The following is a letter from the Northwest Municipal Conference, which is a regional association of Illinois municipalities and townships.
Illinois residents will face even higher taxes and devastating cuts in essential services if Springfield politicians get their way and don’t return hundreds of millions of dollars already paid by local taxpayers that are legally owed to local communities.
Like Illinois families, cities and villages have been making significant sacrifices and cutting back during these tough economic times, slashing programs, curbing constituent services, delaying projects and laying off workers, including police and firefighters.
But instead of making those same difficult decisions to balance the state’s budget, some members of the Illinois General Assembly have proposed changing state law to hijack locally generated revenue. This money has been paid by local taxpayers with the understanding it would return to their local communities to fund local services.
Taking away this revenue, which pays for essential local programs, front-line services and critical personnel, will merely shift the state’s burden onto municipal and county governments and will have a disastrous impact on local services for residents across the state, said Northwest Municipal Conference President Kerry Cummings, who serves as Village President of Glenview.
“Cities and villages have struggled during these difficult economic times to balance budgets by living within their means, cutting and privatizing services and doing more with much less,” said Cummings, whose organization represents 42 municipalities in the North and Northwest suburbs. “This is nothing more than a stealth tax that the Governor and General Assembly would force upon our residents.”
Mayors from around Illinois are launching new efforts to stop the Springfield “stealth tax” and are calling on residents to voice their opposition and tell lawmakers to tighten their own belts without picking the pockets of local communities. They are asking residents to contact their local state senators and representatives, letting them know they oppose cuts in local funding.
Local leaders across Illinois have been identifying how the cuts would impact their individual communities and are preparing for reductions if state lawmakers succeed in pilfering the funds and denying the money that legally belongs to their communities, not as a bailout for state government. One proposal is calling for Springfield to take some $300 million in local funding while another proposal could eliminate more than $1 billion in local funding.
If legislators change the law to siphon off local tax dollars, the City of Aurora stands to lose up to $15 Million, said Mayor Tom Weisner, who called the move “the straw that will break the camel’s back.”
“After we have cut hundreds of employees and nearly $40 million in order to balance our own budget for the last three years, the state now expects local governments and local taxpayers to fix the state’s budget problems,” Weisner added.
“Today, I join with more than 50 Mayors and Village Presidents from across the Chicago region in telling the General Assembly: our residents cannot and will not stand for this stealth tax increase” added Wilmette Village President Chris Canning.
“In the face of the economic crisis, Wilmette, like many other communities has made drastic spending cuts in the face of the Great Recession. Should the State proceed with their proposal to take local revenues, we will have no alternative other than to consider a combination of eliminating long time services and raising property taxes.” “The State must get their financial house in order but not on the backs of local governments which provide for the daily health, safety and welfare of our residents,” concluded Canning.
“In Lynwood, we’ve cut to the bone by reducing spending and trimming services and we’ve balanced our budget responsibly without raising taxes” said Mayor Eugene Williams. “Cities and villages will be left no choice but to cripple essential services and decimate public safety through additional layoffs of critical police and firefighters.”
Illinois municipalities rely on the Local Government Distributive fund, which was instituted in 1969 in exchange for cities and towns not imposing their own income tax. It guarantees municipalities a share of state income tax receipts to help fund local services.
The legislature’s stealth tax would serve as yet another in a series of blows to local communities. In addition to residents and businesses feeling the pain of the 66 percent income tax increase, cities and villages were excluded from collecting on any new revenue while experiencing lower Local Government Distributive Fund receipts due to the sluggish economy. Meanwhile, the state is now four to five months behind in disbursing payments to local governments.