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Mayors pressure lawmakers for capital funding bill

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett asked a group of legislators if they were willing to take a pledge to provide more revenue for local governments.

The legislators – state Senators Steve Landek (D-12th), Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and Michael Hastings (D-18th), and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) – were sympathetic to Bennett’s request but said the current state of affairs in Springfield makes it difficult to gauge what can get done.

Bennett posed the question to the local leaders during the Southwest Conference of Mayors Legislative Breakfast Friday morning at Georgio’s Banquets in Orland Park. Bennett also serves as the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors.

“We face challenges everyday on a daily basis, but we get it done,” Bennett said about his role as mayor.

Cunningham said that a budget was passed a year ago that provided more money for state schools. However, he is not optimistic that this will occur again this year. The senator said that is difficult to reach a compromise on certain issues during this current political climate.

All the legislators pointed out that it is difficult to get everything they need for their constituents. Compromises have to be reached on both sides of the aisle.

Bennett lauded the efforts of Landek, who has the unique role of serving as mayor of Bridgeview as well as a state senator. Bennett thanked Landek “for speaking our language” and said he is aware of the problems facing southwest suburban mayors each day.

“The hypocrisy is that we don’t need less local government, we need more,” Landek said. “I’m a Democrat but I’m not a big government guy.”

Bennett again tried to get the legislators to take a pledge to pass a budget only if revenue is shared with local government.

Burke said that a budget was passed in 2017 only because of 10 percent reductions that was demanded by Republicans.

“(We) voted for it because it ended the impasse,” Burke said. “Democrats are pushing back on the 10 percent and working to get more money for local governments and schools.”

Bennett brought up bills that are being considered that would preempt local authorities. Cunningham believes that these bills will not pass.

“We should allow local government more authority to expand Home Rule,” Cunningham said.

Hastings added that all legislators want what is best for local governments.

“It’s about balance,” Hastings said. “You might see reductions somewhere but an increase somewhere else. You guys got to realize that we want to work with you, not against you.”

Bennett agreed but said that he is concerned that more restrictions could be imposed on local governments.

“But the problem is that if we don’t say anything, and when you open that door once, government will do it again,” Bennett said. “Shared revenues are critical for local governments to move forward.”

Cunningham is in agreement but added that it is difficult to get bills passed in Springfield.

“That’s why taking pledges are not going to work,” Cunningham said. “There is little give and take. We got an education bill passed last year. But we know that we can’t get everything passed.”

Bennett added that he just would like to see some pressure applied to allow local municipalities more input in services they should be receiving.

“We are just concerned that this will happen every year,” Bennett said about the uncertainty of revenue being provided for local services. “I mean, it’s our money.”

Bennett asked about the ongoing pension crisis and what can be done to alleviate the situation.

Cunningham and Burke said that pension bills have been struck down by the courts.

“We have the Supreme Court decision that tells us what we can do,” Burke said. “But we can do some things at the edges. We know there are challenges when talking about pension funds.”

Bennett brought up capital funds that have been reduced for local governments. Hastings said there has to be alternatives to funding local projects, like the motor fuel tax.

But Hastings added that a capital funding bill is not likely this year. Bennett mentioned that added revenue could come from legalizing marijuana. Legislators had mixed views on that proposal.

“This calendar year it is not likely a capital fund will pass,” Cunningham said. “I don’t think we will see anything until after the election, but who knows? Everyone wants a capital bill, but you have to pay for it. Right now, we just don’t have enough people who want to compromise.”

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