- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 24, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Consolidating many governments in Illinois can create savings

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a couple of bills last week to make it easier for voters to get rid of unnecessary and wasteful units of government.

This is nice because Illinois is the king of boutique governments, tiny tax-soaking entities that often handle a single job, such as street lighting or storm drainage. Illinois has 6,968 units of government in all, 42 percent more than the distant runner-up, Pennsylvania.

But the bills Quinn signed are fly swatters at a garbage dump. They won’t help much.

While the Legislature and Quinn deserve credit for passing and signing the bills, the whole business mostly serves to remind us of what a mess we’ve made of grass-roots democracy in this state. Voters can’t possibly have a clue about all these obscure little governments.

The League of Women Voters got nowhere trying to eliminate redundant township governments in the 1970s, and collar-county referendums failed to do the same thing in the 1990s. Efforts in Springfield in more recent years to give the state power to ax local governments and consolidate school districts met the same fate.

It took years and a special law, pushed by state Sen. Daniel Biss, to merge Evanston Township into the City of Evanston on May 1, though those units of government shared the same boundaries and the estimated annual savings was $250,000.

Merging units of government requires strong local support because it is complicated. Decisions have to be made about what the new tax rates and levels of service will be and what will happen to contracts signed by the governmental entity that will be no more.

One of the two new laws Quinn signed, HB 5785, allows some minor units of local government to merge with similar districts or vote themselves out of existence and have their duties absorbed by a municipality or county. The second new law, HB 5856, allows voters in adjoining fire protection districts to merge into one.

Biss, who co-sponsored HB 5785 in the Senate, is the first to admit that these are limited reforms. But there is no silver bullet, he says, and so we must create a quiver of arrows - “lots and lots and lots” of solutions.

Biss, who immerses himself in public policy issues in a deep way that always reminds us he was once a University of Chicago math professor, offers the following arrows, among others. They are all well worth consideration:

-Strengthen the bill just signed, HB 5785, to apply to all forms of government, not just some.

-Strengthen and duplicate a 2013 state law that gave DuPage County President Dan Cronin significant authority to begin the consolidation of certain smaller governments in the county that are controlled by appointees of the county board. The law could be expanded to include more units of government in DuPage, as well as units of governments in other counties and even those that straddle county lines.

-Allow any and all of the state’s 1,433 townships to dissolve by referendum, as Evanston Township did. Evanston had to get special permission to do so, as current state law requires that all the townships in a county be dissolved simultaneously. But if that’s too much reform for our reform-allergic state, how about we allow any township that has the exact same geographic footprint as a city - such as the township and city of Evanston - to dissolve by referendum? There are about 20 of those.

-If that’s still too much enlightened progress, the state could allow voters to dissolve just a part of their township government, such as the assessor’s office, treasurer or highway commissioner.

-The state could increase existing financial incentives for school districts to consolidate, less to save money - though it would - than to improve the quality of education.


August 24, 2014

Belleville News-Democrat

Looking into Illinois’ future

Twice last week we heard predictions about what we can expect from our leaders in Springfield, both of which left us scratching our heads and wondering whether the prognostications were actually made by the Magic 8 Ball.

First we learned that Southwestern Illinois College approved a five-year contract for full-time faculty with no raise the first year, 2 percent for each of the four years after that plus 2 percent step increases. In this uncertain and fluid economy, in this state of broken revenue streams, they are confident enough of their numbers to know what they can afford to pay in 2019?

“It is decidedly so.”

The second oracle came during a visit with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. He wouldn’t exactly predict ex-state trooper Matt Mitchell’s chances of driving again after killing the Uhl sisters, but we think it is safe to say “outlook not so good.” No, the prediction came when White was asked about his former colleagues in the state legislature.

White said he thinks the ladies and gentlemen in Springfield have seen the polls and heard the people’s dissatisfaction. He expects a sea change after the November elections in which the litany of money woes led by carnivorous pensions is finally addressed by this Democratic super-majority that holds both chambers and the governor’s office.

While we respect White’s integrity, focus on teen and other driver safety and desire to improve customer service, we think his Magic 8 Ball is on the fritz. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.

But we go ahead, start shaking the ball and ask whether one more chance will yield change from the folks in Springfield.

“My sources say no.”


August 23, 2014

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Voters don’t need term limits, they need to vote

The issue of term limits for Illinois lawmakers is dead - for now, at least - and that ought to be welcome news for anyone who values democracy, freedom of choice and sound public policy.

Term limits is an old idea that is resurrected every few years in Illinois. The most vocal proponent of the latest term limits effort is Republican governor candidate and “political outsider” Bruce Rauner, who wants to rid the Capitol of so-called career politicians by restricting lawmakers to eight years in office and also making it tougher for them to override gubernatorial vetoes.

The term limits proposal also called for increasing the size of the House and reducing the size of the Senate, provisions that were thought to satisfy requirements outlined in the Illinois constitution.

Rauner, chairman of the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, championed a statewide petition effort earlier this year that sought support for putting the term limits referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot. Approval would have yielded a constitutional amendment.

Backers of the initiative collected the needed signatures, and it appeared to be smooth sailing. Not so fast, though.

A legal challenge quickly was filed. A circuit court judge said the measure violated a provision of the Illinois constitution that requires changes to the legislature to be both “structural and procedural.” The term limits folks appealed the decision, and an appellate judge upheld the lower court’s decision.

And on Friday the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the ruling, bringing the term limits effort of 2014 to an end.

As we’ve admonished for years, Illinois already has built-in term limits. It’s called voting. The Constitution guarantees people the opportunity to express their values and their opinions at the ballot box by voting for or against candidates.

Arbitrarily limiting the number of terms an elected official can serve erodes the public’s right to say how their government should be run, who is best suited for the job of running it, and which politicians have worn out their welcome. People tend to underestimate how much power there is in a vote.

But the idea of term limits never loses its luster. It’s a simple script that plays well with hopelessly discouraged voters who believe they have no other recourse for changing government. And in Illinois, where Democrats occupy most of the seats in the state legislature and Republicans want to occupy more, there is plenty for voters to be upset about.

To put it simply, there is a trust deficit in Illinois among voters. And who can blame them? In the past decade, they have experienced two governors sent to prison, other elected officials brought up on corruption charges, state money and programs mismanaged, services cut, one-party domination at the Statehouse, increasingly negative partisanship in politics, a lack of openness and transparency in government, the growing influence of money, and a perception that lawmakers will say anything to get elected.

These are broad, complicated problems that term limits simply will not solve.

The best way for people to express their dissatisfaction with politicians and incumbents is to get involved in the electoral process by casting a vote, running for office or supporting their favorite candidates with money or time.

This isn’t the first time a candidate eager to get change-hungry voters to the polls has offered term limits as a solution, but voters have a better choice: cast a ballot.

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