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A fiscal crisis in Illinois state government is threatening many municipal budgets, lobbyist Matt O'Shea told the Forest Park Village Council Monday, but this year's legislative session ended with less damage than it could have.
"When I was [Forest Park's] village administrator 10 years ago, we had a lobbyist and times were different down there from a state fiscal standpoint. They were in the black and the money was rolling in," he said. "Now they have a crisis down there that we haven't seen in other states. You're not only playing offense on things, you're playing defense. The state has close to $5 billion in unpaid bills right now. Everything was on the table."
Of special concern, O'Shea said, were funds from the Local Government Distributive Fund, a kickback to municipalities of a percentage of state income tax based on population. The state legislature last year proposed absorbing the tax rebate to plug a hole in their budget, but lobbyists from the Illinois Municipal League and others kept the money free from being seized - at least this year. O'Shea said the village received $641,000 from the fund last year.
The legislators balanced the budget through significant cuts in education, Medicaid, college education and senior services, as well as pensions for new employees, including state employees, police and fire pensions, O'Shea said.
"My read on things is we'll see some kind of reforms in current and retired employees, which is unprecedented in that you're going to see pension changes mid-stream," O'Shea said. He predicts the changes may take place next fall.
O'Shea also gave an update on projects he's been working on. He said he helped acquire a gap-grant for funding on this week's resurfacing of Harrison Street at Beloit and Circle avenues. Extra money was found to pay for striping and special paving that are part of Forest Park's "complete street" program.
O'Shea said he's working with state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford and IDOT to help acquire $800,000 to resurface Madison Street between Harlem and Desplaines.
He also said he's working on grants to enhance Roosevelt Road though federal funds, directed through IDOT and helping to craft a proposal for ultra-high-speed broadband throughout the village. He's also trying to get a grant to rehab the CSX overpass on Desplaines Avenue.
O'Shea was hired as lobbyist for the village one year ago. He earns $36,000 per year as a consultant.