A group of suburban mayors is pushing back against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to cut in half the amount of state money that goes to municipalities, saying their residents are asked to pay the price for the state’s lack of fiscal discipline.
“Follow our lead, don’t cripple our progress,” said Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, who said he already had to lay off 185 employees to contend with budget shortfalls after the economic recession.
Mayors from Downers Grove, to Lynwood to Hanover Park, complained that they already made drastic cuts that lawmakers in Springfield failed to make in the years following the recession and the housing bubble burst.
Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully said the state now wants to dip into a $1.2 billion Local Government Distributive Fund, money that covers 10 percent to 15 percent of local municipality budgets and are dedicated to essential services such as police, fire, garbage and snow removal. They launched a new website, ProtecttMyTown.com, for residents to quickly send letters to state lawmakers or the governor’s office about the potential impact of the cutbacks. Rauner’s proposed cuts were part of his plan to deal with a $6 billion shortfall after allowing the state’s income tax increase to expire.
The mayors further complained about Rauner’s statewide tour asking local towns to sign onto his Turnaround Agenda, arguing he has failed to provide details on what exactly it is and what it would do. Tully said in his experience, the details from the governor’s Turnaround have “evolved,” leaving him at a loss over what he’s asking his community to sign on to.
Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said he was equally at a loss for details.
“Up to date, it’s like a shuffling of the deck. We don’t see the cards, and basically we’re asked to respond to a number of platitudes,” said Craig. “If they can’t put it in clear writing, give me the clear facts and legislation then we’re going to struggle with that. . . . We’re happy to work with him, [but] we’re struggling with the facts that don’t exist.”
It’s a criticism that confronted Rauner throughout his campaign for governor. Despite breaking records by spending more than $60 million, largely on TV ads, Rauner was again and again blasted for not providing specifics on how he planned to solve the state’s fiscal crisis. Rauner has gone on a tour of the state selling his Turnaround Agenda, which largely has focused on creating “empowerment zones” that lessen local labor groups.
Mayors said aspects of Rauner’s agenda are easy to embrace, including wanting balanced budgets, consolidation and for government to work within its means. But they said it isn’t right for towns to have to give up their funding because lawmakers haven’t wanted to make tough choices in the past.
“I’m gonna tell you, it’s like the state’s failing, and they want to take the municipalities down with them,” said Craig. “I’m not going to stand for that.”
Rauner’s office on Monday put the blame for the state’s shortfall on “career politicians” and despite mayors’ complaints of a lack of details said the governor has offered “tools” to governments to control costs.
“Overspending and insider deals put in place by career politicians have created a $6 billion budget hole while the amount of money transferred to local governments over the last decade has skyrocketed by 42 percent,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. “The status quo is broken and unsustainable. As part of his Turnaround Agenda, the governor is giving local residents and governments the tools they need to control costs at the local level and get more value for their tax dollars.”
When asked what tools could save money, Kelly pointed to a part of the agenda that looks at worker’s compensation reform, reforming prevailing wage and “local collective-bargaining reform” including the use of third-party contractors.