April 11, 2017
While Illinois lawmakers remain gridlocked over a State budget plan, another area shows promise of compromise in Springfield: government consolidation. With over 6,900 local government units, Illinois has more units of government than any other state. The multiplicity of local units of government, many of which are funded predominantly by property taxes, is often cited as a reason for high property tax rates in Illinois. The issue of government consolidation receives bipartisan support by State legislators because of agreement on the need to improve the efficiency and transparency of government services while easing taxpayer burden.
Transform Illinois is one group leading the charge for consolidation. Transform Illinois is a collaborative of local elected officials, civic organizations and research institutions dedicated to promoting and supporting local government efficiency efforts in Illinois. Formed in 2014 through the leadership of DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, with facilitation by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Transform Illinois promotes legislation and research aimed at enabling local governments to streamline services. The ultimate goal is to save taxpayers money while creating more efficient and accountable service delivery.
Last week, Transform Illinois members traveled to Springfield for a subject matter hearing of the Senate Government Reform Committee. Chairman Cronin, MPC Director of Research and Evaluation Alden Loury and Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor testified before the Senate committee to highlight successful consolidation initiatives and share challenges with committee members.
During the presentation, Chairman Cronin highlighted consolidation work he has championed in DuPage County through the Accountability / Consolidation / Transparency Initiative. To date, DuPage County has achieved several consolidation accomplishments including the dissolution of a fire protection district, the County’s Fair and Exposition Authority, a sanitary district and a street lighting district. Chairman Lawlor cited several government reform initiatives in Lake County including a joint purchasing contract for salt, shared services for 911 emergency dispatch centers and an idea to consolidate the management functions of the County’s library districts.
Chairman Cronin pointed to the incremental nature of consolidation work. State law often presents a barrier to consolidation because obtaining authority for local governments to make structural changes like dissolving a service district often requires a change in legislation. Senator Melinda Bush, Chairperson of the Senate Government Reform Committee, said that she and the other committee members are committed to helping empower local governments to make consolidation decisions by removing barriers through legislation.
The House Government Consolidation and Modernization Committee had also scheduled a subject matter hearing, but it was cancelled because the full House session ran late.
As a member of Transform Illinois, the Civic Federation supports the coalition’s legislative efforts. Among the numerous consolidation bills introduced during the current 100th General Assembly session, two have passed in the House of Representatives and moved on to the Senate:
- House Bill 496, sponsored by Representative Tom Demmer, would allow townships that share a border with a municipality to discontinue and dissolve into the municipality. The bill would also remove some specific requirements allowing for a township’s discontinuance.
- House Bill 3521, sponsored by Representative Tim Butler, would discontinue the township collector offices in Sangamon County and shift their duties to the Sangamon County Treasurer.
Additional bills may still be considered by the General Assembly before the end of the current session. Click here to read about all of the bills Transform Illinois is following.
During the 2016 legislative session the Transform Illinois coalition saw several legislative achievements:
- Extension of the Local Government Reduction and Efficiency Act (DuPage County model) to Lake and McHenry Counties (Public Act 99-0709);
- Amendment to the Counties Code allowing county health departments to contract with other municipal or county health departments, hospitals and non-profits to provide public health services outside the health department’s jurisdiction (Public Act 99-0730);
- Amendment to the Sanitary District Act allowing the Round Lake and Fox Lake Hills Sanitary Districts to dissolve into Lake County (Public Act 99-0783); and
- Amendment to the Water Authorities Act allowing water authorities to be dissolved by referendum (Public Act 99-0668).
The Civic Federation’s own 2017 legislative priorities include the following consolidation proposals:
- Create a Local Government Protection Authority that would assist financially distressed local governments by helping them resolve financial issues and identifying opportunities for service consolidation or restructuring;
- Consolidate local pension funds (many of which are for police officers and firefighters) into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund;
- Merge the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund with the suburban and downstate Teachers’ Retirement System;
- Authorize any individual township to be dissolved by referendum; and
- Dissolve the Illinois International Port District.
Illinois lawmakers are currently on a two week spring break. After the General Assembly returns the last week of April, proposed bills will have an April 28 deadline to pass out of the house in which they were introduced in order to move forward. The Civic Federation will continue to track and provide updates on government consolidation legislation.