Local leaders warn of budget deadlock’s impact

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

A state government shutdown that will impact local communities is set to begin with Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a short-term funding bill Wednesday.

But area leaders feel their cities are in place to sustain a short-term showdown in Springfield.

“Our ability to absorb payment delays from the state is strong,” Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said Tuesday. “We have a cash reserve and also a line of credit that we’ve not had to dip into for several years, but it’s available for these situations.”

Down in Sycamore, Mayor Ken Mundy says his town knows how to fight through these conditions having seen them in 2007 and 2009.

“It’s about finding more local funds for programs rather than relying on the state,” he told The Rock River Times Monday.

Mundy says the city was able to complete some key projects with the potential for a shutdown looming, including a $7 million project funded by the state and federal governments to clean up the area around the former Evergreen Terrace mobile home park.

“It’s more the state saying to locals, ‘You have to find a way, you have to figure out how to get through this.’”

He says Sycamore showed its mettle during the recession, overcoming a tough state political climate while continuing to operate at full capacity.

“Local governments in these situations have to do a whole lot better job. We have money and we spend it, but we also try to build reserves.

“We didn’t have big layoffs during the recession, we didn’t have vacant positions that went unfilled. We were lean and we came out stronger.”

Oregon Mayor Ken Williams says that a brief closure wouldn’t take a chunk out of the city’s plans.

“In the short run, it’s going to have very little impact,” he said. “A lot of the reserve revenue resources we receive from the state are already set and not part of the shutdown.”

But he warns that an extended shutdown will put city and county services at risk.

“We have a lot of organizations here and across Ogle County that bill the state and get state income,” says Williams.

“If it’s something that lasts a week or 10 days most of them can weather that storm. If it’s something that lasts a month or more you’re going to see a bigger impact.”

Other government groups have budgets in place with the expectation of state funds that may not be coming soon.

“We’ve got some projects tied to funds that have been committed but not appropriated due to the lack of a budget,” said Morrissey.

“Even some federal funds earmarked may not be accessible as they’ve not been appropriated to Public Works or the city’s Human Resources department.”

Morrissey warns that any slowdown in state funds can make a mark on projects whether they’re already underway or on the docket.

He says Rockford has mechanisms in place to find ways to keep the gears moving.

“We have to be aware of what is a structural problem and what is a casualty of the political process,” he said. “We’re in a position where we could manage a disruption from the state.”

Morrissey echoed Mundy’s sentiments about building a strong financial base for the community.

“Having a reserve is a best practice in the financial industry. We don’t want to penalize our city for having better business practices than, frankly, the state has had.”

Julie Bosma, Executive Director of Regional Access and Mobilization Project (RAMP), says her group is moving forward with its services for clients even though it’s not sure if the state will reimburse funds.

“The most frustrating part is we don’t know,” she said. “We have signed contracts that came through even last week, so we have those but we assume (the state) won’t stand by those if we don’t have a budget.”

Other community non-profits indicated that they would close their doors beginning Wednesday if a budget deal wasn’t in place. But Bosma says RAMP will continue to provide services to clients, even if it means trimming back.

“We’re trying to be positive about it and do everything we can to keep our expenses minimal,” she said.

“My board can’t pass a budget because we can’t get a budget from the state. Our clients have been made aware of that and a lot of them are contacting their legislators.”

She says having been through these struggles before has prepared her organization for what lies ahead.

“We’ve been going through this for so many years that we’re a little shell shocked at this point.”

Morrissey says that the constant battles over the state’s budget have gone on long enough.

“There needs to be enough collective pain felt for lawmakers and the governor to see whatever it is they’re looking to do, even if it’s unpopular.

“I think there’s some belief in Springfield that there has to be some additional pain to get this budget passed.”

But he says that it’s unfair on middle-class families that they get caught in the middle of this political showdown.

“It’s sad because there are folks who will experience a disturbance to important services, and the groups that provide those services are also having to absorb a hit.”

Bosma says enough is enough and that legislators and the governor need to find working solutions and stop blaming each other for not getting the budget passed.

“Quit using us as pawns. Quit putting us in the middle. Please, just do your jobs.

“It’s politics and that’s how you try to play chicken with your opponents, but you’re playing chicken with people’s lives.”

And Morrissey warns that a number of projects in the city could get caught up in the trickle-down effect that a shutdown of any length will have.

“There’s a number of legislative priorities for Rockford that had to take a back seat,” he said. “The River Edge Redevelopment Zone was one – some other infrastructure projects we were looking at.”

But he’s optimistic that state leaders can put their heads together to avoid any long term pain for the region.

“Hopefully the state can deliver a budget soon to allow our services to deliver to citizens.”

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