Mayors are not amused by county tax hike proposal

  • Written by Joe Boyle

       The Southwest Conference of Mayors voted unanimously against the three percent sales tax hike proposed last month by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

        The officials called for the vote last Thursday night during the Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting at the Lemont Village Hall.

      The mayors were also in firm opposition to Gov. Rauner’s proposal to give low-interest loans to municipalities while the state budget impasse enters its sixth month.

      “I was pretty disturbed about that,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, regarding Rauner’s proposal. He added that the proposal was “ridiculous.” Bennett also mentioned that a letter will be sent to the governor stating the Southwest Conference of Mayors objection to his idea.

     Bennett said that he was surprised at Preckwinkle’s proposal since the additional penny on a dollar sales tax was approved earlier this year. Preckwinkle now wants to extend it to a three percent amusement tax for cable TV, bowling alleys, golf courses and other sports recreational activities.

     Preckwinkle reportedly said that an additional $20 million in taxes taken mostly from cable TV would close up a $100 million budgeting hole. The county would get more from the sales tax that would in turn go to pay for government worker pension funds, loans and capital road projects, Preckwinkle said.

     Bennett questioned the legality of the proposal. Representatives from Comcast and AT&T also asked the board for support before the vote. Both representatives said that raising the amusement tax would result in layoffs of their employees. Seniors living on fixed incomes would be hit the hardest with a hike in the amusement tax, Comcast and AT&T representatives said.

     Other local mayors in attendance who opposed an amusement tax hike were Robert Straz, of Palos Heights, Chuck Tokar, of Chicago Ridge, and Mary Werner, of Worth.

Bennett said that the board will be contacting the Cook County Board of Commissioners -- including Joan Murphy (6th) -- and informing them of their rejection of Preckwinkle’s proposal.

The mayors at the meeting were in general agreement that a three percent amusement sales tax hike would have a negative effect on their municipalities. This would be a burden for owners of bowling establishments and other recreation businesses. Bennett pointed out that the southwest suburbs have many golf courses.

“They think they are going to raise money but actually this will hurt business,” said Bennett.

In regards to the budget impasse on Rauner’s proposal to provide low-interest loans for municipalities, Bennett would like to see legislation passed that money for street repairs and other infrastructure be separate.

“Allow this money to flow to local governments,” said Bennett. “They have to take this off the table. Why hasn’t his money been set aside? This is our money and it should be put in a permanent escrow.”

The other mayors agreed and the board planned to contact local legislators about initiating a bill that would allow infrastructure funding to continue to municipalities when a state budget shutdown occurs.

     Bennett also reminded the board that the budget stalemate may result in the funding for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to run out on Nov. 30. John Alllen, associate legislative analyst for CMAP, said that federal government has been asked to intervene in getting CMAP funding for Illinois projects.

    “The feds have sent the letters to Illinois,” said Alllen. “Our transportation funds are in jeopardy. “The state has been warned numerous times. At the end of November, CMAP could be closed.”

     Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves also warned that if the budget shutdown continues, funding for the switches and other equipment for railroad lines could be in jeopardy after Dec. 31.

     “If it does not get approved, Metra and Amtrak will close down,” said Reaves. “This is a long process and we hope to get the funding for the equipment. Until the speaker and governor sit down and talk, nothing is going to happen.”

      The mayors agreed that the uproar from the public is not that great yet because programs that have currently been affected, like Early Childhood Care, does not affect everyone. Some of the mayors said they even would reluctantly agree to a property tax freeze if it can get negotiations moving.

     “You don’t grow government by shutting down government,” said Bennett. “We just got through a tough recession. Who is really going to get hurt? It’s people.”