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Wayne's Words: City budget woes made worse by state, casinos

Wayne Horne | 11/12/2015, 11:45 a.m.
Joliet's new fiscal year kicks in Jan. 1, but no proposed budget has yet been presented to the city council ...
Joliet predicted in its 2015 budget that it would receive $19.3 million from its two casinos and video gaming but it looks like the numbers will fall about $400,000 short of that amount.

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Wayne Horne

Usually by this time of the year, the Joliet City Council has already publicly discussed budget items for the coming fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1.

Maybe discussions have been less public because there is so much uncertainty about some revenue sources Joliet receives from the state of Illinois. At the present time, three sources of revenue that Joliet depends on have not been forthcoming from the state: The city’s share of the state income tax, the municipal share of gaming revenue and the motor fuel tax.

There has been discussion at the state legislature level that income tax revenue share will be reduced to local municipalities. The city’s gaming revenue has been declining since 2007 and now the budget crisis has cut off that source due to the budget crisis that has been plaguing the state since July. The motor fuel tax share being withheld is used to fix city streets.

Although Joliet officials say there are adequate reserve funds to pay the bills, including payroll, revenues will begin to tighten by January. Paying $15 million out of reserves for the Evergreen Terrace property made a big dent in the city’s reserve. It’s compounded by HUD’s not allowing Joliet to take ownership until the condemnation lawsuit appeal by the current owners of Evergreen Terrace is concluded. That means no revenue from rents will be forthcoming either.

The uncertain release of these revenue sources isn’t the only challenge facing the city’s budget process.

Cost overruns at the new train station are not only holding up the start of construction but causing commuters to seek more convenient places to catch the trains to downtown Chicago. Subsidies for the City Center Partnership and the Rialto Square Theatre will possibly be reduced this next budget year due to the city’s financial belt tightening and the need to allocate those revenues to other potential needs.

As the financial woes of the state of Illinois play out in Springfield, municipalities like Joliet will continue to scramble to balance next year’s budget.

Gaming reports were released this week and while the revenue continues a downward trend, the decline has been less than previous years. Joliet’s budget projected income from gaming in 2015 is $19.3 million. Based on the current trend, revenue will be about $400,000 below that projection. That includes video gaming revenue. Joliet continues to receive more gaming revenue than any other community by a substantial amount.

The Des Plaines Rivers Casino takes in the largest local share of the 10 casinos in Illinois but shares that revenue with ten other communities on a 60/40 split. Joliet’s two casinos have provided city coffers with over $15 million year to date. DesPlaines' share to date is just over $12 million.

Joliet has received and spent more than $600 million in gaming revenue since 1992, when the first riverboat opened. No other community has shared even close to that much in the 23 years since gambling has been legal in Illinois. And Joliet cannot afford to fix a leaky roof on Union Station because it costs too much. Yikes!

One last thing…

A recent op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune echoed a recurrent theme in this column. Apparently Illinois is ranked third in public corruption convictions. The reason given in the piece is because Illinois has more layers of government than any other state by almost twice.

Maybe, but possibly if we paid more attention to what public officials do or don’t do for the public rather than what they do for themselves, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. Think about it. Stay tuned…