The City of Evanston is pushing back. Budget pressures and mounting costs in Springfield seem about to spill over into municipalities as Governor Pat Quinn has suggested he may try to balance the State’s budget by deferring or reducing the State’s remittals to municipalities.
The City of Evanston issued an “Evanston Advocate” alert last week, asking residents to join a protest over the governor’s proposals, which could cost the City between $1.7 million and $2 million.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable another alert will go out this week but with a different, more concise message: “Keep us whole.”
“It will remind legislators what a great city Evanston is,” said Matt Swentkofske, intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the City.
“It’s a great place to raise a family, to go to school, to run a business – and if their decision is to make cuts, then it will make an impact on the City of Evanston,” Mr. Swentkofske said.
Under state law, municipalities receive through the Local Government Distributive Fund a portion of the taxes collected by the state.
“We received about 10 percent of the ‘old’ income tax [before taxes were increased this year],” said Mr. Bobkiewicz,”but we don’t get a piece of the new tax.”
These shared income-tax revenues are remitted on a monthly basis, Mr. Swentkofske said, with about a one-month lag time. At present, though the State is behind on payments, the City expects about $1.5 million in June to cover the previous three months.
While many other municipalities remain focused on that fund, Evanston’s message is more direct. “We have cut programs and services; we have increased taxes and fees. We have done what good governments do: We have lived within our means. So what makes the State of Illinois different? The State should live within its means.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz also said the “Keep us whole” message puts the emphasis on Evanston rather than on Springfield. “Our concern is that those crafty fellows in Springfield will come up with something else to cut [depriving municipalities of income] and say, ‘We didn’t cut that fund.’”
“Senator [Jeff] Schoenberg and Representatives [Robyn] Gabel and [Daniel] Biss have historically been responsive to the needs of the City,” and the hope is that this will continue, Mr. Swentkofske added.
Rep. Biss and Rep. Gabel each told the RoundTable that cuts to the state budget will be painful.
Rep. Gabel said she believes that the governor will formally propose a 10 percent cut to the Local Government Distributive Fund, but said she does not know whether that would be a temporary or a permanent cut. “It’s a difficult year. There is a lot of maneuvering around the budget. Everyone is trying to come up with a budget that will hurt the most vulnerable people the least,” she said.
Rep. Biss said, “To date, the House Appropriations Committee [of which he is a member] has proceeded on the assumption that we will not reduce aid to municipalities. I think that wise, because municipalities have gone through an extremely difficult time, and to take the rug out from under them would be unfair.” He also said, “The options that we are choosing from are extremely unattractive and will be very, very difficult for the communities to absorb. The question is, ‘Are we going to cut aid to municipalities, which can’t afford more cuts, cut aid to social service agencies, which can’t afford more cuts or to school districts, which can’t afford more cuts?’”