Local government, transportation officials stress importance of stop-gap budget

More than 40 mayors and village presidents from throughout Illinois signed a letter submitted to publications across the state urging passage of Republican lawmakers’ short-term budget bills to ensure schools can open this fall and government operations can continue.

Bipartisan, bicameral budget negotiations continue between lawmakers, legislative staff and the Governor’s office, as state leaders try to negotiate, minimally, a stopgap budget to fund General State Aid (GSA) for Illinois schools, keep state operations going, and fund human and social services, among many other state obligations. Republican lawmakers have encouraged rank-and-file legislators on the other side of the aisle to hold their leaders accountable, and support GOP calls to return to Springfield to vote on budget measures.

Local government leaders stressed the need for “a plan to ensure funding for schools and local government until a comprehensive budget resolution can be reached.” They pointed to a budget package introduced by Republican legislative leaders, calling the proposals “common-sense” and “fiscally prudent and fully-funded, contrary to the numerous unfunded, out-of-balance spending plans” that were pushed by Democrat lawmakers during the spring.

Notably, the local leaders said two of the GOP lawmakers’ proposals (SB 3434/HB 6583) “will fund early childhood, elementary and secondary education for the upcoming school year and ensure our schools open on time this fall. Unlike previously floated education plans, this proposal is fully funded and would not require any additional revenues or add to the state’s ever-increasing bill backlog. Additionally, the bill contains a hold-harmless provision which ensures that any school which would have lost dollars under the current funding formula will at least receive the same amount as they did last year.”

In their letter, mayors and village presidents also pushed for passage of Republican legislation (SB 3435/HB 6585), which they noted “funds the state’s full road construction program in Fiscal Year 2017, including bridge repair and local government road allocations, which are funded predominantly out of motor fuel tax funds and vehicle registration fees” while also providing “appropriations for capital projects in mid-construction that were halted due to lack of appropriation authority in Fiscal Year 2016, including projects for public universities and community colleges. Additionally, this bill provides funds for utilities, food and medical services at state prisons, mental health centers and veterans’ homes.”

Transportation and capital development officials echoed these concerns, noting that without a budget agreement in place, IDOT will be forced to shut down its construction program.

Lacking appropriation authority, meaning the ability to pay contractors for the work they do for IDOT, the state’s transportation department will suspend work on all projects currently in the construction and engineering phases. Additionally, this shutdown will include local projects paid for using state funds, as well as rail, transit and aeronautics projects.

Unless a budget measure is passed, this move would impact 25,000 workers and more than 800 construction projects across the state. IDOT has already ordered a halt to all demolition work, meaning road crews won’t prep to begin new projects unless they believe they can get them done by June 30.

The Executive Director of the Capital Development Board noted that the impasse has a particularly significant impact on other infrastructure improvement projects in Illinois, which include more than 200 capital projects that weren’t funded in the Democrat lawmakers’ previous Fiscal Year 2016 capital appropriations bill. This includes public university and community college projects, mental health facilities and veterans’ home projects that could resume.

The fiscal year ends June 30. The Senate has been scheduled to convene on June 29.

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