SPRINGFIELD – Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) spearheaded the fight over the past several months to ensure that county fairs received the money appropriated to them in the FY18 state budget.
This spring, Bennett was instrumental in working with the Comptroller’s Office to release reimbursements appropriated to county fairs for premiums awarded in the various agricultural competitions for youth. In March, Bennett participated in a press conference with other lawmakers which the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF) held urging the Governor’s office to release $1.3 million for rehab funding and horse racing at fairs that the Office of Budget and Management wanted to withhold.
The press conference also highlighted the results of a University of Illinois Extension study, which revealed that county fairs bring in $170 million annually to the state’s economy and support 1000 non-fair related jobs. County fairs are distinguished from other events in state statute because of their agricultural component.
“Between nearly $2 million in voucher payments being backlogged and $1.3 million in funding which were going to be totally withheld it was making it extremely difficult for many fairs, who are trying to prepare to open this summer,” explained IAAF Government Affairs Director Margaret Vaughn.
“We were thrilled to hear that the Governor’s office decided to release the $1.3 million in funds. Illinois’ 104 county fairs cannot thank Rep. Bennett enough for his leadership and determination in helping to get the state funding released, so that county fairs can continue to be the economic engines in rural communities across the state and generate an ongoing interest in careers in agriculture,” said IAAF Legislative Director Marv Perzee of the Iroquois County Fair Board.
“In our area, everyone knows a family farmer or a student in 4-H or FFA, so these events are especially important here,” Bennett said. “County fairs are not only important economic engines for their communities, they are a chance to showcase and promote the importance of agriculture in communities across the state. I am glad that we were able to get these funds released and that this summer’s fairs will receive their funding.”