AURORA – A handful of state legislators addressed several issues to local governments this week at the Metro West Council of Government’s legislative dinner.
Held at Gaslight Manor Banquets in Aurora, the nonprofit organization represents municipalities in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties. Lawmakers who participated were state senators including Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles; Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove; Linda Holmes, D-Aurora; Mike Noland, D-Elgin; and Sue Rezin, R-Morris; as well as state representatives Michael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake; Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago; and Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora.
The legislators responded to concerns presented by local mayors regarding the protection of local government revenues, maintaining local control and public safety pension reform.
To the question about local government receiving revenue shares from Springfield, in particular proposed cuts to the personal property replacement tax, Tryon said it was a difficult issue because the state deals with so many needs, especially for people who are disadvantaged.
“I can’t say no to raising your taxes so we don’t have to,” Tryon said.
Noland, who is vice chairman of the Revenue Committee, said Illinois is the “lowest-spending state in the nation, per capita. ... We have the fifth-largest economy.”
Noland recommended altering the state’s financial dynamic by instituting a fair tax or progressive tax, where those with larger incomes would pay a greater percentage in income tax to the state so it can pay its bills, its pension obligations and deal with its deficit.
“We are going to have to do something,” Noland said.
McConnaughay said Kane was listed as having among the highest property taxes of counties in the United States.
“Who in their right mind would give us another dime when we have not shown we can manage money?” McConnaughay said, countering Noland’s comments.
McConnaughay said she supported local municipalities to make decisions about “whether the firefighter shows up and the students get safely to school ... and those in the legislature need to stay out of your way.”
Fortner said he did not see how lawmakers could change the share percentage tax revenue without involving the very municipalities which helped create the shared revenue source to begin with.
In addressing the concern of shared revenue, Oberweis said Illinois needed to change how it attracts and keeps business because it lags behind other states with friendlier business and taxation policies.
“The worst thing to do would be to increase the taxes,” Oberweis said.
A tax increase, such as the one suggested by Noland, would increase the current level of exodus of business and residents, Oberweis said. He also chided Noland for using the term “fair tax” which is a trademarked term for a movement toward repealing income tax and relying on sales or consumption taxes instead.
To the issue of local control, Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain questioned proposed legislation that would affect the creation of tax increment finance districts – development tools that use tax dollars in increments for public improvements.
“We have an old river town with great needs,” Kaptain said. “It’s not ‘one size fits all.’”
Oberweis, Holmes and Fortner said they supported flexibility for local governments to decide issues such as creating TIF districts.
McConnaughay said if a questionable TIF is created, “That’s what local elections are for. Face your voters. When you face your voters, that is the best system in the world.”
Noland cautioned that TIF legislation had some vagaries, recalling the Sears debate in his district when $17 million was offered in a TIF that cost Carpentersville District 300 money for their schools.
“Municipalities are not the only ones affected by this,” Noland said. “Somebody has to stand with those impacted by TIFs.”
Tryon said the TIF legislation was created in the 1970s to address blight, something he did not see as a draw for development or redevelopment, where someone would invest $100 million. Tryon said lawmakers needed to update these development tools for today’s use.
All the lawmakers supported continuing pension reform for the state.