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Suburbs still waiting for stalled funds

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett views the recent turn of events in Springfield during the past week much like someone who is determining if the glass is either half empty or half full.

The House Democrats and Republicans voted 115-1-0 to allow funds to be released for the motor fuel tax, video gaming and the 911 dispatch centers on Nov. 10. However, the glass became half empty when it was learned that House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie moved to have the bill reviewed.

The Senate did not vote on the bill. They are not expected back until January. Bennett’s celebration was somewhat muted after that. However, he preferred to look at the glass as half full. He believes the Southwest Conference of Mayors had a successful run this past month.

“We are elated that the message has gotten through,” said Bennett, who is the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “We are waiting to see what is going to happen.”

Local municipalities have not received funding from the motor fuel tax, video gaming and 911 centers for over the past four months during the budget impasse. Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) are scheduled to meet along with other legislators on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Under pressure from even some Republicans regarding the programs that were on hold for local municipalities, Rauner said that low-interest loans could be provided for these villages and cities to pay for MFT funds and other programs.

Bennett, along with other members of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, voted unanimously to oppose the low-interest loan proposal. Bennett said it was like entering a bank and taking out your money only to be charged for the privilege.

“It was a major victory for us,” said Bennett. “The light bulb finally seemed to go on.”

After the suburban mayors voted against the proposal, other organizations blasted the idea.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar could not believe it when he first heard of Rauner’s proposal. He was one of the mayors who voted against the idea.

“I could not believe it when I first heard about it,” said a frustrated Tokar. “It just didn’t make any sense. The governor is a smart man. How can you even propose something like this?”

The Chicago Ridge mayor said that despite the logjam in Springfield, he was pleased with the vote on the MFT funds.

“Well, I’m really gratified they have come to an agreement on a couple of things,” Tokar said “But it’s almost impossible to plan ahead. You have to plan for the worst.”

Bennett is hoping that the Senate can reconvene before January to vote on the bill. However, just like a half-empty glass, he is not optimistic. But he looks at the positive aspects and is proud of the southwest suburban mayors.

“Absolutely. He (Rauner) offers us low-interest loans for own programs. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Bennett. “Even the legislators had enough at this point. We can be proud of what we accomplished.”

Bennett also points out that the mayors voted against the three percent amusement tax proposal by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The tax would have included golf courses, bowling alleys, other recreational sports activities and cable TV. The mayors voted unanimously against the amusement tax last month.

The vote appeared to spark a chain of activity that week. In less than five days, Preckwinkle chose to pull her proposal under heavy criticism. She has since introduced a one percent tax on hotels and motels that has been approved by the Cook County Board.

While the MFT funds are now on hold, Tokar is glad the House at least voted for it. But he sees other difficulties ahead.

“As far as the motor fuel tax and video gaming, that’s fine,” said Tokar. “That’s at least something. But what I’m concerned about is income tax revenue. That is even bigger than the MFT funds. That is the biggest part of our revenue source with the exception of property taxes.”

Tokar is not confident that something can be worked in Springfield in the near future.

The Senate could reconvene in December to take a vote. However, Bennett believes that is wishful thinking.

“I don’t think anything is going to get done by the end of the year,” said Bennett. “The biggest fear we have is that this could go into the spring.”