DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully and other DuPage County leaders will take a list of legislative priorities to Springfield next month, including opposition to a bill amendment they say would drive up project costs and make it difficult for municipalities to hire local contractors.
The amendment of concern requires bidders to participate in a federally-approved apprenticeship and training program to demonstrate status as a "responsible bidder," a requirement the mayors say many "mom and pop" contractors can't afford.
"Legislation like this, though well-intended, has the impact of actually making it more difficult for local businesses to compete," Tully said. "It has the consequence of limiting our ability to do what we think is in the best interest of our community with the funds we have available, and ultimately costs our taxpayers more money."
Tully, Addison Mayor Larry Hartwig and Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig, among others, say they want a threshold written into the bill that would allow projects under a certain dollar amount, say $250,000, to avoid the requirement. The threshold would allow smaller companies that can't afford federally approved training programs to bid on smaller projects they're readily able to handle.
The mayors are members of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, an organization that makes regular trips to the state capital to meet with legislators and address issues that affect municipalities.
Tully, Hartwig, Craig and Mark Baloga, executive director of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, met with editorial staff of Suburban Life Media Friday.
Included in the discussion was a checklist of the conference's legislative positions for 2013.
One item on their checklist was recently crossed off when the House voted down Bill 89, which would have limited municipalities from raising the property tax levy in years when the assessed value of property did not rise. The mayors opposed the bill.
A top, ongoing priority again this year is pension reform, especially the police and fire pensions that eat a continually larger slice of the local revenue pie.
"Our long-term goal is to flatten the costs over time," Craig said. "Today it's ramping up, and it's unsustainable."
The mayors have several recommendations to flatten pension costs, including requiring public safety employees to contribute more toward the cost of their pension, resetting the retirement age for public safety employees from 50 to 55, and requiring 35 years of employment to take advantage of maximum pension benefits.
Several other items on their list could have large impacts on local bottom lines:
• House Bill 1490: This would direct arbitrators to consider a city's ability to pay when it decides on a labor contract. Currently, when contract negotiations with police and fire unions come to impasse, an arbitrator is brought in to pick the offer either from the city or the union. In choosing, arbitrators are instructed to take into account comparable contracts of nearby communities, but not a city's ability to pay, which often results in tax hikes.
"That doesn't make sense to say that an arbitrator from outside of a community can come in and basically tell the taxpayers that you're going to have to raise your taxes," Hartwig said.
• House Bill 961: The state is notorious in its late payments, and this bill, supported by the mayors, would require it to directly deposit the local share of state income tax funds into a Local Government Distributive Fund.
• Senate Bill 1245: The mayors support this amendment to the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act, which would modify the definition of "catastrophic injury" to mean "consequences of an injury that permanently prevents an individual from performing any gainful work." The current definition of "catastrophic injury" allows people with an injury that prevents them from their previous line of work, but are still able to work other jobs, to still collect benefits.