Whether Democrat or Republican, we can all agree that Illinois’ nation-leading 8,923 units of local government, structured into 45 types of government, are a political tarpit of corruption, cronyism, nepotism, patronage and waste, and need to be restructured and made a priority of the governor and the General Assembly.
There is hope in the future for tax relief with government consolidation if the Citizens Empowerment Act becomes law. The proposed act, House Bill 5276, was filed on Jan. 27 by state Rep. Jonathan Carrol, vice chair of the Counties and Township Committee. The act would allow citizens of any government unit to initiate a referendum to consolidate that unit. Also, state Rep. Rita Mayfield has proposed forming a broad-based efficiency commission with a plan that could reduce the number of Illinois’ school districts by 25%. Mayfield’s HB 7 would create a School District Efficiency Commission.
Illinois news media activists and civic groups have long called for government consolidation. Government consolidation is supported by government efficiency advocates such as the Illinois Policy Institute, Lincoln Lobby, Civic Federation, Taxpayers United, Better Government Association, Citizen Advocacy Center and Americans for Prosperity.
Many Illinoisans are voting with their feet. The Illinois population loss last year was 310,288, third worst in the U.S., and marks the eighth consecutive year. Nearly half of Illinoisans who have thought about moving away said taxes were their No. 1 reason. Where are Illinoisans moving to? Many are moving to lower-tax states such as Texas that have fewer units of government than Illinois. Texas had the highest influx of people of all states. Illinois’ loss of citizens has had serious consequences when it comes to the economy and representation in the federal government. In 1980, Illinois and Texas each had 24 members in the U.S. House. Now Illinois has 17 representatives. Texas has 38 representatives.
Illinois has, by far, more units of local government than any other state. By contrast, Texas has 3,580 fewer local governments, but has 16 million more people and 210,665 more square miles than Illinois. Florida has a population about 70% larger than Illinois and gets by with 1,617 units of government. Hawaii has 21 units. Other than Texas, Illinois is the only state with more than 5,000 units of government. Overlapping units of local government leads to confusion, redundancy of services, inefficiencies and higher costs to taxpayers.
Illinois township governments, which most states do not have, as well as 17 of Illinois’ 102 counties, are notorious for corruption, cronyism, nepotism, patronage and waste. The Illinois township empire, an invisible layer of government dating back the 1850s, the days of settlers living in the wilderness, with the county seat a day’s ride on horseback, is primarily supported by property taxes, over 90%. The empire is made up of 1,433 township governments, 1,395 township road districts, 334 township multi-tax assessment districts and 26 township cemetery districts, each with its own tax levy authority, and has an annual taxpayer cost of $747.6 million.
State law allows for township official double-dipping, holding two public-funded public offices simultaneously. A township supervisor, assessor or road commissioner may also be elected as a state senator or representative, collecting a paycheck with benefits from both positions. An example of a double-dipper would be former state Sen. Bill Peterson, who collected for many years $84,000 as an Illinois state senator and $90,000 as the supervisor of Avon Township. Township Officials of Illinois (TOI) is a 100-year-old Springfield-based lobby organization made up of 11,500 taxpayer-funded township officials, the foremost defenders of township government and its double-dippers.
Consolidating Illinois’ nation-leading school districts should not be overlooked by the governor or the General Assembly. There are 852 public school districts in Illinois made up of 368 elementary, 96 high school and 388 unit districts. About two-thirds of the state’s school districts have fewer than 1,000 students. Illinois was the only state to spend more than $1 billion on administration in 2018. California, with three times as many students as Illinois, spent $780.5 million on administration.
Government consolidation should start at the township level, beginning with the coterminous townships. There are 17 coterminous townships in Illinois, meaning the township and a municipality have the same boundaries.
• Bob Anderson, of Wonder Lake, has been a proponent and activist of government consolidation and reduction for 30 years. He served on the elected boards of McHenry Township, McHenry High School District 156 and Wonder Lake Grade School District 36.