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Things are tough all over

Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010

* Oy

Already financially strapped because of lower tax revenues and budget reductions, suburban schools this school year are grappling with new state funding cuts aimed directly at bus transportation.

The state budget last summer cut more than $146 million from the regular transportation budget line item for elementary and secondary education, resulting in a reduction of more than 40 percent from last year, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards.

On top of that, most districts still are waiting to receive state transportation funds from last year, leaving some districts across the state scrambling to keep their transportation budgets afloat. […]

Complicating matters is a state law that, with few exceptions, requires school districts to provide bus service to children living 11/2 miles or more from school. Transportation also is required for those students who live within 11/2 miles but whose route has been deemed a hazard to walk.

Like I’ve been saying for months, the state is one of the greatest drags on Illinois’ economy.

* And people just don’t seem to understand why this is so. Here’s a recent letter to the editor in the Lake County News Sun

Where is all the money from the Illinois Lottery going? I thought this was going the schools? So why are they so broke?

Yeah. The Lottery brings in [said in Karl Sagan’s voice] billions and billions of dollars. Right. Everything is supposed to be so easy. It ain’t.

* Things are just bad all over...

[East St. Louis] Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr. said he plans to give up half of his salary to help save some police officers’ jobs.

Parks said Monday that he will give up $25,000 of the $50,000 salary he is paid as mayor. He said it will be effective Jan. 1 for one year.

Parks is hopeful that other city leaders will follow his lead and give up something to help save the officers’ job.

City officials are considering a plan to lay off 19 police officers, four public works workers and one full- and one part-time telecommuicator. Thirteen firefighters are already laid off, and City Manager Deletra Hudson said they will remain off.

* Aurora is having big trouble as well

The $340 million budget approved Tuesday attempts to eliminate an $18 million deficit. It cuts city spending by about $7 million while reducing or eliminating other planned projects. It strips out 98 full-time positions cut through retirements, voluntary separations and layoffs.

It eliminates the Office of Special Events, all historic preservation incentives, and most of the money for historic preservation and public art.

And, like most municipalities, it shows increasing amounts of money going toward health insurance and public pensions.

The budget also relies on concessions from all city employees, or further cuts if unions don’t agree to other cuts. All employees have been asked to take a 10 percent salary cut or the equivalent in concessions. Two of the city’s unions have already reached agreements.

* Angst about the future

The Jonesboro Elementary School Board, meeting Tuesday night at the grade school, heard plenty of comments about a proposed 4.5 percent increase in the tax levy, but ultimately decided unanimously to make no increase at all in the levy.

The move came at the recommendation of Superintendent Gary Hill, who explained that as the equalized assessed valuation of properties in the district increases, more money will be collected even at the same levy rate. […]

Hill said the $350,000 in state aid paid to the district this year came from the state’s use of federal stimulus funds, but questioned where next year’s state aid will come from.

* It ain’t good

By a vote of 4-3 the Carbondale City Council voted to collect a property tax this coming year for the first time in eight years.

* And pension troubles abound

In order to meet those [pension] obligations, which its 2011 budget puts at $1.25 million, the McHenry City Council last July raised its sales tax by 50 percent, or from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

The 2011 obligation is nearly four times greater than the $327,380 the city paid into its public safety pension fund in 2001. […]

Statewide, the cost of police pensions more than doubled over a 10-year period, from $86 million in 1997 to $215 million in 2008, according to the Illinois Municipal League. Firefighter pensions during that time increased by the same percentage, from $70 million to $176 million. […]

“One cause [of the pension crisis] is the downturn in the market, but another equally important thing is all the pension sweeteners approved over many years that increase the cost for municipalities and the state of Illinois, as well,” Cary’s Davis said.

* Things are so bad that Brookfield wants to charge an entrance tax on its town’s storied zoo. The Sun-Times delivers an appropriate response

In trying to understand why the Village of Brookfield, after decades of peaceful co-existence, wants to stick Brookfield Zoo with a big new tax on admissions, we’re reminded of what Willie Sutton said about why he robbed banks:

“That’s where the money is.”

The Village of Brookfield, like pretty much every suburb and Chicago, is hurting for money and desperate to find ways to increase revenues without hiking property taxes. If you’re the City of Chicago, you resort to half-baked solutions like privatizing parking meters. If you’re the Village of Brookfield, you go after the zoo, slapping a 25-cent amusement tax on every admission ticket, hoping to pull in up to $500,000 a year. […]

Further eroding the village’s argument is the state law, which more than 80 years ago established the zoo on Cook County Forest Preserve District land, to be operated by the non-profit Chicago Zoological Society. That law is widely read in Springfield as requiring that the zoo’s full price of admission be used to run the zoo — and for nothing else. State law also prohibits one government — in this case, the village — from imposing a tax on another government — in this case, the forest preserve district.

