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Local Government Distributions | Bracing for Cuts
'It is going to be extremely difficult': Southern Illinois leaders prepare for cuts from governor's proposed budget

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens

CARBONDALE — During his 2018 budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced his proposal would cut the municipalities’ Local Government Distributive Fund, or LGDF, by 10 percent.

LGDF distributes shares of state personal and corporate income taxes to local governments not based on need, but on share of the state population. In the budget passed by the state this past July, there was a “one-time” reduction in the LGDF for Fiscal Year 2018.

Elected officials in Southern Illinois, as well as those tasked with balancing budgets, are forced once again to find — in some cases — hundreds of thousands of dollars if the governor’s proposal is approved.

In Carbondale, City Manager Gary Williams said the city is looking at a possible $328,000 loss in revenue for Fiscal Year 2019. In FY18, the city saw close to a $330,000 cut from the LGDF.

Williams said the city has not included an allowance to offset the loss of revenue in its budget it is preparing for the next fiscal year. He said the city is looking at leaving positions unfilled and deferring more costs for equipment and operational expenses.

“It will be difficult to absorb another reduction of this amount without cutting personnel, services, or running a deficit budget,” he said.

Mayor Mike Henry said the City Council already asked its city staff to cut 10 percent out of the budget before the news of the proposed reduction.

“We were concerned about this happening and we will have to go back and find more cuts,” he said. “It is going to be extremely difficult.”

Recent declining sales tax numbers compared to past years and a continual declining student population at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are hurting the city as usual drivers of the economy. Henry said the city’s sales tax has started to stabilize, but he’s not sure where the additional cuts are going to come from.

“I’m not prepared to raise taxes now," he said. "Any of them.”

Henry said there are community improvement projects the city will most likely postpone, but it’s going to be up to the city manager and department heads to find the savings.

In Marion, Mayor Anthony Rinella said the proposal reduction could cost the city about $160,000 to $170,000.

“This is just shifting the burden of taxation from the state level to the local level,” he said. “Marion runs almost exclusively on sales tax revenue, and to continue to have your money taken away from you, is at the very least unsettling.”

Rinella said that money is substantial to small cities, and the current state mindset is frustrating.

“While the city does not anticipate any tax hikes at the present, the continued attitude at the state level towards local government must end,” he said.

It’s not just the larger cities in Southern Illinois facing substantial setbacks. Towns like Du Quoin and Murphysboro are also seeing tens of thousands of dollars potentially wiped from their budgets. 

Andrew Croessman, Du Quoin's city clerk, said a 10 percent cut would result in a decrease of $54,676. He said the proposal would move the city from the black to the red.

“Since 2015, we have managed to absorb cuts and the state not paying its bills through finding savings throughout the city,” he said. “There is obviously a limit to this behavior, then, cuts to services and/or tax increases become a reality.”

Murphysboro could see a reduction of about $114,000.

Mayor Will Stephens said since there are limited tools a municipality can do — raise taxes or cut expenses — adding that the first thing he wants to do is look at expenses.

“You don’t want to look at cutting employees,” he said. “That is typically where you want to look last.”

Most likely, he said the city will start with road, street and sewer maintenance. Additionally, the city will probably have to forego a vehicle purchase or some other big ticket item, but he wouldn’t think about raising taxes at this point.

“Every year we see the continuation of poor fiscal policy in the state of Illinois,” Stephens said. “It has been coming for a long, long time.”

He said this isn’t just an attempt to reduce money to municipal government, but money to all corners of the state, and it probably isn’t going to stop any time soon.

“This is going to continue to happen and nobody should be surprised by it,” he said.


Govt-and-politics
top story
Today is Election Day. Here's what you need to know before you vote.

This Tuesday, voters will head to the polls to determine party nominations for a number of local, state and federal races.

The 2018 primary election includes several major contested races. Six Democratic nominees hope to face off against incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is also being challenged by Republican Jeanne Ives. Eight Democrats and two Republicans are squaring off in the attorney general race.

A roundup of candidates is available on The Southern’s website. Here’s a look at some key questions as Election Day approaches.

