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Local Government Consolidation

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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.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 19, 2011 at 7:45 am

Illinois May Abolish Capital Punishment

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On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed S.B. 3539, which would abolish the death penalty in Illinois. The House passed the bill last week. Governor Quinn won’t say whether he’ll sign death penalty repeal, but promised to follow his conscience.

It’s tough to say whether Quinn will sign the bill. During the campaign, he indicated support for both the death penalty and the current moratorium on executions. Sen. Kwame Raoul, the bill’s Senate sponsor, expressed confidence that Quinn will sign the bill despite his support for the death penalty:

“My position is that morally, man ought not put himself in the position of God and man ought not to make that decision,” Raoul said. “Some people … generally believe if people commit certain crimes they ought to be eligible to be put to death. However, they could not argue against the history of its application in Illinois and in the country at large.”

“In other words, Quinn might say, ‘I believe it is OK to put a man to death but I don’t think we ought to risk putting an innocent man to death,'” Raoul went on to note. The governor’s Office in Chicago did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.

I strongly support death penalty abolition. As long as the death penalty exists, I think it is inevitable that we will eventually execute an innocent person. Even if we could be certain that only the guilty would be executed, I would still oppose it. I consider executions barbaric.

Because I feel so strongly about the subject, I am going to break with tradition and encourage readers who oppose the death penalty to email Governor Quinn and urge him to sign S.B. 3539. Feel free to use the text of the email I sent Quinn yesterday:

Dear Governor Quinn,

I am writing to urge you to sign the bill abolishing the death penalty (S.B. 3539).

As you know, Illinois has released 20 wrongfully convicted people from death row. One of those people came within 50 hours of execution. The criminal justice system is bound to make some mistakes, and a mistaken execution is irreversible.

If the death penalty remains legal in Illinois, we will eventually execute an innocent person. Even if you support the death penalty for the guilty, we should not take the risk that it will be applied to the innocent.

Thank you for your consideration,

[Your Name Here]

Sen. Dave Luechtefeld and Rep. Mike Bost, who represent Carbondale, voted against the repeal. The other Southern Illinois legisltators (Sen. Gary Forby, Rep. Dan Reitz, Rep. John Bradley, and Rep. Brandon Phelps) also voted against repeal. If you’re wondering how other legislators voted, the House roll call is here (pdf), and the Senate is here (pdf). The full text of the bill is here.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 13, 2011 at 7:45 am

Posted in Illinois

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Shawnee Library System Likely to Merge

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The Shawnee Library System Board of Directors is expected to vote on whether to merge with three other regional library systems at its December 16 meeting. If the measure passes, the Shawnee Library System will dissolve on June 30, 2011 and the new entity would begin on July 1, 2011. The Shawnee Library System would join the Lincoln Trail, Rolling Prairie, and Lewis and Clark library systems in creating the new entity.

The Illinois State Library strongly urged library systems to merge in a memo (pdf) released earlier this year. Individual systems were responsible for deciding whether to merge with other systems, but “an environment of extreme austerity and upwardly spiraling costs” made merger an attractive choice.

The change will likely benefit Carbondale Public Library patrons who order books through the Shawnee Library System, as the new entity will have more member libraries and a greater selection of books.

To keep up with news about the mergers, visit this website.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 6, 2010 at 7:45 am

Pension Reform Passes General Assembly

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Just a short post today. The Southern Illinoisan reports that police and firefighter pension reform passed the Illinois Senate. The House passed the bill Tuesday.

The consensus seems to be that the bill makes some improvements but doesn’t go far enough. The Southern Illinoisan quotes Mayor Cole:

“What we get is probably not going to be what we were hoping for,” said Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole, who has served as the lead negotiator for Illinois municipalities in these pension debates. “But the situation is so desperate, that even if we get halfway, it will provide some relief to cities that are going broke, trying to meet these unfunded mandates.”

Mayor Bob Butler of Marion is even less satisfied. From the Southern Illinoisan article:

“The burden on municipalities, the way the legislation is set up now, is intolerable,” Butler said. “Even with revisions, this is still going to be intolerable.”

Personally, I’m surprised the General Assembly was able to pass any pension reform at all. We’ll see in time whether it was enough.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 3, 2010 at 7:45 am

Civil Unions In Illinois

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The Southern Illinoisan is reporting that the Illinois Senate approved the civil unions bill Wednesday. The House approved civil unions Tuesday. Governor Quinn has indicated that he will sign the bill.

I found links to the roll call votes in the House (pdf) and the Senate (pdf) on the Chicago Public Radio site. Local representatives Mike Bost and John Bradley voted against the bill, as did local Senators David Luechtefeld and Gary Forby. Bost and Luechtefeld represent Carbondale.

The bill will extend most of the rights of marriage to same sex couples who enter into civil unions. Illinois does not have the authority to grant federal rights of marriage like Social Security survivor’s benefits and the ability to file a joint federal tax return.

Opponents of the bill cited potential increases in pension and health care costs for state and municipal workers as well as moral concerns as reasons to oppose the bill. In a lengthy article on the bill, the State Journal-Register quotes Sen. Ricky Hendon responding to these criticisms: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 2, 2010 at 7:45 am

Posted in Illinois

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Whitey for Governor?

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It looks like the Chicago pols are giving local gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney a hard time. A reader sent me a link to this article in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The last name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled as “Whitey” on electronic-voting machines in nearly two dozen wards — about half in predominantly African-American areas — and election officials said Wednesday the problem cannot be corrected by Election Day.

And later:

“I don’t want to be identified as ‘Whitey.’ If this is happening in primarily African-American wards, that’s an even bigger concern,” Whitney told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t know if this is machine politics at play or why this happened.”

I don’t know if it’s machine politics either. Anyone could make a spelling error, but for this specific error to occur in predominantly black precincts seems like rough and tumble Chicago politics. You have to expect this kind of thing if you run for statewide office.

Obviously this won’t affect Whitney’s likelihood of winning (pdf). Considering that the gap between Brady and Quinn is larger than Whitney’s poll numbers, it probably won’t affect the outcome of the race either.

If Whitney doesn’t get five percent this time do the Greens lose their established party status?

Thanks to the reader who sent the link!

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

October 15, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Illinois

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