* Related…

* Illinois Human Service Cuts Mean Tough Times For Women: The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability predicts human services programs are most at risk. In a new report titled “Gender Disparities In Human Services” (PDF), the center argues that human service programs simply don’t hold the same appeal as other general fund-supported programs. “Not everyone has direct experience, for instance, with mental health, developmental disability, substance abuse or child abuse concerns. In a political system which allocates scarce public financial resources among competing, legitimate public services, those services with the smaller constituencies are most likely to be cut,” the report says. Indeed, CTBA’s report says that over the last 10 years, the state “has cut its real investment in various human service programs collectively by more than $4.4 billion.” No other “core” programming area has faced such a loss of resources.

* Planned layoffs of deputies spurs outrage downstate

* Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs is dismantled as 29 are laid off

* Soup Kitchens, Food Banks Looking For Help: According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) has seen a 36 percent increase in the number of people seeking assistance since 2006. Between July and October of this year, food pantries throughout the Chicago area fed 1.7 million visitors.

* Judge weighs tossing out atheist’s suit over state grant

* Troy schools add in last cent of tax hike: Troy School Board approved a 2010 tax levy of $43.8 million, 7.1 percent higher than last year’s levy.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Reality - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:02 am:

    It’s going to get interesting. Don’t know if it’s legal, but I heard one city offical in our community suggest that we should close one particular department and outsource it to a neighboring commmunity with a union-free workforce - thus saving our community a significant amount of money.

    Unions thought the economy would turn around soon enough to “cure the ills”. That’s not going to happen.

    It’s now going to be a “stare down” with unions and I don’t see the taxpayers in any mood to blink.

  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:31 am:

    This thread must be too depressing for anyone to comment.

  3. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:33 am:

    The cuts forced on us regarding transportation were bad enough, our school district had to change to a cheaper bus service and we’ve had multiple transprotation issues this year. But then our city, Waukegan, fired all school crossing guards last spring, saying they could no longer afford them. Our school district had to absorb these crossing guards onto our payroll and contracts, causing further expense which will end up taking funds from classrooms.
    But, hey, as long as wealthy seniors can ride for free, no problem, right???

  4. - amalia - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:42 am:

    The thread at the Reader on Cultural Affairs vs. Special Events
    is fascinating with one particularly vicious set of exchanges. Bread and Circuses.

  5. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:52 am:

    Why can’t the state law be changed for the fiscal emergency. Eliminate transportation unless the student lives 2-1/2 miles away or for that matter eliminate it all together. Parents can always carpool. Or have the busing but require that parents pay a share (unless indigent, of course)?

    When I was in school, we didn’t have paid crossing guards. The older (5&6th) students would do crossing guard duty. I still remember those yellow rubber slickers we had to wear when it rained.

  6. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:52 am:

    If suburban school districts think the cuts in transportation funding are bad, wait until they find out they’re losing state support for special education as well.

  7. - Aldyth - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:03 am:

    Merry @#$!*&@ Christmas.

  8. - Way Way Down Here - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:08 am:

    This is a rolling disaster. The sky isn’t going to fall it’s going to slowly crumble.

  9. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:19 am:


    Special education rights and instruction are guaranteed under the law. While the state is pushing for full inclusion into regular ed classrooms, the Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.) for each student receiving special ed services must be met.

  10. - cassandra - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:20 am:

    I don’t think those middle class tax increases Quinn and the Democrats are planning to try and rush through right after New Years are going to provide enough money to take care of all these fiscal woes. Especially when you consider that they money we middle class folks have to pay in additional taxes will not be spent buying the stuff that generates jobs.

    It’s time for some innovation. There really are cheaper and more effective ways of doing most of what government does, but you wouldn’t know that from watching Illinois state govt. Of course, being heavily indebted to public employee unions does put a big boulder in the way of innovation.
    What if the innovation, gasp, resulted in the need for fewer government jobs, as has occurred in the private sector with respect to its jobs. One of the reasons the private sector isn’t hiring is that businesses have figured out, when forced to do so, how to do more with less, particularly with respect to taking advantage of technology and the resources of the global economy.

    Quinn and the Dems are positively frightened of innovation. Their early 21st century strategy is to hit up the peasants for a big wad of cash (that would be around six billion a year forever) and keep telling themselves that the good times will soon return plus they’ll have all the extra cash to spend.

  11. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:33 am:

    - What if the innovation, gasp, resulted in the need for fewer government jobs, as has occurred in the private sector with respect to its jobs. -

    Well, since Illinois has the second lowest number of government employees per capita, this wouldn’t “take care of all these fiscal woes” either. There’s going to have to be a revenue increase to “take care of all these fiscal woes”. Because the Illinois constitution requires a flat tax, it will mainly be the middle class who “take care of all these fiscal woes”. There isn’t another option, I don’t like regressive taxes either, but I can recognize when there is no other choice. You, on the other hand, apparently only recognize opportunity to take swipes at Pat Quinn, deserved or not.

