Wheeling mayor on plan to cut state income tax revenue: 'That's our money'
Wheeling leaders joined many of their suburban peers Monday in condemning Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to slash in half their share of state income tax revenue.
The village board adopted a resolution urging Rauner and state lawmakers to keep the full funding Illinois towns receive from the tax. Arlington Heights passed a similar measure earlier this month denouncing the 50 percent reduction, and leaders in towns including Palatine and Mount Prospect also have spoken out against the plan.
The move is expected to save the state as much as $600 million a year.
Wheeling receives about $3.7 million in state income tax a year, Finance Director Michael Mondschain told village trustees Monday night. Under the governor's plan, village would lose about $1.86 million. The village has relied on the money since 1969, when the state created the tax, prohibiting municipalities from creating their own.
"I think we send a message here: 'You want to do this, this is the impact.' And it's more than that," Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris said. "The minute we start depleting our core services, the minute we start depleting our reserve funds, it affects our bond funds, our bond ratings and everything else. This is a huge problem. It's not just taking the money away. It's the long-term.
"How dare you take half of it," he added.
Covering the loss would equate to raising the village's property tax levy by 14.7 percent or laying off about 17 employees. More than 80 percent of village's operating costs are related to public safety and public works, so "there's really no way to cut that amount of money out of the budget without impacting those departments," Mondschain said.
Some Wheeling officials particularly took offense to Rauner's call for local governments to share in the pain of fixing the state's dismal finances. They noted that the village eliminated 40 positions and reduced its budget by $3.4 million in the Great Recession.
"We've done more than our part, and I think we continue to work hard to do that," Argiris said.
But Trustee Dave Vogel echoed Rauner: "We're all going to have to step up and share the pain, so to speak."
"In the long run, by being frugal and cutting back, we're all going to benefit, including us as a municipality," he added.
Vogel and Trustee Joe Vito were the only trustees to oppose Monday's resolution. They weren't convinced that the Democrat-controlled legislature would approve the full cuts.
Vito also said the village should look to the "more productive" example of Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor, who sent Rauner a list of ways to relieve the county from unfunded state mandates.
"(Lake County) used it more as an opportunity," he said.
Rauner also has suggested towns can afford the loss by using reserves. Since 2007, the village's general fund reserves has fallen by $6.7 million, or 33 percent. Today, reserves stand at about $12.2 million.
Argiris called the proposal a Band-Aid fix for the state's fiscal problems and urged lawmakers to tackle pension reform.
"Start there. I mean that," said Argiris, who will join suburban mayors meeting with legislators and the Republican governor this week. "Leave us alone."