While the official number of local governments in Illinois has yet to be firmly agreed upon—the predictions are roughly 6,900 to 8,400—it is clear that Illinois’ bloated system is in need of a much overdue trimming. Illinois dwarfs even the runner up, Texas, by around 35%. The negative effects of this overabundance are numerous, the most notable being the toll it takes on Illinoisans’ wallets. The funding of all those local governments is frequently cited as a major contributor to the property tax rates that are the second highest in the nation (preceded only by New Jersey). To add insult to injury, having so many adjacent and overlapping jurisdictions often results in inefficient and redundant services, higher costs and a lower capacity to provide those services. From a non-financial perspective, such a chaotic system also leads to an environment which lacks accountability, breeds corruption and impairs civic engagement.
It is with these concerns that MPC collaborates with the Transform Illinois Coalition to strive to make a slimmer, more efficient Illinois. Despite the bleak picture envisaged above, many positive, progressive steps have been taken in the legislature to help consolidate local governments, increase transparency/accountability and empower voters. By examining how nearly $60 billion in local spending is being used, we can ensure that taxpayer money is spent prudently and responsibly. We at MPC believe that the following bills take tangible steps towards that goal.
Senate Bill 0003 is a government reduction and township consolidation bill that was sponsored by Senator Cullerton and Representative Yingling. It applies the Local Government Reduction & Efficiency Act, which has been used with much success in DuPage already (to the tune of $80 million in savings), to all counties statewide. If used to its full extent, the bill could cut over 300 local government entities. The bill also provides a path for township boards to allow voters to choose whether or not to merge with their neighbors via a referendum. After all affected township boards have opted in, the voters in each townships must agree by a majority vote. In addition to eliminating other barriers to consolidation like removing the size cap on townships, township boards are also required to keep engaged citizens informed of consolidation plans by publishing them through their websites.
Senate Bill 669 allows for the citizens of Lake County to choose if they wish to directly elect their county board chairman moving forward. The question will be submitted to them in the 2018 election ballot and will be applied in 2020. This bill, which allows for more voter participation and local government control, was sponsored by Senator Link and Representative Mayfield.
Senate Bill 607 takes another small step in reducing redundant, overlapping layers of local government—in this case, road districts. Sponsored by Senator Morrison and Representative Yingling, the bill automatically dissolves the smallest of the road districts while allowing the remaining township boards (under 3 million inhabitants) to place a question on the ballot to abolish their respective road district. If successful, taxation and administrative responsibilities are then passed on to the township. With roughly 1400 road/bridge districts remaining in the state, this provides the opportunity for ample reductions.
House Bill 3521 dissolves the office and position of township collector after all currently elected officials have served their terms. This service is one that is already provided by the County Treasurer, which explains why Sangamon County is one of only 4 remaining counties that still maintain this office/position. This bill was sponsored by Senator Brady and Representative Butler and will result in the elimination of the position by the beginning of 2022. This follows a recommendation from the Sangamon County’s Citizens Efficiency Commission and a large majority vote (75%) from the voters themselves.
House Bill 684 will ensure further government accountability and impartiality throughout the consolidation process. It helps to achieve this by forbidding any public office or authority from using tax dollars to oppose/obstruct consolidation efforts. Representative Yingling is still currently fighting for this bill in the house.
Senate Resolution 241 will create a working group to identify barriers and help to develop additional pathways to consolidation for Lake County. Sponsored by Senator Bush, the group’s 17 appointed members will meet a minimum of once every 3 months and will ultimately submit their report by the end of 2018.
Consolidation can easily translate into cost-effective, efficient government services, reductions in the overall tax burden and a harmonious balance between the governing and the governed. These tenets are even more important to pursue during a time when local and state government budgets are under strain. If the success stories of counties like DuPage can be duplicated state-wide, Illinois taxpayers can expect substantial savings.