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Cities To Illinois: Put Our Money On Autopilot

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

City governments across Illinois are asking to have their state funding passed along automatically. It’s the latest consequence of Illinois’ 20-month budget stalemate.

The money in question comes from taxes on gasoline, phone bills, and gambling. It's collected by the state and passed along to local governments — that is, unless the powers that be never agree on a budget.

“In my city, we had several — numerous projects that had to be stopped," says Mark Eckert, the mayor of Belleville. He’s describing the early day of the impasse, when Illinois fell months behind on the payments.

He says that affected not only construction jobs, "but also the ongoing work that’s necessary to keep your city being where business wants to be."

Cities are doing OK now. A full year of funding was included in last summer’s so-called stopgap budget.

But that still needs to be renewed every year, and mayors say they could do with a little less suspense.

The proposal was announced Tuesday as part of the Illinois Municipal League's "Moving Cities Forward" legislative agenda. At a news conference, the League also restated its opposition to a permanent freeze of property taxes.

League Director Brad Cole says towns without big stores or industry depend on property taxes. And he says most of the money is spent meeting requirements set down by state government.

“When the hands of municipalities are tied behind their back, and they’re unable to collect more dollars to pay for the never-ending state mandates, which are unfunded, then we have a serious disagreement," Cole says.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has demanded a permanent property tax freeze in exchange for his support of a temporary income tax increase. A deal among state senators had previously included a two-year freeze.

The majority of property taxes in Illinois are collected by schools, not municipal governments.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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