Here's who's running for office in Southern Illinois in the March 2018 primary

What’s a primary?

Primary elections narrow the field of candidates in a given party for an upcoming general election. The March 20 primary will determine the Democratic, Republican and Green Party candidates for the midterm election this November.

How do I find my polling place?

Your precinct polling place is listed on your voter ID card. You can also visit your jurisdiction’s website to find your designated polling place.

What if I’m not yet registered to vote?

Grace period registration — which extends the period of time an individual has to register to vote or change his or her address — is available through Election Day. You’ll need two forms of identification to register, and one form of identification must include your current address.

What about early voting?

Early voting runs through March 19. You can register and vote on the same day, but remember to bring those two forms of identification.

Do I have to be registered as a Democrat, Republican or Green Party member to vote in the primary?

Illinois is an open primary state, so you don’t have to be affiliated with a political party to vote. When you show up to vote on Election Day, simply ask for either the Democratic, Republican or Green Party ballot.

What should I bring with me?

If you’ve already registered to vote, government-issued photo ID is not required under Illinois law. Although election officials say it can be helpful to bring it in case there are any questions about your registration, address or signature, you don’t legally need identification to vote.

What if I need a ride?

Rides Mass Transit District is offering free transportation to the polls on Tuesday. Its service area includes over a dozen counties in southeastern Illinois, including Pope, Saline and Williamson Counties. Those inside the RMTD service area who need a ride may call 844-220-1243 to schedule their transportation. More information is available at ridesmtd.com.


The Southern File Photo 

People place their votes at one of the precincts voting in April 2017 at the Carterville Community Center.


State-and-regional
Illinois governor race fierce, costly

CHICAGO — The candidates for Illinois governor are making their final push ahead of Tuesday's primary, greeting voters and sinking more money into what's become an increasingly fierce — and expensive — contest.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, one of six Democrats fighting for the chance to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the Democratic-leaning state, filed paperwork late Friday showing he gave his campaign an additional $6.3 million. That brings his total investment to almost $70 million — a state record and millions more than President Donald Trump spent to win the GOP presidential primary.

Democrat Chris Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, also reported giving his campaign another $500,000, for a total of about $2 million.

The spending from both candidates prompted Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss, a former math teacher who's accused his rivals of trying to buy the election, to declare it had reached "new levels of absurdity."

Pritzker said he was excited about the chance to get his message out.

Rauner, considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents running this year, faces his own primary challenge. State Rep. Jeanne Ives decided to take him on after Rauner, who was elected in 2014 with a pledge that he had no "social agenda," angered conservatives with his actions on abortion, immigration and other issues.

Rauner and the Democratic candidates marched in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Chicago, an annual tradition that draws thousands of spectators as well as candidates and politicians. Ives opted for a parade in Palatine, a more GOP-friendly suburb.

Rauner has argued he's best positioned to defeat Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune who's led in polling throughout the race and has backing from many in the Democratic establishment.

Rauner spent just over $65 million on his 2014 election, when he was one of several Republicans who won governor's races in Democratic-leaning states and set the previous record for spending by an Illinois governor candidate. He has put more than $50 million into his campaign fund since then, some of which has paid for ads blasting Pritzker.

"I'm the one person who can win," Rauner told a southern Illinois radio station this week, saying he's "excited" to take on Pritzker. "We are going to blow him up and take him down."

The Democratic Governors Association also has gotten involved in the GOP primary, launching two ads this week. One rips Rauner over a more than two-year state budget stalemate — the result of disagreements between the governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature — that led to billions in unpaid bills and the lowest credit rating of any U.S. state.

Another ad calls Ives one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state, saying she wants to ban abortion and has an "A'' rating from the National Rifle Association. While the ad has the ominous music and narrator voice usually associated with a negative ad, its contents could actually help Ives in a GOP primary.

Rauner's campaign said the DGA should be required to file a campaign finance report disclosing the ad as a type of donation to Ives.

