Illinois’ tangled web of 7,000+ governmental units include nearly 50 different categories—1,452 road and bridge districts, 865 school districts and hundreds of townships and municipalities—many developed decades ago. Regional demographics, geography and technology all have evolved, yet we’ve failed to adapt these government institutions. The result is a highly fragmented governance system that leads to ineffective and duplicative service delivery, waste, poor accountability and high levels of voter apathy.
The inability to track the thousands of units of government—and their annual spending of nearly $60 billion—creates costs and barriers to understanding how decisions are made, how resources are allocated and ultimately who is accountable. At a time when municipal and state finances are severely strained, governments must deliver services more efficiently. We literally cannot afford the status quo.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is fostering government collaboration and consolidation in Illinois by examining and questioning long-standing barriers to efficiency, building a coalition of Illinois policy makers to lead the charge, conducting research and educating local government leaders.
MPC is partnering with DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin to lead Transform Illinois, a coalition of lawmakers, government officials and organizations committed to legislative reforms and local implementation that improve the effectiveness of government service delivery in Illinois. The efforts of our coalition, which includes the Better Government Association, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and others, are grounded in rigorous analysis and stakeholder outreach.
2017 Progress: Momentum is Growing
In 2017, Transform Illinois successfully supported several pieces of legislation, one of which (SB3) made its way to Gov. Rauner's desk and is now law. Simply put, all of these bills give Illinois voters more voice and power in consolidating local units of government.
- SB3 – Allows county governments throughout Illinois to consolidate units of government in their jurisdiction; It also allows neigborhing townships to dissolve or merge
- SB607 – Allows for referendums on whether a road district in a township should be abolished
- HB3521 – Approves discontinuation of Township Collector office in Sangamon County and cedes duties to Treasurer; effective 2022
- SR0241 – Creates the Lake County and 31st Legislative District “Working Group on Local Government Consolidation”
We also hosted our third annual Transformer Awards and honored good work that makes government work better for Illinois residents. 2017 awardees include Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti; IL State Representative Sam Yingling; The Villages of Montgomery & Oswego and the City of Yorkville, and Brent Frank, President of the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District.
Pathways to Government Efficiency
MPC utilizes a multi-pronged approach to support policy reform, expand awareness of the economic impact of the current structure of government and provide support for local government to implement best practices.
Momentum has built across the state. Transform Illinois continues to assess and support legislation that would give local governments the tools and enabling legislation they need to improve their own operations by eliminating or consolidating redundant and ineffective units of government. Through communications, advocacy, research and stakeholder outreach, Transform Illinois will support priority legislation in 2017 and beyond.
Transform Illinois is conducting strategic research grounded in interviews, budget analyses and data collection, to make the case for greater local government efficiency and consolidation. A robust research agenda will help identify future opportunities for service-sharing, consolidation and policy reforms and highlight best practices. Some efficency successes and failures are featured in our Change Makers, Data Points and Taking Action series.
We cannot pin our hopes solely on statewide legislation to defragment Illinois’s government system. A recent study by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, a Transform Illinois partner, reveals a long history of local-level cooperation between governments to share services, avoid unnecessary duplication and more efficiently spend taxpayer dollars. Transform Illinois builds off this history to engage local government leaders and connect them to the technical expertise and capacity they may need to dig deeper into their balance sheets and identify opportunities for greater efficiency, effective partnerships and service delivery.
The unifying aim of this work is to support local governments as they adapt to the realities of today and tomorrow in order to deliver high-quality services and infrastructure efficiently. Through Transform Illinois, MPC and its partners will accomplish the following:
- Advance a state legislative agenda that reduces structural barriers to the consolidation, collaboration and dissolution of governments.
- Provide a platform for sharing ideas and amplifying the issue by jointly educating the public through reports, events, conferences and media outreach.
- Develop a suite of tools to address government efficiency. Consolidation is not the only answer; sometimes the smarter path will be collaboration or disconnection.
- Conduct research that addresses gaps and assesses the real impact of Illinois’ governance structures on taxpayers and outcomes.