Mayors frustrated by budget impasse

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Local mayors have been less than enthusiastic about Gov. Rauner’s proposal to offer loans to municipalities to assist them financially since the budget impasse began in June.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said Rauner’s low-interest loan proposal is peculiar at best

“It’s like going to a bank and taking out money and the bank charges you for a loan,” said Bennett, who has been mayor of Palos Hills for 35 years. “You know because of the impasse, 911 emergency, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue has been frozen by the state.

“If this continues, we are going to have to look for other resources for revenue,” added Bennett.

Rauner’s proposal is in response to the Democrats passing a bill that would allow the release of dollars being withheld by the state for local programs. Democratic officials said that they want the revenue sent to local municipalities to fund programs.

Local mayors have said the impasse should have no effect on the 911 emergency funds, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue. However, these officials said they have not received any revenue since the impasse began.

“I can’t understand it,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar. “Compromise is what it’s all about. These guys down in Springfield have been doing this for a long time. You would think somehow they could come up with a compromise. But there seems to be no sense of urgency. It’s kind of scary.”

Tokar said that annually the village would have received $400,000 at this time of the year from the motor fuel tax. But since the budget impasse, Chicago Ridge has only seen $193,000.

“We are at 50 percent of where we should be,” said Tokar. “The motor fuel tax is important. It pays for street improvements. And with the past couple of winters we have had, that is important.”

Video gaming does not bring in as much revenue but Tokar said the village has not received any funds since June, when the impasse began. He is concerned about the state taking income tax money that should go for the village. He added that there is about a five-month lag on income tax revenue. However, if the impasses continues into the new year, the income tax revenue could become a target of the state, Tokar said.

“It’s just not right,” he said.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner is looking at ideas to bring in more development for her village. She said the budget impasse is not helping in that regard. Funds from the motor fuel tax and video gaming have been frozen since the impasse began.

“I think at this point, the funding should go through for video gaming and the motor fuel tax,” said Werner. “Video gaming and MFT funds have nothing to do with the Illinois budget.”

Werner is not optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon.

“With elections coming up next year, no one wants to make a move,” she said. “It sounds like nothing is going to happen until next year.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said that his village may be in better shape right now than other municipalities. However, there are limits. He recalls when Rauner approached the village in the spring to encourage the local government to embrace his five-point plan to jumpstart the economy. Critics have said that Rauner’s plan, the “Turnaround Agenda,” also wants to make restrictions on unions and lower salaries of employees.

“There were a lot of requests earlier this year,” Sexton said. “But it was kind of like all or nothing.”

Sexton added that while the impasse is not affecting the village right now, problems will arise if the stalemate continues into next year.

“Politics is the art of compromise,” said Sexton. “If they would just sit down and talk, they might find out they have more in common than they thought.”

Tokar agrees with that assessment.

“It is mind boggling,” he said. “You would think the governor and the speaker could go out to dinner. There are a lot of good restaurants in Springfield. They should be able to talk and figure this out.”