Local Government Consolidation
It looks like the General Assembly may consider consolidation or elimination of some local taxing bodies. From an article at Illinois Statehouse News:
Illinois has too many units of government, at least according to Illinois Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat.
Link is behind a plan that would eliminate or consolidate some of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 taxing authorities. Illinois leads the nation with the number of taxing bodies. Pennsylvania is No. 2 on that list with about 4,900 taxing districts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We’ve studied this to death, because Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing, we do have too many units of local government,” Link said.
Taxing authorities include park districts, townships, counties and even mosquito abatement districts. The large number stems from a 19th century law that limited how much debt local governments could take on. That law has since changed, but the large number of taxing bodies has not.
I support this in spirit, though I’m not sure about the specific method the bill would use. As I’ve mentioned, I think it’s silly to segregate every government function into a separate unit of government. I would prefer that most local government functions be performed by municipalities or counties. Of course, not everyone agrees. From the Illinos Statehouse News article:
Others had stronger opinions. Timothy Bramlet, of Township Officials of Illinois, called the measure unconstitutional. Having eight unelected people holding the fate of the more than 1,400 townships in the state in their hands is unacceptable, according to Bramlet.
Township Officials of Illinois is a private, not-for-profit group that represents most of the state’s 1,433 townships, according to its website.
“I think it usurps your authority, your power, the voters’ authority and power and the ability of townships and other local governments to make our case before you as elected officials, or voters by referendum,” Bramlet said.
Obviously the lobbyist for the townships would oppose the bill – if townships were eliminated he’d be out of a job – but I think he’s correct that the bill would be unconstitutional. Here’s how it would work, again from the ISN article:
Link’s measure, Senate Bill 173, creates an eight-person commission to study the topic. The four legislative leaders would each appoint two members to the commission, although no local government official could serve on the panel.
Commission members would then recommend eliminating or consolidating either a specific type of taxing body or individual taxing districts. A majority of the panel would have to agree for a unit of government to be put on the “end” list.
Ultimately that list would come out of the commission and then go to the General Assembly for an up or down vote. No changes could be made by legislators. If the Legislature doesn’t vote on the plan, it automatically goes into effect.
And this is what Article VII of the Illinois Constitution requires:
SECTION 5. TOWNSHIPS
The General Assembly shall provide by law for the formation of townships in any county when approved by county-wide referendum. Townships may be consolidated or merged, and one or more townships may be dissolved or divided, when approved by referendum in each township affected. All townships in a county may be dissolved when approved by a referendum in the total area in which township officers are elected. (Source: Illinois Constitution.)
That’s seems pretty clear to me. Eliminating townships requires a referendum. Obviously some changes will be necessary to ensure the bill withstands judicial review. I didn’t see anything else in Article VII that specifically addresses the other special districts. I’m not sure if it would be constitutional to consolidate or eliminate them using the process in the bill.
I think this is worth pursuing. It isn’t necessary to have a separate elected body for every local government function. Counties and municipalities should absorb the functions of the other units of government, and the change would benefit democracy. Most people don’t have the time or the interest necessary to keep track of seven or eight separate taxing bodies. Outside Chicagoland, it’s better to have municipalities take care of themselves and counties take care of rural areas.
I want to be clear. This isn’t a left vs. right debate over whether we should have more or less government. It’s a debate over how many units of government we should have. In fact, when the bill passed out of committee, all six Republicans (including our own Dave Luechtefeld) voted against it. Consolidating local government functions into fewer units of government is a sensible reform that deserves our support.
Comments are welcome.