Our View: Pros and foes must unite to ‘fix the problem’

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Rockford’s home rule foes said: “Don’t fund the problem; fix the problem.”

It’s time to start fixing.

The opponents, who voted for the status quo, now must step to the plate and help the city manage through its current financial plight using all tools afforded by the status quo. It’s unfortunate, but Springfield needs to provide some of those tools.

The anti-home rule side attracted Realtors, developers and connected private citizens who have clout because of their expertise or ability to make generous campaign contributions or both. Fair enough.

Now, however, it’s time to see whether they opponents can meet the test of true civic leadership, by rising to the occasion and collaborating with those with whom they disagreed on home rule. The opponents maintained that they had a better way, so let’s see it: It’s put up or shut up time. Those who don’t step up will be branded as “no-birds” who have no solutions and no inclination to seek any.

The city’s agenda is clear. Aldermen on the Legislative Lobbying Committee on Monday agreed to forward to the City Council a legislative lobbying agenda. The items on the list should come as no surprise to anyone because they are the same issues city officials had hoped to deal with using home rule authority.

• Increase video gaming fees. The current $25 fee is absurdly cheap. A proposed $1,000 fee might be a bit steep, but Rockford should get more out of the $31 million that was spent by residents on video gaming in 2017.

• Fight the blight. The city has to jump through too many hoops to tear down condemned properties drag down the value of neighboring homes. The more quickly blighted properties are removed, the better for the entire neighborhood. A land bank and foreclosed property registry would help clean up the city.

• Recoup cost of “lift assists.” The Rockford Fire Department gets more than two calls a day seeking help for older or disabled residents who fall and need help getting back into a chair or bed, but are otherwise uninjured. Most of the calls come from facilities whose staffs are not trained to handle these situations. Rockford by itself cannot impose a fee for lift assist services without home rule, but the legislature can.

• Create a local preference ordinance. Such an ordinance would allow work that is done here to be done by the people who live here rather than the low bidder who comes from outside the community.

City lobbyist Michael Cassidy of McGuireWoods Consulting said Monday that Rockford has “a great delegation.” But we don’t think the local delegation, no matter how “great,” can succeed without help.

Rockford needs to present a united front in Springfield — and in Washington, for that matter — to get what it needs to move the community forward.

State and national politicians for years have told the Rockford Register Star Editorial Board that they liked coming to Rockford because its leaders a) never asked for anything or b) didn’t know what to ask for or c) didn’t know how to ask.

As a result, this region truly has been “forsaken and forgotten,” as a former governor and current inmate put it.

That needs to stop. Now.

In addition to the four items on the city’s legislative agenda, let’s not forget the biggest problem that needs to be fixed: pensions.

That’s an issue for every municipality in the state. So is the fact that the state is holding on to money those municipalities could use to deliver services residents deserve.

The state now is charging a 2 percent fee on sales taxes that are collected and it’s keeping a greater share of Local Government Distributive Funding, or LGDF. Those are your income tax dollars that go to Springfield and don’t come back at the rate they formerly did.

For Rockford, that means an LGDF reduction of about $1.5 million in the 2018 budget. Add a $900,000 reduction in personal property replacement tax and $320,000 less because of the sales tax fee.

Rockford needs a common Springfield agenda. Let’s develop it and declare a Rockford Day in Springfield — an intense day of lobbying on Rockford’s behalf by a phalanx of civic leaders, home rule advocates and opponents alike. This is a chance to show Springfield lawmakers, and local voters, the power of a united front in service of the common good.

We have an opportunity to get this right. Let’s embrace it.

via Editorials – Rockford Register Star https://ift.tt/1XK6UHU

April 14, 2018 at 10:18AM

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