved, funding and appointments often depend on who’s in office. Every year, they have to go hat in hand to the legislature to operate,” he said.

The proposal for a private foundation has stalled in the Illinois Legislature, the State Journal-Register reported. It’s unclear whether a foundation could be set up by the Illinois Department of Agriculture without legislative approval, according to Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield, who’s the chief sponsor of the Illinois fair foundation bill.

“I would prefer that we have a law that says the foundation exists,” Butler said. “Then you couldn’t have a new governor come in and say ‘get rid of it.'”

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