With few signs the partisan storm in the capital city will end soon, Illinoisans may want to start preparing for winter.

Buy those snow tires. Put your shovel, rock salt and snow boots on standby. According to local highway engineers across the state, the lingering budget impasse could mean they won't have the cash to clear roads when the snow and ice start accumulating.

During a hearing last week, a handful of county and city officials told members of the Illinois House that Gov. Bruce Rauner's decision to withhold motor fuel tax revenue because of the budget stalemate could leave roadways in a mess.

"This is not going to work out very well for anyone," Union County Highway Superintendent Kevin Grammer testified.

Since July 1, the state has collected $57 million in motor fuel taxes from the 19-cents-a-gallon tax on fuel. Typically, local governments get 27 percent of the revenue.

But Rauner isn't releasing the local share of the funds because he and the Democrats who control the General Assembly haven't agreed on a budget.

Johnson County Highway Engineer Steve Kelly said he's had to lay off two employees and move a secretary to half time since the money was cut off.

He currently has enough to meet the next four payrolls.

"At that point, we'd either have to borrow money or shut our doors," he said.

Kelly also said the county won't be able to afford snow removal in the winter or bridge inspections year-round.

"It's a big portion of our budget," said Kelly, whose rural county uses cinders to ease winter driving challenges because salt is too expensive.

Grammer said the lack of funding means workers will do less mowing, which could make visibility tough at intersections and invite deer to edge even closer to his country roadways.

"We live or die by the motor fuel tax allotment," he said.

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman said cities may not have the cash to buy salt or put road repair projects out for bid for next year's construction season, jeopardizing job creation and safety.

"Mayors find themselves in a holding pattern as we wait for the state to take action," Inman said.

On Tuesday, Democrats in the House positioned legislation that would free up as much as $146 million in motor fuel taxes to counties, cities and township road districts for costs through Sept. 30.

It's not clear when the full House may take that up. If it is approved, the measure would have to move through the Senate and face a possible veto by Rauner.

As Illinois moves from summer into fall, few lawmakers are holding out much hope for a quick solution.

"I think we may still be here when it begins to snow," said Deputy House Majority Leader Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

Higher power

High-level talks between legislative leaders and Rauner have done little to move the needle when it comes to finding a way out of the budget mess.

Grass-roots efforts by groups affected by the gridlock also have had little effect on forcing the governor and the Legislature to get moving on a solution.

So, a group of Chicago religious leaders is asking for some divine intervention.

In an open letter to Rauner and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago issued an appeal for the five to find common ground in order to restore state programs for the state's most vulnerable residents.

"We believe that the crisis we face in our state is morally unconscionable. We also believe that our political leaders have the moral fiber to do what is right. Illinois cannot operate responsibly without a budget, but also it cannot operate morally without a budget that provides for those in need," the letter noted.

Amen to that.

A look ahead

Look for the House to vote this week to override Rauner's veto of what he called one of the worst bills ever.

The measure would bar the state's largest labor union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 — from striking if contract negotiations go south. Instead, both sides would declare an impasse and a group of arbitrators would decide which of the last, final offers is the winner.

With Rauner working hard to keep Republicans in line, Democrats will need every one of their 71 members to vote "yes" to override.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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