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Metro East mayors say proposed cuts would be 'disaster' for local government

Mascotoutah Mayor Jerry Daugherty speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Daugherty is the current chair of the Illinois Municipal League.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Mascotoutah Mayor Jerry Daugherty speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Daugherty is the current chair of the Illinois Municipal League.

A dozen Metro East mayors are asking Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to reconsider a cost-saving measure in his proposed state budget. Rauner ran for office on a pledge to balance the budget, and has proposed cutting in half the amount of state income tax given to municipalities next fiscal year.

“We know that things are going to have to be done (to balance the state budget),” Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said at a news conference Wednesday. “Our message through the IML (Illinois Municipal League) and through the Southwestern Conference of Mayors is that we want to work together. We want to be heard. We don’t want to have drastic cuts with no warning.”

Eckert and the 10 other mayors at the news conference said that their municipalities had faced budget challenges of their own during the recession and aren’t in the financial shape to lose this funding. Several mayors said the cuts would force them to reduce police, fire and ambulance service.

The mayors said their budgets are also under stress because the state requires municipalities to do certain things without giving them the means to pay for them.

“We’re willing to sit down with the legislators and work through this, but over the years these unfunded mandates have just continued to cripple cities without us having any real say-so in how they are shifting the burden of payment to the municipalities,” Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said, adding that the pension mandate was a particular burden.

“Years ago (the state would) have paid 70 percent, and we’d have paid 30 percent. It’s just changed so much over the years and more and more has been put on the backs of cities,” Eckert explained.

Metro East municipalities are expecting to lose anywhere from $2.2 million to $100,000, depending on population size, if their portion of the state income tax is cut in half. Unlike Missouri, Illinois does not collect local income tax.

As chairman of the Illinois Municipal League, Mascoutah Mayor Jerry Daugherty was one of the few Metro East mayors to have spoken with Rauner about the proposed cut.

Daugherty said the governor told league leaders he might be willing to compromise if the league supported him with another undisclosed measure. But the governor also said he may still follow through with cutting funding in half.

Similarly, Daugherty said state House and Senate leaders gave “no definite commitment” on the matter but said they want to work with the governor.

“One of the things we did pass on to the governor was that the state’s been mismanaged for years, and our municipalities have managed our funds and balanced our budgets. So our reward for balancing our budgets is that the state cuts our funds? We don’t think that’s much of a reward,” Daugherty said.

The mayors said they hope to further plead their case in Springfield at the end of this month, and speak to the governor when he returns to the Metro East in May.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille