Legislators, mayors sound off on Rauner's proposed cuts
While some suburban lawmakers called for caution and even optimism in the wake of Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to cut in half municipalities' shares of state income taxes, local officials said the idea is entirely unacceptable.
State Sen. Karen McConnaughay voiced the strongest opposition to Rauner's proposal -- which the governor outlined in his first budget address last week -- among Republican lawmakers who attended a breakfast Tuesday hosted by Metro West Council of Government in Aurora.
"I think it's an unreasonable request," the St. Charles legislator said, "but that does not mean that somewhere in the course of negotiations there isn't going to be some consensus to cut some part of (local state income taxes)."
"We have to make cuts," she said. "If not here, then where?"
But the burden shouldn't fall on local municipalities, said Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, president of Metro West. "The state should not balance the budget on the backs of those who employed solid financial practices all along."
The reduction proposed by Rauner amounts to about $50 per resident, or a combined $37.5 million throughout the 34 communities in Kane, DeKalb and Kendall counties that are represented by Metro West, Kaptain said.
In Elgin, that would amount to about $5 million per year -- or about 4 percent of its general fund revenues -- which equals the cost of running three of the city's seven fire stations, Kaptain said.
The yearly loss would range from about $10 million in Aurora to $1.5 million in Algonquin and Oswego and $1 million in Geneva, officials said.
"Based on size of the community, the scale may change, but the dire consequences will not change," Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said.
Such cuts would be "absolutely catastrophic" in some downstate communities already under great financial strain, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said.
Rauner brings "freshness" to state government, said state Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Sycamore Republican who encouraged officials to use "slightly different glasses" to assess the governor's budget proposals.
"For the first time in 15 years, it's a reality that we're going to have to work together to get things done," Pritchard said.
The state's upcoming budget session is going to be a difficult -- and likely long -- process, several lawmakers said.
Still, state Rep. Anna Moller, an Elgin Democrat, said she's optimistic that legislators eventually will be able to successfully tackle the state's long-standing fiscal woes. Illinois has a projected $1.6 billion deficit this fiscal year and a $4 billion deficit next year, she said.
"(Rauner) is starting new here on local government, and so I think there is a little bit of education (about local government finances) that needs to happen," she said.
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, a Democrat from Oswego, said state income taxes allow municipalities not to rely too much on property taxes, but Rauner also proposed freezing the latter. "That's not always a smart combination," she said.
Non-home rule communities such as Montgomery, Hampshire and Elburn especially are at a disadvantage in trying to offset any state income tax cuts, officials said.
"We're in deep doo-doo," Elburn Village President David Anderson said.
Geneva Mayor Ken Burns called Rauner's proposal "irresponsible" and "ill advised. Any state representative or state senator who supports this proposal is doing a disservice to the men and women of these communities they represent state wide," he said.
Everyone's going to have to chip in, McConnaughay said.
"There isn't an individual stakeholder in the state of Illinois who isn't going to have to give up something," McConnaughay said.
Getting rid of mandated costs such as health insurance, public pensions and workers' compensation is one way to try to get municipalities to swallow a reduction in state income taxes, Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall said after the meeting.