Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett made it clear last week the city will not sit idly by should Illinois legislators try to slash the funds provided to local municipalities in an effort to help patch the state’s roughly $9 billion budget deficit.
“There has been some positioning down [in Springfield] about taking local government revenue and we are all over that,” Bennett told the council on March 2. “We are going to protect our revenues to the last breath.”
Bennett said he is “getting very, very concerned” the state is going into another year “without some type of a budget.”
“It’s getting more and more serious,” Bennett said of the state’s budget impasse. “When they don’t solve the problem they look for other revenue sources and for them it seems that when in doubt to go to local government sources.”
Bennett said he has heard from state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) — both of whom represent Palos Hills — as well as other leaders in Springfield that it is not the state’s intention to take money from the Local Government Distributive Fund to shore up the budget. However, not all feel that way.
“There are some members in the General Assembly who want to go after that [LGDF] money,” Bennett said.
This is not the first time Bennett has had to take a stance against the state potentially cutting income tax revenues. In 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reducing LGDF dollars in half, and last year there was a period of time the state briefly withheld distributing the money to local governments. Palos Hills receives about $2 million in income taxes from the state, Bennett said.
“That [$2 million] goes right into our general fund and it’s out of an operating fund of $8 million so you can see how significant it truly is for us,” he said. “It would be a huge disaster to not only our city but every city to lose that type of money.”
Bennett said his decision to discuss the state’s budget impasse at the council meeting last week was more to provide a notice to city officials than a call to action.
“It’s not yet the time for residents to write or call their legislators,” Bennett said. “I just wanted to put the council on notice that [the state] has not solved the budget crisis down there, and when those things are not solved they start looking at other avenues again.”
The mayor noted the uncertainty surrounding the state’s budget will not prevent the city from moving forward and passing its own budget by May 1.
“We are going to go ahead and continue to present the budget with that revenue,” Bennett said. “Even if they were going to propose [cutting LGDF dollars] we wouldn’t know how much so there is no way I can try to budget on an assumption.”
In other news, Bennett said Palos Hills will recognize the 50th anniversary of Moraine Valley Community College by dedicating the fireworks show at this year’s Friendship Fest to the school.
The fireworks show typically concludes the four-day festival, which is held annually during the second week of July on the Moraine Valley Triangle. This is the first time in the fest’s nearly 40-year history that its fireworks show has been dedicated to anyone or an organization, Bennett said.
“Moraine Valley is a magnificent campus that we can all certainly be proud of,” Bennett said. “We are proud to be the home of Moraine Valley Community College and I congratulate them on their 50th anniversary.”
Bennett noted the college was founded by the Oak Lawn Rotary and enrollment was originally projected to be around 6,000 students. This school year has an enrollment of around 34,000 students, he said.
“The trickle effect of 34,000 students coming and going each day certainly adds to our economy,” Bennett said.
The mayor also praised the college for its “academic excellence.”
“The academic excellence provided to students is second to none [for a community college],” Bennett said. “They could write a book on stories of people who decided to go to junior college because they had no other option and went on to have great careers because of what they learned there.”
Bennett said the city has also invited MVCC officials to set up a booth at the event to share information about the school to event-goers.