Illinois taxpayers could cut back local governments under bipartisan bill

Illinois taxpayers could cut back local governments under bipartisan bill

The Citizens Empowerment Act would let taxpayers cut local government at the ballot box. Illinois lawmakers from both parties are backing it.

A bipartisan measure in the Illinois House of Representatives would empower Illinois taxpayers to trim local government – a needed tool in the state with, by far, the nation’s most government layers.

State Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, are chief co-sponsors of House Bill 307, which would create the Citizens Empowerment Act. The bill would allow Illinoisans to dissolve or consolidate any unit of local government by voter referendum, and transfer that unit’s services to a bigger government body.

Under the proposed Act, Illinoisans could collect signatures equal to 5 percent of ballots cast in the last general election and put the consolidation question before voters in the next general election. Those pursuing consolidation would file petitions with both the targeted government and the government that would absorb its services at least 122 days before the election.

For a referendum to succeed it would receive approval from voters in both the dissolving and receiving government units. Approval by each group would require either three-fifths of those voting on the referendum or over 50 percent of total votes in the election.

Illinois has nearly 7,000 units of government, more than any other state in the nation. Maintaining that much bureaucracy is costly, and it’s one of the main drivers of Illinois’ high property tax burden.

Fortunately, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Springfield have spearheaded taxpayer-friendly consolidation efforts in recent years.

In 2018, state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, proposed the Township Modernization and Consolidation Act, which would have allowed Illinois counties to dissolve their townships by voter referendum, brought either by citizen petition or county ordinance. Hundreds of townships filed witness slips opposing the bill, which eventually died in the Rules Committee.

Taking note, Yingling returned in February with a bill that would prohibit local taxing bodies from using tax dollars to fight consolidation efforts. McSweeney and Carroll are both chief co-sponsors on that measure.

McSweeney introduced a separate proposal last year that would have eased the process for residents looking to abolish their townships in McHenry County. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill, arguing that its scope should extend beyond just McHenry County. McSweeney revived that bill in January, and chief co-sponsorships include state Reps. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook; Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake; Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; and Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee.

Across Illinois, overburdened taxpayers have looked to consolidation as a means to reduce tax bills, slash waste and improve efficiency. In McHenry County, high property taxes have sparked a revolution among residents determined to cut local government bloat.

Illinoisans are up to their necks in high tax bills and overabundant government layers. Lawmakers should send taxpayers relief by sending the Citizens Empowerment Act to the governor’s desk.

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