Area mayors irked with Rauner's budget plans

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Page-1-raunerThe welcome mat is out in Oak Lawn for Gov. Bruce Rauner.


But the fight may be on against him in Palos Hills.


Some interesting reactions came from local mayors last week follwing Rauner's budget address last Wednesday.


“I would like to invite him to Oak Lawn anytime,” Mayor Sandra Bury said last week in reaction to Rauner’s proposed 50 percent cutback in towns’ annual share of state income tax revenue.


She thinks he should see her town as it would serve as a model for him to check out.


Bury would like to open the village’s books to the newly-elected governor and explain that Oak Lawn and other communities throughout the southwest suburbs cannot afford such a significant revenue hit.


She’d also like to point out that Oak Lawn—like most other towns—does not have cash reserves on hand for a rainy day.


If approved, Rauner’s cuts would mean an estimated $2.7 million annual revenue loss for Oak Lawn, Bury said. It’s a figure the mayor has a tough time grasping. Indeed, the village would have few options to make up the loss.


“You either layoff or raise taxes. It’s wrong,” Bury said.


At a time when Oak Lawn and other communities are already making budget cuts to fully fund employee pensions, a significant revenue reduction from the state is the last thing they need, Bury said.


The mayor said she was caught off guard by Rauner’s proposed cut, which he outlined during his budget address last Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly.


During his campaign, Bury said, Rauner met with area mayors and said he wanted to work with them after the election.


“We were optimistic,” she said.


She said she’s hopeful that the governor’s proposal “starts a conversation.”


“I have hope, but it’s pretty depressing,” she said.


Bury is not alone in her displeasure with Rauner’s plan. Other mayors in the Reporter’s coverage area expressed dismay at the plan. Five of the six mayors responded to interview requests however Worth Mayor Mary Werner did not return numerous requests for comment.


“I hope he doesn’t fix (the state’s financial problems) on the back of local governments,” said Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton. “We can’t afford to pay other people’s bills.”


Sexton added that the state could take a lesson from his community, which keeps a close eye on revenues and expenditures.


“We watch every dime. Maybe others should do the same,” Sexton said. “We pay our bills year to year.”


Evergreen Park could lose approximately $500,000 annually if Rauner’s proposal becomes a reality.


Palos Hills Mayor Mayor Gerry Bennett said the proposal is unnecessary.


“All they’re doing is putting (the burden) on the backs of local residents,” said Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “They’re going to bankrupt local governments.”


Palos Hills and other communities such as neighboring Hickory Hills already operate with fewer employees in key departments such as public works than they did just a few years ago, Bennett said.


Additional reductions in manpower would make it extremely difficult to provide basic services to residents. Additionally, towns would have a tough time avoiding cuts to the public safety, he said.


“It will bankrupt us. The fight is on, I guess,” Bennett said.


Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley agreed.


His city has relies on the utility tax to help balance the annual budget. The city has put off capital improvement projects such as street and sewer work to help make ends meet.


“That’s problematic,” Howley said. “We still have to provide city services.”


He said he’s hopeful that Rauner’s proposal is just a starting point in budget negotiations—a sentiment put forth by area legislators as well.


“I guess you have to start someplace, and this number got everyone’s attention,” Howley said


Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar echoed the feelings of his mayoral colleagues.


“That’s a big chunk of change,” Tokar said. “I wasn’t expecting (Rauner) to say that. I can’t replace $600,000, $700,000.”


Tokar admitted that that his town is fortunate to draw sales taxes from a regional shopping mall, but that revenue stream would never replace the state’s money, he said.


At least one local elected official said he agreed with Rauner’s plan.


“I would say there’s always room for cuts,” said Palos Hills Ald. Al Pasek.


He added that smaller communities should consider merging if they can no longer go it alone. But mayor and many aldermen would never back such a plan, Pasek said.


“I think it these little dynasties that don’t want to get broken up,” he said