Suburban officials brace for another possible budget fight

SPRINGFIELD — Over the past several years, budget troubles at the Illinois Capitol have meant worry for mayors and school board members back home.

Harsh financial troubles for the state occasionally spawn proposals that could take money from local government to help patch up the holes.

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to deliver his budget plans to lawmakers Wednesday, and local officials will be listening.

“Local governments are very concerned about becoming the collateral damage,” Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said.

Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch wouldn’t reveal if any of Quinn’s proposals on Wednesday will cut into funding for local governments. Once Quinn has made his proposals, lawmakers have until May 31 to decide whether they will follow them.

So far, mayors like Darch have successfully avoided some of the bigger potential bites that could affect their budgets, including a high-profile proposal that would have taken away communities’ 6 percent share of Illinois income taxes.

And last year, House Speaker Michael Madigan proposed taking business taxes away from townships, schools, cities and others to pay for teachers’ pensions. That plan also didn’t take off.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s refusal in recent years to pay for regional offices of education with state money led to a deal where small amounts of taxes are withheld from other local governments to pay for the schools chiefs.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” Buffalo Grove Mayor Jeff Braiman said.

But some state leaders argue that when times are tough, everyone has to sacrifice. Still lingering is a controversial plan to have suburban school districts pay for future teachers’ pension costs.

The idea has been debated for more than a year. The specifics are often changing depending on who proposes it, and it isn’t likely to go away soon.

At the same time suburban mayors have also led a charge in Springfield to ask state lawmakers to cut pension benefits for police officers and firefighters, saying rising costs are driving up their yearly payments.

The state sets rules for those local pensions, so local governments can’t stem their rising bills themselves. No such changes appear imminent at the Capitol.

But suburban officials have been able to avoid some cuts at least in part because many lawmakers have such close ties to local government.

The Illinois General Assembly is full of former mayors, county board members, school board members and people who otherwise have strong relationships with their elected colleagues back home.

State Sen. Pam Althoff of McHenry and state Reps. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove and Marty Moylan of Des Plaines are all former mayors, for example. State Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park still serves as mayor there until his term is up.

“I still want to protect the cities and villages,” Moylan said.

Rep. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake is the former McHenry County Board chairman, and Sen. Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles left the Kane County Board chairmanship for her seat in the legislature. State Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein still serves as a township assessor in Lake County.

Their argument often is that even if budget cuts save the cash-strapped state money, local taxpayers could be asked to pick up the slack.

“Somebody’s got to pay that and it’s obviously the citizens,” Braiman said.

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Schools: Pensions could hurt us like they hurt towns

Public safety pensions take bigger bite of suburban budgets

Suburban mayors might have to wait for pension relief

Suburban mayors accuse agency of mismanagement, nepotism

More pension proposals create less consensus

Karen Darch
Jeff Braiman
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