Illinois Senate budget proposal weak on consolidation

Illinois Senate budget proposal weak on consolidation

Instead of giving Illinois residents the power to initiate referendums on local government consolidation, Senate Bill 3 vests this power in government officials, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Members of the Illinois Senate have jumped on the bandwagon of popular support for shrinking the size of government, filing a new bill to expand government consolidation Jan. 11. Unfortunately, the Senate’s plan fails to give Illinoisans robust tools for the property tax relief they need.

While the proposal in Senate Bill 3 would make some reforms to help facilitate consolidation, it does not give residents necessary powers to hold their governments accountable. The Senate should instead introduce legislation that allows residents to dissolve units of local government by their own initiative.

What’s in Senate Bill 3?

SB 3 gives the boards of adjacent townships the ability to vote to merge their townships. There is an inherent problem with this proposal, though: Any township consolidation would likely combine and reduce overall payroll, which might make voting for consolidation unpalatable to township workers and administrators.

The Senate proposal also gives the boards of townships that are coterminous with cities the ability to dissolve their townships by putting referendums to voters. However, no provisions of the bill give residents the ability to initiate consolidation of their township, nor does the bill provide for municipalities to initiate consolidation.

This bill would probably result in only minimal change, as it is unlikely that township employees or board members would vote to eliminate their own jobs by dissolving their townships.

Real reform returns power to the people

A better solution would be to give the voters in those townships direct power to enact consolidation via referendum, instead of placing this power in the hands of township boards, which have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. If residents can’t initiate a referendum to dissolve a unit of government, residents also will not have the ability to lower their burdensome property taxes by consolidating duplicative layers of government.

Illinois residents pay the highest property taxes in the nation. Illinois also has the highest number of units of local government in the nation. This is no coincidence. Illinois’ property taxes are so high because each layer of government adds more costs for taxpayers to fund, such as additional salaries, pensions and administrative expenses. Unfortunately, these additional costs often do not come with any unique services to taxpayers.

A good step toward providing property tax relief would be to pass laws that give residents power to consolidate and dissolve units of local government on their own initiative.

If the General Assembly is going to make reforms to local government consolidation, it should take the opportunity to maximize the benefit for overtaxed homeowners.

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