Federation defends tax study

The Civic Federation was pleased that the Forest Park Review’s recent editorial opinion piece supported our conclusion that local government expenditures are growing unsustainably at twice the rate of revenue growth per capita, but we disagree with your headline that our study is misleading (“New tax study is misleading,” September 26, 2006). A full copy of the Federation’s recent report on local government finances in northeastern Illinois is available at www.civicfed.org and includes detailed and separate analysis of each type of the over 1,000 local governments in northeastern Illinois and provides independent, data-driven support for each of our conclusions.

The driving force behind increased government expenditure is personnel costs. Sixty-five to 80 percent of local government budgets are dedicated to personnel costs, which is why increases in health care and pension costs have affected many local governments so strongly. In order to avoid almost continual tax increases, local governments must balance their books by controlling costs. Just like homeowners cannot say, “my health care costs are too high, I won’t pay my property taxes,” local governments should not allow unmanaged health and benefit costs to be an excuse for unbalanced budgets.

Our report clearly demonstrates that the staffing at many local governments has increased. For example, suburban Cook County municipalities increased their workforces by 2.2 percent over the years studied and collar county municipalities increased theirs by 6.9 percent (these numbers can be found on page 74 of our report).

The Civic Federation’s study also demonstrates that too many local governments have not begun to make necessary expenditure and personnel cuts to match available tax revenues. In addition, the report finds that some local governments like townships and special districts are over-taxing the public as they build unnecessarily large surplus funds. The Federation’s previous trend analyses of local governments have been used to identify wasteful government spending, such as the obsolete and recently abolished Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District. Much like the townships and special taxing districts identified in our report, the TB District had a history of excessive surplus fund balances, meaning its officials taxed much more than needed. Thanks to a three-year Civic Federation campaign to educate the public and public officials, the TB District’s property tax levy will be eliminated and its responsibilities transferred to the Cook County Health Bureau, where patients can receive more comprehensive medical care. Suburban Taxpayers will no longer be forced to pay for the operation and maintenance of obsolete sanitariums.

Finally, the Civic Federation has a history of working with local governments to more effectively manage their resources. The Federation was instrumental in bringing six major local governments together to jointly purchase prescription drugs for their employees, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Several of those governments have also begun to implement health care plans based on collaborative negotiation with HMO vendors.

While employee health care costs are a challenge for all organizations, they cannot be used as a reason or excuse for not balancing local government budgets.

Laurence Msall
President, The Civic Federation

Political season prompts illness

Jeesh, Mr. Backman, I’m sorry for the latest eruption of your chronic illness.

Two thoughts. One, if your letter is sincere, stop the source of your pain. Cancel your subscription to the local newspaper pronto and certainly don’t attend any candidate debates. Best to stay away from all village meetings, too.

Two, if you are just really cranky about the election process and your letter was a backhanded attempt to improve it, I’m not so sure it will be successful.

Are you saying that everyone who has run, is running, or might be thinking of running for public office in our town is a sickening idiot? Or, are you referring to their supporters? Or, maybe just candidates and supporters who write letters to their newspaper? Perhaps you’re just warning us about folks with poor writing skills. All of the above?

Hmmm. And you’re thinking this will encourage folks to improve the process, or God forbid, run for office?

Best to quarantine yourself this “season” in case your illness is contagious.

Sharon Daly
Forest Park

Commissioner to run for mayor

On Sunday, Oct. 22 Commissioner Terry Steinbach will announce that she plans to enter the race for mayor of Forest Park. At a gathering of her supporters she will unveil her platform for enhancing village services while still holding the line on property taxes.

“Forest Park has come a long way in the 40-plus years I’ve lived here and I believe if we focus our energies we can build an even better future for our community,” Commissioner Steinbach said.

Madison Street has been a smashing success thanks to the efforts of so many involved business leaders. And building on that model, together over the next four years, we can bring that success to other key commercial areas like Roosevelt Road, Harlem Avenue, Randolph Street and Harrison Street.

As a commissioner, Terry Steinbach pushed for better management of village finances and greater accountability on spending. Because of her efforts, Forest Park is completing one of the biggest capital improvement programs it has had in years. If you look around town, you will find new streets and alleys all over Forest Park. This $10 million investment in Forest Park could not have happened without Commissioner Steinbach’s push to require the new sales tax money be used only for capital projects.

“It was a tough fight; mayor Calderone and some of the other commissioners were pushing against the idea of dedicating the new sales tax revenue to infrastructure investment. But I was determined not to let the people’s hard earned money go into some general fund. I thought if we’re going to ask them to support an increase in the sales tax, they deserved to see the rewards and know that their money was being put to good use.”

Most Forest Park residents and businesses recently paid their second installment of their property tax bills.

“The huge increases in these property tax bills have created hardships on many of our residents and businesses,” Commissioner Steinbach said. Forest Park must find creative ways to deliver services to residents and businesses, and manage our finances so that we can do more with less. Commissioner Steinbach said, “People in town were shocked when they received their property tax bills; we can and we must do better.”

Commissioner Steinbach will be making her announcement on Sunday, Oct. 22 at a reception being held at Jimmy’s Place on Madison Street from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Terry Steinbach
Forest Park

Candidates’ forum on Saturday

One of the most effective ways to make a difference in our community is to be an informed voter. Often citizens complain that they do not know enough about the candidates or the issues to make an informed vote. Why not come and talk to the candidates yourself?

The League of Women Voters is hosting a Candidates Fair on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Candidates for state and county offices will be available to talk to you and provide written campaign information.

Given recent discussions in the media, civic groups, local coffee shops, and around kitchen tables, it’s clear that taxation and school funding are major issues for everyone in our communities.

Here are some questions you might want to ask candidates concerning these issues:

1) How should the state raise the money to eliminate its structural

deficit, that is, the gap between revenues and expenditures?

2) Should the state continue to borrow to pay its operating expenses?

3) Should the state sell assets such as the Lottery, Illinois Toll system, or the state of Illinois Building in order to pay for operating expenses?

4) Should the state cut services to balance its budget? If yes, which services?

5) How should the state fund its pension plans?

6) Do the state’s schools need more money? If yes, what purposes are you most concerned about?more teachers, smaller class sizes, school building improvements, new schools, help for poor and underprivileged students, universal preschool, teacher training?

7) In order to provide more funding for schools, should the state raise the income tax and/or broaden the sales tax base? Or should schools continue to be primarily funded by local property taxes?

Please take the time to ask candidates these or other questions you have.

We hope to see you at the Candidates Fair on Oct. 21. As election day approaches, we want to encourage you to participate in our democracy in the most fundamental way, by voting.

Louise Gates and Denise Sacks