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2017 Legislative Program

On January 21, The Northwest Municipal Conference (NWMC) unveiled its 2017 Legislative Program to a large crowd of legislators and municipal officials.
2017 NWMC Legislative Program
The 2017 NWMC Legislative Program urges lawmakers to pass a balanced budget, one that protects local government revenues.  It is past time to take the necessary actions to get the state back on solid financial footing.  Illinois’ stability relies on the stability of its communities.  Only as governing partners can we assure the prosperity of our state.  The Conference’s policy recommendations contained in this program can begin moving the state and its communities forward again.

Promote Fiscal Stability through Strong Communities

If we want to ensure that Illinois communities remain strong and attractive for economic development, it is time for Illinois to address its fiscal crisis.  Without fiscal stability and certainty, our state and our communities become less attractive.  For local governments, the state’s fiscal instability prevents capital investments and threatens essential services on which our shared constituents rely.  During the budget impasse, our communities have faced threats to freeze local revenue sources, unreliable revenue distribution from the state and the actual diversion of millions in local government revenues intended for our communities. 
To fund critical governmental functions and ensure the long-term fiscal stability that our residents and businesses demand, Illinois must undertake the serious and difficult task of passing a complete budget without shifting the financial burden and destabilizing local governments. 
If Illinois enacts new revenue sources from new or broader taxes, the NWMC believes that an appropriate portion of these revenues should return to our communities in order to provide relief for local property taxpayers and to avoid inadvertently undermining the fiscal stability of local governments.

Enact Reforms that Protect Public Services and Promote Local Stability

Beyond the state budget, there is a need to rebalance the cost of providing government services and lessen the burden on local taxpayers.  Public safety is a primary responsibility of local government.  Providing fair salaries and benefits, reliable retirement security and care for those who served our communities is an obligation NWMC communities readily accept.  However, we are increasingly concerned that the rising costs of public safety benefits threaten to crowd out other essential services. 
A constitutional option exists to address the long-term fiscal viability of public safety pension funds through improving fund performance and lowering the costs of operations.  Significant taxpayer savings through operational efficiencies, economies of scale and potentially higher investment returns could be derived by taking individual pension funds and consolidating them into a single pension fund, with individual community accounts, such as the IMRF.
Additionally, we have an obligation to provide for injured police and firefighters who are legitimately unable to support themselves as a result of their service to our communities. Unfortunately, the catastrophic injury loophole consumes limited taxpayer resources making it more difficult to provide for those who legitimately deserve lifetime health insurance.  Tying the definition of catastrophic injury to gainful employment would be consistent with federal guidelines.
Furthermore, state lawmakers should require arbitrators to take into account economic factors, such as the budgetary constraints facing local governments and cost-of-living standards, when determining total compensation packages.  Additionally, lawmakers should empower arbitrators to explore compromises that lie between the final offers put forth by the employer and the union.

Invest in Illinois to Ensure Stable and Reliable Infrastructure

If Illinois’ critical infrastructure continues to crumble around and underneath our communities, the state will not enjoy the preconditions necessary to support a modern and thriving economy.  While the lack of a state operating budget has garnered significant and necessary attention, funding from Illinois Jobs Now, the state’s last major capital bill, is spent.  Illinois has been managing from budget crisis to budget crisis, which has prevented any focus on comprehensive investment in our state’s infrastructure.  Meanwhile, traditional revenue sources, such as the Motor Fuel Tax continue to shrink or stagnate while the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and stakeholder groups point to mounting needs. 
The state must develop a reliable source of revenue that can keep pace with system needs.  Illinois must allocate funding and select projects in a cost-effective way to maximize economic benefits. 
In addition, infrastructure for a successful state extends beyond pavement, train tracks and pipes.  State of the art telecommunications are critical in a modern economy where moving information is as imperative as moving people.  Nonetheless, while the NWMC strongly supports the implementation of emerging wireless technological advances, we strongly caution that they cannot be implemented in a manner that restricts the ability of local governments to protect the interests of their communities.
While local governments support the goal of ensuring reliable telecommunication coverage throughout our communities, the approach taken in legislation considered last session essentially amounts to reverse eminent domain where a private business concern can take and use public property without reasonable regulation or fair compensation.  Local and state lawmakers must work as partners to provide sensible protections for municipalities while meeting the goal of providing state of the art telecommunication services.