Illinois lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill to establish urban agriculture zones in Chicago and other Illinois cities, enacting a law that advocates say could help break up food deserts and provide new resources for underserved communities.
The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved an override by a vote of 49-1. State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, was the lone dissenting vote in the Senate. Illinois House members voted 84-20 to override Rauner’s veto earlier this month.
“This bill was about offering support to urban farmers and empowering them to grow their own healthy foods,” said state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, who led the override effort in the Senate, in a statement. “I am glad we now have the ability to help urban farmers grow and supply fresh, local food to communities that need extra support in Chicago.”
The bill, introduced last year by state Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, allows local governments to provide incentives such as reduced water rates and utility fees and property tax abatements for farmers in “urban agriculture zones,” which can now be established at the municipal or county level.
Both environmental groups and advocates working to expand access to healthy foods in cities had expressed support for the bill, which passed both houses by wide margins, including a unanimous 55-0 vote in the state Senate.
But Rauner vetoed the bill in August, saying that using property tax abatements to incentivize urban farming “would continue a problematic pattern of shifting property taxes to other taxpayers who may or may not directly benefit.”
Instead, Rauner proposed an amended version of the bill that would have eliminated property tax abatements and other incentives for urban farmers.
Rauner’s veto came as a surprise to advocates who supported the bill, especially considering it was modeled off similar programs in rural areas that provide farmers with property tax relief and other incentives.
With lawmakers’ override, the new law will offer incentives to organizations or individuals who grow produce or other agricultural products, raise or process livestock or poultry or sell a minimum of 75 percent locally grown food – provided that their city or county establishes an urban agriculture zone.
Sales tax revenue from agriculture products sold in a zone is to be deposited into a fund, with that money going toward a county, municipality or school district.
Harper, who proposed the bill, said previously that the the money could be used in a variety of ways, such as for educational programs focused on nutrition or to support businesses and farms.