"Washington Democrats know that Governor Rauner will be tough to beat in November," communications director Will Allison said. "That's why they've decided to overtly attempt to influence the outcome of the Republican primary in favor of a candidate who is simply unelectable in Illinois."

Ives said she's honored by attacks from the left, whether from the DGA or "the Leftist, fake Republican Bruce Rauner."

Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination: educator Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall.


Education
top story
Substitute teacher shortage hitting Southern Illinois hard; lobbyists working with legislators to change rules

According to a survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, 53 percent of school districts are having issues finding substitute teachers.

It is a particular issue in Southern Illinois.

Carterville Intermediate School is one of the many schools in Southern Illinois that have been affected by the substitute teacher shortages. Since the school year started, there have been more than 55 instances in which the school needed a substitute teacher and was not able to secure one.

“There’s been 55 times we had to use internal people to cover classes or we had to cancel classes or make adjustments because we could not secure a substitute teacher,” said Principal Thomas Webb.

If the school isn’t able to find a substitute teacher, then some classes have to double up, or a school interventionist steps in to teach the class.

Add in the fact that this year’s flu season has made it hard for some schools in Southern Illinois to keep up with teacher absences.

“We had more teachers that needed a sick day more than the normal,” Webb said. "Some of them were sick themselves, their children were sick … plus when we would call our substitutes, they were unable to come (because) they were not feeling well.”

In Belleville School District 118, which has 3,900 students, the problem is particularly acute.

Because of the size of the district, “there are some days that a class won’t have a substitute for,” said Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman.

However, if that does happen, the school would take a teacher who has a plan period — an unassigned period where a teacher would utilize that time to write lessons, grade papers or meet with students — and have him/her teach that class.

“The flu has hit our area really bad," Klosterman said. "It has created some challenges that we can’t really control."

There are a number of issues that the state is facing in regard to retaining teachers and substitute teachers in school districts, such as reducing the $250 to $300 it costs for a substitute license, reduce the requirements for out-of-state teachers, and increasing the rate of pay for subs.

“The biggest thing is the rate of pay for substitute teachers,” said IARSS Association President Mark Jontry. “With the exacerbated shift in the economy, there is a reduced number of applicants because we have a stronger economy. People are now looking for job opportunities outside the state.”

To compete with other counties of the state, Klosterman’s district had to increase the pay of its substitute teachers to $90 a day. “It was necessary to be competitive and expand the candidate pool for us to make sure that we did everything we could to fill positions as much as possible,” he said.

Other methods Klosterman’s district implemented were using social media to advertise and speaking with employees, parents, friends, relatives, etc., asking if they knew anyone who would like to be a substitute.

Because the crisis is statewide, Jontry is working with a few advocacy groups, such as Advance Illinois, to ensure that a solution to the problem can be found.

“There’s a lot of advocacy that is happening to address the teacher shortage and substitute shortage … definitely will see more pieces of legislation. There will be a lot of bills written this spring to help create a solution for this issue,” Jontry said.

The Illinois Education Association, which is composed of elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty and staff, educational support professionals, retired educators and college students preparing to become teachers, has been working closely with members of the General Assembly to get bills passed that address the substitute shortages in the state.

The group is currently working on three proposals:

• Bring back retired teachers and have them teach in subject shortage areas;

• allowing retired teachers to come back and teach up to 120 days instead of 100;

• creating a temp agency for substitute teachers, which has been met with some resistance in Chicago.

“We believe that it’s a way to maybe address young, college educated students maybe looking do some work or get interested in the profession and from there they decide if they want to go on and pursue it as a full-time career,” said Director of Government Relations Jim Reed.

Because of the tax structure in border areas such as the Metro East and the eastern part of the state, teachers there often go to Indiana and Missouri than Illinois.

Officials hope the proposals will help mitigate that problem.

The survey, which was completed by more than 500 superintendents in the state between Sept. 8 and Oct. 12, shows that while more than half of superintendents indicate that they have a “serious problem” with substitute teacher shortages, only 5 percent indicate that they have “no problems.” Also, 54 percent think that the availability of substitute teachers is “significantly worse” than it has been in previous years.