Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order Friday creating a task force aimed at paring down Illinois’ huge number of local governments.
The order, which he signed at a ceremony in Elmhurst, creates the Local Government and Consolidation and Unfunded Mandate Task Force, headed by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. The task force is charged with finding efficiencies and encouraging streamlining of local governments, while also examining the burdens that state government puts on them by imposing regulations on them without accompanying funding.
“Illinois leads the nation with nearly 7,000 units of government. Many of these unnecessary layers of government are why hardworking families end up paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation,” Rauner said.
Rauner’s choice of DuPage County to sign the order is a symbolic one – he praised the ongoing consolidation efforts of DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin in his State of the State Address last week. The board is in the process of eliminating some of its smallest and most obscure units of local government through a pilot program created by state legislators.
Rauner will appoint the task force, which will be required to submit its findings by the end of the year. The newly elected governor has said he wants to make property tax relief one of his top priorities.
At more than 6,900, Illinois has more units of government than any other state, and 2,000 more than the first runner-up of Pennsylvania. Only New Jersey has a higher average property tax burden than Illinois, according to a late 2013 report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
While supporters maintain that local government means local control, opponents argue that they are breeding grounds for waste, patronage and corruption because the sheer number makes it almost impossible for taxpayers and watchdog groups to keep an eye on them.
McHenry County alone has 30 municipalities, 19 school districts, 17 townships, 17 fire protection districts, 13 library districts, four park districts, two sanitary districts, and two cemetery districts.
State Rep. Jack Franks, who has championed consolidation legislation and was invited to attend Friday’s signing, said Rauner has his full support on the issue.
“Having a governor who believes in this, and is pushing for it, will make it happen, I believe,” Franks, D-Marengo, said.
Efforts to promote consolidation have come in small steps because of lawmakers’ resistance to taking large steps and taking away local control, and because of pressure put on them by local government lobbying groups – many state lawmakers got their start in smaller units of government.
Besides the DuPage County pilot program, lawmakers in recent years passed legislation that enabled the voters of Evanston Township to dissolve it and absorb its remaining duties into the city government. An overdue paring down of the number of regional offices of education from 44 to 35, which was supposed to take place years ago, is ongoing.
The final report of a consolidation commission that was headed by Franks concluded that state government can best promote consolidation by passing laws making it easier for local units of government to either consolidate or dissolve entirely.
A successful Franks bill signed into law last year created a mechanism giving some of the state’s most eclectic taxing bodies – such as cemetery, waste disposal and water authority districts – the power to either consolidate or vote themselves out of existence if they so choose. He is making another attempt this session to give all Illinois counties to have the same consolidation power that DuPage County has.
The power given the DuPage County Board is limited to taxing bodies that are completely within county boundaries, and the county board must appoint a majority of the governing board of any body to be eliminated.