Report on slimming gov’t needs time

Among the bills the General Assembly will tackle in the lame-duck session next month will be extending the deadline for a report on how to pare down the state’s almost 7,000 units of government.

The Local Government Consolidation Commission created and chaired by state Rep. Jack Franks was supposed to deliver its report by the end of the year. But a bill asks to push back the deadline to Sept. 30 because of a large amount of information and a late start blamed on leaders being slow to appoint the commission’s 17 members.

The commission is advisory only and has no enforcement power.

The bill to push back the deadline passed the House, 111-0, Wednesday, the last day of the fall veto session. It is scheduled for its first reading in the Senate on Jan. 2, the first day of the lame-duck session and two days after the report’s original deadline.

Any legislation not signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn by Jan. 9 dies with the swearing in of the new General Assembly elected last month.

“I don’t think there’s any problem doing it afterward,” said Franks, D-Marengo. “I’m confident the Senate will approve it.”

Quinn signed the bill creating the commission in August 2011. The panel did not start meeting until February 2012 because of delays in filling the seats.

The commission’s scope does not include school districts, which were the subject of an independent commission that released its conclusions earlier this year.

Illinois leads the nation with 6,968 local governments, from counties and municipalities to eclectic bodies handling things such as mosquito abatement, rural drainage and some cemeteries, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data. The first runner-up in government bodies is Pennsylvania, with about 4,900.

Opponents of consolidation equate local government with local control and direct voter accountability. But Franks and other critics allege that the number of government bodies on residents’ tax bills, not counting their committees and subcommittees, makes it almost impossible to watch for waste, fraud and abuse.

The commission is advisory because initiatives in Springfield to force consolidation usually are met with fierce resistance by local governments and their lobbying groups.

The Senate last year defeated a bill to create an eight-member commission with the authority to eliminate local governments. And bills in recent years to force school consolidation and abolish township road districts with few lane miles have died in committee.

In at least one case, a consolidation approved by state lawmakers never came to fruition. A bill signed by Quinn in June to cut the number of Illinois regional offices of education from 44 to 35 by 2015 mirrors a consolidation that was to take place in 1999, but never did.

In McHenry County, Cary School District 26 and Fox River Grove District 3 are exploring a merger, with a feasibility study to be released Wednesday.

But voters will be asked in an April 9 referendum whether they want to create another government – a “377 Board” and a corresponding property-tax levy, similar to the Mental Health Board, to help care for county residents with developmental disabilities.

The school report by the Classrooms First Commission – which changed its name from the School District Realignment and Consolidation Commission – concluded earlier this year that consolidation would be cost-prohibitive for many school districts, and suggested the consolidation of shared services instead.

Franks said his commission, besides outright consolidation, also is heavily weighing sharing of services, such as mosquito spraying, to save taxpayers money.

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