Nervous mayors and county officials are piping up about the Illinois budget crisis, with one city even threatening to turn off the lights at a state garage because of an unpaid electric bill.
New Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly are embroiled in a fiscal standoff. As the state enters its sixth month without a budget, local governments are becoming more vocal with their concerns that Springfield isn't passing along the tax revenues it collects for such things as road improvements and emergency dispatch — or paying bills for power or water.
At least three counties have sued over emergency-service tax disbursements, and the board that governs the village of Mundelein, a suburb 40 miles northwest of Chicago, formally asked the state to release an amount which will soon approach $1 million.
"We wanted to at least send a message that it's not lost on us that they're holding our money," Mayor Steve Lentz said. "They have to get off the dime. The trustees and I feel it's not a partisan thing — we need both parties to come together to resolve this and fix our state."
Rauner and legislative leaders are scheduled to meet Tuesday, although expectations are low.
They have been unable to agree on a spending plan that should have taken effect this past July 1. Rauner wants structural changes to make running business cheaper, curb union power and restore faith in politics. Democrats say those issues are unrelated to the budget and the state needs a tax increase and spending cuts to fill a multibillion-dollar hole.
The House approved a Rauner-endorsed plan this month to release already-collected tax revenue from sources such as motor fuel and 911 taxes, but that chamber has not sent the legislation to the Senate for approval.
Officials in Marshall, a city of 4,000 on the Indiana border, 195 miles south of Chicago, threatened to turn off the lights recently at a facility housing Illinois Department of Transportation vehicles because of a $1,400 overdue bill the state hadn't paid. Mayor Camie Sanders said he's tired of shutting off power to late-paying residents and letting the state slide.
Sanders got a meeting with Rauner aides in Springfield and kept the power on rather than lose the trucks to a Paris facility 16 miles up the road.
"Our town is growing, it's doing great," Sanders said. "The state should be offering support, not withholding payment."
Springfield's city-owned utility reports that the state owes $3.5 million since July for electric and water just for the Statehouse and other buildings on the downtown Capitol campus. Mayor Jim Langfelder said pulling the cord isn't an option with government's massive presence in the capital city, but he is preparing a request that utility bills move toward the top of the list when the comptroller pays bills.
Rauner understands the frustrations in the town halls and county board rooms, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.
"The state is not withholding any payments," Kelly said. "It lacks the appropriation authority to make them because the (Democratic) super majority in the Legislature failed to pass a balanced budget."
Governments in St. Clair County, near St. Louis, and in southern Saline and Gallatin counties, have filed lawsuits seeking release of tax money collected on cellphone and landline phone calls for 911 emergency-dispatch centers.
St. Clair County 911 director Herb Simmons said the system is monitoring spending while awaiting $125,000 past due.
"I'm going to continue to believe that public safety is No. 1 in everybody's mind," Simmons said, "and it's sitting there in Springfield."
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