Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) highlights efforts to improve government efficiency.
It’s been a good week for government consolidation in Illinois. On Tuesday, April 19, the Ill. House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that would increase the ability of counties across the state to consolidate or dissolve unnecessary or outdated units of government.
The legislation (HB 4501, sponsored by Ill. Rep. Sam Yingling [D-Grayslake]) would make local governments more effective by giving them the tools to begin to address legacy government systems set up in our parents’ and grandparents’ time. In some cases, these government units are no longer necessary; their functions simply don’t exist or could easily be done by another entity.
This approach makes sense. It’s just plain good government. But laws in Illinois have made it surprisingly easy to create a unit of government and really hard to get rid of one.
DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin pursued and won this authority to dissolve government agencies in 2012, and DuPage remains the only county in Illinois to have this ability. Chairman Cronin spoke a bit about the struggle at the City Club of Chicago on April 18th, and about the positive impact incremental progress has had for the people of DuPage County. Indeed, DuPage has been heralded as a model for other counties in executing government consolidation, and HB 4501 would give counties across the state a new tool for consolidation.
In addition to the passage of HB 4501, the House unanimously passed HB 5584 (sponsored by Rep. Barbara Wheeler [R-Crystal Lake]) that allows the Lake County Board to dissolve the Round Lake and Fox Lake Hills Sanitary Districts. This may not seem like a big deal, but consider that just four years ago SB 494, which granted the above mentioned authority to DuPage County, was the only consolidation legislation out there—and it was a hard-won battle for passage.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill that would improve transparency of information about local units of government. SB 2994 (sponsored by Sen. Tom Cullerton [D-Villa Park]), requires every county to submit a list with information about units of government and special districts which the county chairperson or county board appoints. This will help answer the question about how many units of goverment there actually are in Illinois.
The amount of legislation proposed in Springfield this year aimed at limiting the size, scope and cost of local government indicates the drumbeat of government efficiency is strong in Illinois.
The Metropolitan Planning Council and Transform Illinois partners were in Springfield on April 6th to applaud legislators and support 22 proposals that would:
- increase transparency and accountability at the local level;
- encourage and enable local government officials to implement the reforms that are right for their communities; and
- empower voters to streamline local governments that are no longer serving their purpose.
A list of these bills is available on the Transform Illinois website, www.transformillinois.org, and more details can be found on the Illinois General Assembly website, www.ilga.gov. A number of these bills have progressed through the legislature in the past week, and Transform partners continue to garner support for this smart legislation.
These are critically important tools to bring change to scale. Illinois has more units of local government than anywhere else in the nation (nearly 7,000 units of local government) and the second-highest property tax rate in the U.S. These facts are established. The goal is to not just reduce this number, but to limit duplication and overlapping functions, and to change the culture of government to break down silos.
Now it’s up to the Illinois Senate to take action on HB 4501 and HB 5584. The Senate will also be considering legislation soon that would allow for township and road district consolidation. MPC is excited to see these reforms moving forward and will continue to advocate for prudent and meaningful change.