  12. - cassandra - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:59 am:

    That lower per capita rate is partly due to the fact that Illiois contracts out a lot of state services. In order to make a fair comparison you’d have take that into account and collect data from all the states.

    I don’t recognize that there is no other choice to an income tax increase on the middle class but if that is correct, the question is still which middle class. The neutral point doesn’t have to be a family of four making $60,000 as previously proposed. It could be substantially higher. A family of four making $80,000 is hardly rich-especially if they work in the private sector and have to save for their own retirements and buy health insurance on the market. Why hit these folks up for more money while taxing well-off retirees with good pensions plus social security like poor folks-they only get taxed on non-pension income.

    Quinn and the Dems want to press the easy button
    that’s why. Minimal change, lots more cash.

  13. - Responsa - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:17 am:

    As much as they love Chicagoans and the Chicago area, there are a lot of people who are contemplating moving away to a more hospitable environment in the near future. Many of them are recently retired, or soon to be retired middle aged baby boomers who were born and raised here and had never considered leaving–but now are. For some it is reluctantly recognizing age’s inexorable assault on muscles and joints and the unappetizing view of 20 more years of Illinois’ brutal winters. Some who had thought of maintaining their Illinois residence and becoming snow birds in Florida for a few months each year have found that with reduced economic resources and the ever increasing cost of living here, they cannot even consider a second residence–and so moving south wins. The fiscal calamity in Illinois has freaked out a lot of retirees, higher earning taxpayers, and property owners who do not see good things ahead tax-wise and are looking to reduce their costs by relocating.

    You can love them or hate them, but due to that generation’s sheer numbers no one in government, business, or media should underestimate the likelihood of major boomer migration here and elsewhere over the next decade. I am already seeing its effects in my own neighborhood where a generational shift is starting to take place and housing prices clearly are being affected. These people are NOT moving to a condo downtown, or in Glenview or in Bloomingdale. They, their buying power and their tax dollars are leaving the state.

  14. - CircularFiringSquad - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:32 am:

    CNBC justed blasted Capt Fax’s muni bond dooomsayer, Meredith Witney out of the water
    “over her skies” seemed a commonly used phrase
    They also suggested comparing IL to Greece was not realistic.

  15. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:39 pm:

    Everyone heed Responsa’s warning. I’m over 60 and never thought I would contemplate leaving the area. But arithmetic will ultimately govern my decision. I’ve given up selling the idea of selling the house when we go. It’ll be a rental. Recent emigres speak favorably of Utah and New Mexico. We just need to be careful to avoid a state where the disease killing Illinois has rooted and is starting to metasticize.

  16. - cassandra - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:51 pm:

    Better check the tax rates before you go. Illinois
    does provide a very nice tax benefit for retirees by not taxing pension income That’s one of the reasons why the burden of Quinn’s tax increase will fall disproportionately on the working middle class.

  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:07 pm:

    Yahoo Finance/Real Estate (and Forbes) recently had an article titled “10 Worst States for Retirees” with Illinois leading the pack. That article comes from website According to John Brady, president of, the 10 states earn this dubious distinction largely because of three factors: fiscal health, taxation, climate.

  18. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:11 pm:

    That piece was really stupid. Seriously flawed reasoning and analysis. No mention that Illinois doesn’t tax retirement benefits in a piece about retirement, which includes alleged analysis on taxation? Are you freaking kidding me?

    The guy is clueless. Obviously, anybody can write anything for Yahoo.

  19. - 3 beers to Springfield - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 4:20 pm:

    State legislators must STOP handing out property tax exemptions like hot dogs at Wrigley Field. Exemptions for residential proeprty owners 65 and over regardless of income and the senior freeze for those earning $55,000 (well over the median income in many counties in Illinois) is costing municipal, school district and county budgets millions. And the exemptions continue to increase due to the legislature’s built-in escalator. People over 65 are putting their homes in a “trust”, having the trust pay them $54,999 a year and claiming the freeze. Enough already. Reduce the freeze qualifier to 80% of each county’s median income and do away with the extra exemption for seniors regardless of their income. The taxpayers that came before them paid to educate their kids, it’s only fair they do the same for the next generation.

  20. - Ain't No Justice - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 5:41 pm:

    We haven’t hit rock bottom yet, but it is coming. Another coal mine laid off over 30 people in rural Montgomery County. People move TO jobs and that is why the census indicates a loss of a congressman because the rural areas and small towns are drying up. If the state has another massive layoff you will see the economy really sink, as will our State. Hello Texas!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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