In a rare open feud between two McHenry County state lawmakers, Rep. Jack Franks is asking Senate President John Cullerton to remove Sen. Pam Althoff as chief sponsor of his recently passed government consolidation bill.
The Illinois House on a 61-40 vote last Friday passed House Bill 229, a bill by Franks, D-Marengo, that would grant the McHenry and Lake county boards the same power to eliminate certain units of government that DuPage County was granted by state lawmakers. But Franks alleges that Althoff, R-McHenry, intends to either kill the bill or strip McHenry County from it.
An effort to talk Althoff into handing the bill over to Sen. Melinda Bush, a former Lake County Board member who supports it, failed late Tuesday, both Franks and Bush, D-Grayslake, confirmed. Franks said that Althoff asked for a number of concessions that he said were unreasonable because he does not want any exemptions or “sacred cows.” General Assembly rules allow the sponsor of a bill to request in writing to have a chief sponsor removed if he or she intends to kill it.
“She’s doing this purely for political reasons to protect entrenched interests and fiefdoms to keep our property taxes high. There’s no other reason. She’s supported this bill before,” Franks said, referring to the Senate’s vote years ago to grant DuPage County some ability to eliminate certain governments.
Althoff strongly disputed Franks’ allegations regarding her motives, and said she has serious reservations about the bill. The compromises she said she wanted included exempting certain entities that were created by voters, such as the McHenry County Conservation District and the Mental Health Board, requiring any consolidation request to go to voter referendum, or giving the power to all 102 counties in Illinois, which the original version of Franks’ bill sought to do.
“I have grave reservations about giving that type of authority to a unit of government and not giving it [directly] to the people. If the people created these things, they should have a bigger role in determining whether they’re viable,” Althoff said.
The bill, if passed, would empower the McHenry and Lake county boards to abolish certain units of government that meet a strict set of criteria. DuPage County, which has made slimming down its 400 units of government a priority, received the power to take some steps in that regard through a 2013 law acting as something of a consolidation pilot program.
Under that law that Franks wants to apply to McHenry and Lake counties, the DuPage County Board can vote to eliminate a taxing body for which it appoints a majority of its trustees, provided its boundaries are completely within the county, and is not a fire district with full-time employees or a body created under the Water Commission Act of 1985. The County Board must cite a reason for elimination, based on unnecessary or duplicative services, and voters can petition the county clerk to force the proposed elimination to voter referendum.
The bill at first would have given that power to all 102 counties, but was then modified by Franks after significant pushback to apply only to McHenry County. But several Lake County politicians, who have expressed interest in pursuing consolidation measures, asked Franks to include Lake County as well, County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said.
“We did it so we could have the same authority as DuPage [County] and see where the opportunities might exist for consolidation,” Lawlor said.
Among the 13 taxing bodies that DuPage County has targeted for potential deletion include four sanitary districts, three fire districts that have no staff or equipment, two mosquito abatement districts, the county’s fair, housing and airport authorities, and a taxing body created to maintain 77 streetlights in one unincorporated subdivision.
In McHenry County, the board could apply the law to eradicate such entities as the Greenwood and Hebron drainage districts, or the Crystal Lake Rural Fire District, which is a “paper” fire district that acts solely to collect fire protection taxes and does not have any employees or equipment. But Althoff said established entities such as the conservation district, the mental health board, the Senior Services Grant Commission and others also would be eligible for elimination under the bill.
Althoff also said that Franks never reached out to her nor McHenry County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller when he was considering applying the bill solely to McHenry County. Gottemoller said giving the County Board the power to eliminate a handful of drainage districts, a sanitary district and a paper fire district wouldn’t amount to much. But he said he has a significant problem with a law that would allow the County Board to eliminate entities created by voter referendum that could only be stopped by voters scrambling to get enough signatures to challenge it via a back-door referendum.
“Those things were created by the people of McHenry County because they thought they were a good idea … now we’re going to have 13 members of the McHenry County Board decide they know better, and the only way to stop it is a back-door referendum with conditions almost impossible to meet?” Gottemoller said.
Franks scoffed at the idea that a 13-member majority of the County Board would find entities such as the conservation district or mental health board unnecessary or duplicative. And in the very slim chance that board members did, Franks said, it surely would go to referendum and be solidly defeated.
Franks, who has filed a number of bills in the past that County Board members did not like, said he doesn’t need to ask the County Board for permission to give them the power to eliminate unnecessary levels of government if they so choose.
“They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They like it just the way it is. I’m empowering them to do the right thing,” Franks said.
Illinois has far more units of local government than any other state, at just under 7,000. Critics, which include new Gov. Bruce Rauner, blame that large number in part for the state’s high property-tax burden, which a 2013 study ranked as second only to New Jersey. One of Rauner’s first acts as governor was to create a commission to pursue ways to consolidate local governments – that commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, includes Franks and local Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, as members.
Local Illinois House Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, and Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, voted for House Bill 229, while Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, voted no. Both Wheeler and Tryon had served on the McHenry County Board prior to their elections to state office – Tryon was the board’s chairman.
You can read the text of House Bill 229 at www.ilga.gov.