As a longtime advocate for smaller government and lower taxes, I recently sponsored legislation (House Bill 229) that would empower McHenry and Lake counties to eliminate unnecessary government entities.
Unfortunately, my position on HB 229 has been grossly misrepresented in recent days. Contrary to statements made by the House sponsor, I sponsored this legislation in the Senate in good faith. I believe there is a need for reasonable government consolidation in Illinois. In fact, my efforts to work with the House sponsor and Senate president to advance this legislation have been stymied because of unrelated concerns with the measures that were brought forward by labor union representatives.
Please note, since the House sponsor, Rep. Jack Franks, called for my removal as chief sponsor, by virtue of Senate rules Senate President John Cullerton has full control over the advancement of HB 229 and does not need my permission to remove my sponsorship.
I also supported a similar initiative in 2013, which granted DuPage County the power to dissolve units of government. However, the DuPage County law only applied to a specified number of entities. At the request of local officials and constituents, there were reasonable exemptions made for fire protection and water districts.
While I agree with the underlying intention of HB 229, I believe – as officials did in DuPage – there are certain entities that are extremely significant to the communities they serve. These entities that have been uniquely created by the voters should be dissolved only by the voters through referendum.
I have, in fact, received hundreds of phone calls and emails from people across the state who are concerned about the effect HB 229 would have on conservation districts and mental health boards. I received additional local outcry from individuals advocating for protection of the McHenry County Conservation District. As chief sponsor of this legislation in the Senate, I believe I have a responsibility to listen to all sides of this issue.
While the DuPage law was an excellent template, McHenry County is unique in that it is home to the only conservation district in the metro Chicago area and is one of only five conservation districts in Illinois. As a result, this was not an issue that would have been addressed in the 2013 DuPage County law.
Additionally, there are 61 community mental health boards statewide comprised of experts who deal with a wide range of mental health conditions, including substance abuse and development disabilities. This is an extremely important resource for our local providers, particularly if the state is reducing its funding for these programs.
Both of these entities were created by the people to fill a distinctive need in their community. If created by a voter referendum, the people should have a larger role in determining their viability.
For these reasons, I filed an amendment to HB 229 to address these key issues. My intent was to strengthen the legislation, not to prevent it from advancing. I continue to support policies and initiatives that curb the growth of government and reduce the tax burden on all Illinoisans.
• State Sen. Pam Althoff, a McHenry Republican, represents the 32nd District.