Lobbying fails, city turns to citizens

With numerous lobbying trips to Springfield having proved fruitless, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) is now urging Rockford citizens to pressure Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to sign the bill that would allow the city to begin collecting a 1 percentage point sales tax increase six months early.

“We’re gonna be encouraging citizens to get a hold of the Governor’s Office and let ‘em know that this is important for Rockford,” Morrissey told reporters, “that it was passed by a large margin, that it means jobs and, ultimately, means property tax relief as we shift to a different way of paying our bills.”

The bill would allow for Rockford retailers to begin collecting the tax increase in July, with revenues returning from the state in October, to be used for much-needed infrastructure improvements throughout the city.

While the bill collects dust on his desk, insiders say the governor is fearful of being associated with raising any sales tax within Illinois. The Rockford City Council, however, is hoping Blagojevich will listen to the voters who approved Rockford’s sales tax increase April 17—essentially demanding better roads. Morrissey has been a vocal critic of Blagojevich’s lack of a capital plan and hopes the governor will respond to the wishes of his Rockford constituents.

During the June 11 City Council meeting, however, Morrissey warned that time is short.

“We have concerns,” Morrissey said, “that if the governor doesn’t sign this bill right away, we may not be able to collect until January of next year.”

If the City cannot begin levying the increase in July, the earliest Rockford will see the revenues is April 2008.

According to the mayor, the Illinois Department of Revenue has indicated if Blagojevich doesn’t sign the bill right away, there’s little chance for early collection of the sales tax increase.

City leaders previously believed Rockford would have until July 1 to get the governor’s signature on the bill, but have acknowledged some time would be needed for the Department of Revenue to get the word out to retailers in the weeks beforehand.

Morrissey urged aldermen to put the heat on Rockford’s contacts in Springfield to support its signing before June 15.

“We’re really shooting for the end of this week as a drop-dead date in our hopes of being able to start collection of the tax and start building the $8 million worth of projects that we’ve got scheduled for this year,” Morrissey stated.

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) said he personally plans to send a message to Blagojevich and urged others to do the same.

“The citizens of Rockford gave us the authorization to pass the tax,” Bell argued. “Any time citizens take an initiative to the degree that they have with this situation, we certainly want to encourage the governor to look favorable upon that. It can restore the faith that citizens have in our government.”

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) is also hoping the governor will sign. Mark noted Blagojevich had described Rockford as forgotten and forsaken during his first gubernatorial campaign and suggested the governor could use a reminder.

“With this resounding referendum,” Mark said, “I think the people of Rockford spoke to us and to the governor…I think it’s time that we’re looking for an answer, and we wanna know what that answer’s gonna be.”

To contact the Office of the Governor by phone, call 217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121. To contact the Office of the Governor on the web, visit: http://www.illinois.gov/gov/contactthegovernor.cfm

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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