Griffin: How DuPage County population growth could hurt Cook County
When the population of DuPage County hits 1 million, it could cost Cook County upward of $45 million.
That's because the state's motor fuel tax law grants counties with more than 1 million residents a significant percentage of the more than $1 billion in annual revenue generated by the tax. In 2013, that amounted to more than $91 million for Cook County.
When DuPage County hits that magic number -- projected to happen as soon as 2019, according to estimates from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning -- DuPage County would get half of what Cook County normally gets.
That's just one of more than three dozen state laws that will affect DuPage County when its population reaches seven figures. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the county's population at more than 932,000, up from its official 2010 count of 916,924 residents. Fast-growing Will County similarly is projected to surpass 1 million residents within 15 years.
State law prevents legislators from simply singling out Cook County for special consideration, so population figures have always been used to accomplish the same thing.
While Cook County's 2013 population estimate is 5,240,700, it's 523,643 in Kane, 703,019 in Lake, 307,409 in McHenry and 682,829 in Will, the census bureau says.
Some say the fix is simple: Just amend the population language in the laws from 1 million to 3 million to keep Cook County exclusive. But it might not be that easy. A bill introduced in 2004 to do just that died in committee and hasn't resurfaced since.
Meanwhile, DuPage County officials said legislators should pump the brakes on blanket legislative language changes.
"I think there's going to be a serious effort to stop us from getting $40 million more, but I will fight for our fair share," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. "Do I believe we should negotiate a larger share of the pie for purposes of road, bridge and infrastructure improvements? Absolutely. Hell, yes."
For their part, Cook County officials said they're aware of the language in the motor fuel tax law and its ramifications once the population of DuPage exceeds 1 million. However, it's apparently not a frontburner issue.
"It's something that's on our radar to take a look at long term," said Karen Vaughan, a spokeswoman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "We don't have any immediate plans to take any action."
That doesn't sit well with some Cook County Board commissioners who suggest the county should be more proactive in securing the motor fuel tax revenue the county is accustomed to receiving, especially since another state law that affects counties of more than 1 million residents allows Cook County to spend those funds on more than road construction.
"It has a huge ability to put a dent in our roadways budget and create budgeting problems elsewhere," said Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican. "That's only because we have motor fuel tax funds to shore up deficits in other areas."
In fact, Vaughan said $74.5 million of Cook County's more than $91 million in motor fuel tax revenue went to circuit courts in 2014, as allowed under the law for counties over 1 million. That amount is expected to decline in the coming year's proposed budget, which will be released later this month.
In addition to changes in its stake in the state's motor fuel tax revenue, DuPage County's 1 million benchmark would trigger changes in laws affecting building codes, parks, tax rates, grand juries, airports, county fairs, boat licensing and federal funding. Other changes include:
• Loss of a $5 fee for all civil court filings.
• Ability to impose a property tax to help cover cost of elections.
• Increase in the number of associate judges required.
• Pay an additional $272,000 annually to a state agriculture education program.
• County treasurer allowed $200,000 petty cash fund instead of $5,000.
• Sheriff can no longer contract out police protection services in unincorporated areas.
Cronin said DuPage County doesn't want the "harnesses some of those laws place on you." That's why he opposes a blanket legislative change in the population language.
"I think we should go through and look at each law," he said. "We don't really have a specific game plan until we see what may happen and how we can maximize our share."