On Wednesday, Governor Quinn delivered his budget address. The comments and criticisms started Tuesday and will continue for many more days. The Governor focused on the financial condition that Illinois is in, including serious problems related to pensions and Medicaid. The quote that has been most often cited: "Today, our rendezvous with reality has arrived."
There was some speculation that the Governor would announce the closure of the Illinois Youth Center facility located in our community. That didn't happen, but St. Charles was mentioned by name during the address regarding a new school construction program that was proposed.
The Illinois General Assembly has started its Spring session. This is an election year, so many experts predict that there won't be a great deal of activity. And, those same experts predict that any activity that does happen will not have a major impact. "Stay safe" appears to be the guiding principle.
Anytime the legislature and Governor are in Springfield, there is reason to be concerned. There are always a variety of groups there pushing for legislative action on their agenda. Cities and villages also have their agenda. This year it includes priorities related to:
- Protecting revenues used to fund city services
- Pension reform
- Protecting local government decision-making
- Opposition to unfunded mandates imposed by state government
There are some initiatives that could have a significant impact on local taxpayers. Here's a few to keep your eyes on:
1. Pension reform
Recent media reports have legislative leaders focused on doing something related to pension reform. The Governor has appointed a pension task force that includes Sen. Mike Noland from Elgin and three other legislators. Governor Quinn set a deadline of April 17 for the task force to complete its work.
Pension benefits for local government employees are mandated by the state; yet cities and villages bear all costs not covered by employees (also determined by the state). That burden is significant. The annual cost of pensions paid by taxpayers for city employees is about $4 million.
Pension reforms continue to be tied to the constitutional debate about whether benefits for current employees—state and local—can be reduced. I hope that all parties can get together to negotiate reforms that will help stabilize the state's financial position and provide some relief to local governments as well.
2. Funding for Regional Offices of Education/Superintendents
Governor Quinn has again proposed funding Regional School Superintendent salaries out of Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax. This will reduce funds to local governments, including St. Charles. You can read more about the history of this here.
The concern here is about the proverbial "slippery slope" and the State of Illinois continuing a pattern of funding state programs with sources of revenue designated for local governments.
3. Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA) reform
PSEBA allows police & fire employees "catastrophically" injured in the line of duty to receive free health insurance benefits for rest of their lives. Benefits are also provided to spouses and dependents free of charge. That is a good policy. The problem is that the definition of "catastrophic" has been bastardized to allow any disabling injury to qualify. That's not good policy and legislative action is needed to clean it up. I understand that labor unions are in discussions with the Illinois Municipal League. I hope that they can work something out.
The Daily Herald recently called for a fix. Read more about it here.
4. Property Tax Caps
The Illinois House of Representatives has already approved legislation that would prevent schools, non-home rule cities, counties and other governments from increasing the amount of property tax revenue they collect in any year when the assessed value of property within their boundaries dropped. Right now, those governments can increase the amount by the Consumer Price Index.
I understand the concern about rising property tax bills when values are decreasing. I experience it, too. However, the property tax caps implemented in Illinois decoupled property tax LEVIES from property VALUES. A change of this nature will have no impact on the City of St. Charles, but could have drastic impacts on many other local governments. The true economic impacts should be studied before something of this magnitude is approved. You can view the legislation here.
St. Charles residents should contact their state legislators with their comments or concerns. You can find that information here.
Over the next few months, I will use this blog to keep you updated on important issues that the City of St. Charles is tracking.