Local Government

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, lawmakers unveil government consolidation bills

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in an Illinois Central Management Services storage facility with unboxed computers behind him Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. Rauner plans an initiative to overhaul the state's procurement process. Supporters of the idea say saving more money from the process could be a way to reinstate college aid grants. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in an Illinois Central Management Services storage facility with unboxed computers behind him Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. Rauner plans an initiative to overhaul the state's procurement process. Supporters of the idea say saving more money from the process could be a way to reinstate college aid grants. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Gov. Bruce Rauner and like-minded lawmakers unveiled four proposed pieces of legislation Friday aimed at helping reduce the state’s 7,000 units of government.

The McHenry County Board’s travails last year during an unsuccessful township consolidation initiative played a significant role in the developing of one of them.

The legislation is the first inspired by the final report released last month from the Task Force on Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. The report, which included a 27-point action plan, concluded that the sheer number of taxing bodies and the unfunded mandates imposed on them by Springfield play a significant role in the state’s high property taxes.

“Today, we are one step closer to empowering our local communities and giving them the necessary tools to rein in their out-of-control costs," Rauner said at a ceremony in Naperville. "These four bills are just the start of delivering more value to taxpayers by reducing layers of redundant bureaucracy."

Three of the four bills grant the ability to consolidate by referendum where none previously existed.

One bill would allow for the consolidation of “duplicative, excessive or unnecessary” units of government by citizen referendum. Another would expand a power granted to the DuPage County Board to eliminate certain small, do-nothing units of government to all Illinois counties. A third would grant the power that was given to Evanston voters to eliminate their township, which was coterminous with the boundaries of the city itself, to voters in the state’s 20 or so coterminous townships.

The fourth bill seeks to eliminate “arbitrary” barriers to township consolidation, such as the ones the County Board encountered when it entertained, and rejected, a citizen group’s request to put consolidation referendums on the ballot.

While counties already have the power to put township consolidation to referendum, state statutes contain provisions that make it impractical, such as the fact that taxes would increase in a consolidated township for the property owners in the township with the smaller tax rate. As for eliminating a county’s townships altogether, state law requires voters to eliminate the county board form of government and replace it with a board of no more than five county commissioners, a form of government seen in rural, agrarian counties downstate.

Several McHenry County lawmakers are part of the effort. State Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, and Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo – both of whom were task force members – are sponsors of two of the bills. Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, a fellow staunch supporter of consolidation, is sponsoring one.

Illinois by far has the most taxing bodies of any state – Texas comes in second at slightly more than 5,100. The task force’s report directly links that number to the fact that Illinois has the second-highest property tax burden in the nation, which at 2.32 percent of home value is second only to New Jersey.

The plethora of local governments, according to the task force report and critics, makes accountability and good government hard goals to achieve because it is far too difficult for voters and watchdogs to keep an eye on them all or make informed decisions on whom to elect to represent them.

Franks, McSweeney and other lawmakers have had limited success over the years pushing pro-consolidation legislation, and some of the bills unveiled Friday mirror past efforts. Local government lobbying groups have a very powerful lobbying presence in Springfield, and state lawmakers, many of whom got their start in local government, historically have been averse to consolidation.

But supporters of consolidation see recent small victories, such as the DuPage County pilot program and the dissolution of Evanston Township, and the election of a governor who is prioritizing consolidation and property tax relief, as a sign that the tide is starting to shift.

The bills

Gov. Bruce Rauner and like-minded lawmakers unveiled four bills aimed at helping pare down the state’s 7,000 units of government. They include:

• Allowing citizens to consolidate “duplicative, excessive or unnecessary” governments by referendum.

• Expanding a consolidation pilot program in DuPage County to all Illinois counties.

• Removing “arbitrary” barriers to consolidating townships.

• Allowing citizens to consolidate coterminous townships, meaning townships that have the exact same boundaries as a municipality.

More

You can read the final report of the Task Force on Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates at http://shawurl.com/2c3l.

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