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.
2015 Progress: Momentum is Growing
In 2015, Transform Illinois successfully supported two modest but important bills that made their way to Gov. Rauner's desk: HB 3747, which allowed DuPage County to dissolve its Fair and Exposition Authority, freeing up hundreds of thousands of dollars; and HB 228, which placed a four-year moratorium on the creation of new governments in Illinois.
Transform Illinois' November 2015 conference, attended by more than 150 government and business leaders, heralded leading state, local and citizen "Transformers" and encouraged more local governments to implement their own efficiency agendas. These efforts, combined with the January 2016 release of a report by Gov. Bruce Rauner's Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force, have built leadership and bipartisan momentum across Illinois.
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 is assessing more than two dozen bills that have been introduced in the 2016 legislative session 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 2016.
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 Behind the Numbers and Taking Action series. MPC, along with the Better Government Association and Northern Illinois University (two Transform Illinois partner organizations), is analyzing the futures of Illinois townships that share the same boundaries as a municipality. The study will identify whether there is potential to consolidate the township into the coterminous government, as recently occurred in Evanston.
We cannot pin our hopes solely on statewide legislation to defragment Illinois’s government system. A recent study by the Metropolitan Mayors Cacaus, 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.