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Mayors Stand By The Governor, Push GOP Stopgap

Amanda Vinicky
Larry Morrissey, Rockford, mayor

Though political fighting at the statehouse and the lack of a complete budget meant it was haphazard, municipalities got much of their state funding this year. But Illinois is set to begin a new fiscal year Friday with no spending plan in place. That has local officials worried.

Mahomet Village President Sean Widener says it's a matter of stability.

"We need a state budget, we need road construction projects to continue, we need local governance to continue without further delay. And most importantly we need to restore the confidence for all the citizens in the state."

Widener was one of a handful of local leaders who stood alongside Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner Monday at a capitol press conference, to urge passage of a temporary budget.

It's a fight that's political at its core, but Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico tried to stay out of Rauner's feud with the Democrats who control the legislature.

"I'm not here to point fingers or, or, or blame. I'm just here to say 'look, we need solutions,' " he said.

But Larry Morrissey, Rockford's mayor since 2005, jumped right in and announced his backing of the "spirit" of Rauner's Turnaround Agenda. "It's controversial because it's loaded with a lot of additional politics, but the general trajectory and the trend of giving municipalities more power, more authority to govern our affairs ... that is something I've consistently lobbied," with the Illinois Municipal League, he said.

The governor's local control wish-list would free municipalities from prevailing wage requirements, and allow them to declare bankruptcy. Though Rauner often talks about local control, he also wants to require municipalities freeze their property taxes.

Municipalities fared relatively well in the 2016 Fiscal Year; state law means they automatically are sent a portion of income taxes. They also successfully lobbied to get funding as part of a piecemeal solution ahead of winter, to pay for needs like road salt.

Widener, Chirico and Morrissey were among 40 mayors who recently published an op-ed calling for a six-month budget.  

Though Gov. Rauner says a deal with Democrats is nearly all but agreed on, he and the mayors continued to advocate for a stalled version Republicans unveiled on May 31, the final day of the regular legislative session.  Social service groups say the original GOP plan doesn't provide them with funding they need to stay afloat,  nor does it provide universities with money to pay the Monetary Award Program tuition grants to low-income students, both of which are part of a package loosely agreed to by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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