Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chuck Sweeny: Shrinking number of governments is good, but will Illinois do it? - News - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL


Posted Nov. 30, 2015 at 5:38 PM
Updated at 10:07 PM

I took vacation last week, but I kept up with the news because I've been a news junkie since the Italian liner Andrea Doria sank after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm off the coast of Nantucket.
So here's my take on stories I've been reading in local and Chicagoland media about Gov. Bruce Rauner's task force on government consolidation. It's a great idea; we have 7,000 units of local government in Illinois, more than any other state by far. In second place, with 1,800 fewer, is Texas, which has 27 million people spread over 268,820 square miles. Illinois has 13 million people spread over 57,915 square miles.
The task force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, is a great idea. She said taxpayers can save billions of dollars by government consolidation. Members have been working for a year and are about to present a final report.
I don't hold my hopes too high on it getting results. Nobody on a government payroll or government board wants to give up a government paycheck or position of prestige. This is a bipartisan condition. Democrats say they love government and Republicans say they don't, but they all love power when they get it.
I've been advocating for abolition of townships for 30 years. Illinois has 1,431 townships in 84 of our 102 counties. It's a bipartisan love affair with township government we have here. However, there is no governmental unit as obsolete as the Illinois township, which performs no duty that cannot easily be absorbed into counties and cities.
Elected township assessors determine how much your property is worth. The property assessment process would be more accurate and streamlined if it were handled by each county supervisor of assessments, an appointed professional who would employ a team of trained assessors to determine property values countywide.
Elected township road commissioners plow snow and patch potholes on roads in their townships. In Rockford on North Springfield Avenue we feature the absurdity of the Rockford Township highway office and its red trucks next door to the Winnebago County Highway Department and its white trucks. Does this make sense? We are paying a township road commissioner, who doesn't have to have any qualifications except the ability to get elected, and a full-time county highway engineer, who has to be an engineer. Don't you think, as I do, that the county highway expert could run all of this?

The only other township function is supervisor, an elected position for which the office holder is responsible for disbursing meager general assistance payments to the indigent. In Rockford, the assistance office is hidden inside a downtown building at State and Church streets with no parking. Surely general assistance could be more efficiently handled by the local community action program or by contract with social service nonprofits.

But the chances of townships being eliminated are slim to none. That's because of an outfit known as Township Officials of Illinois, a lobby that advocates for township government. Because of the large number of townships, this group is big.
On the other side, advocating for abolition, are, hold on, I'm looking. Maybe over here ... if I find them I'll let you know.
Please believe me that this is not personal. Most township officials I've known over the years are fine people, and some are friends. The township lobby folks are fine folks, too. I spoke at one of their regional meetings about legislative issues.
I just think that this particular form of government, designed in an age when most people lived on farms and small villages, is no longer needed. Illinois has 102 counties and that should be enough to deliver services in a state without great physical impediments, such as mountains.
One reason Illinois has so many governments is — reform. Yes, creating single-purpose districts like forest preserve districts and mosquito abatement districts, park districts and library districts, sanitary districts and street lighting districts, was a 19th-century plan to smash boss rule, as they called it. The good-government folks thought that if you created many single-purpose governments you could break up the power of big-city political bosses. However, the bosses were smarter. They just put their patronage people in all the single-purpose governments. We were left with thousands of governments and boss rule, too.
One thing we should be able to accomplish is ending unfunded mandates. Except for certain engineering and health standards, the state should not able to make local school districts, cities and counties do things without paying them for it. The new motto should be "You mandate, you pay."
Chuck Sweeny: 815-987-1366; csweeny@rrstar.com; @chucksweeny

Chuck Sweeny: Shrinking number of governments is good, but will Illinois do it? - News - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

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