Too many government units means property taxes are too high in Illinois

Too many government units means property taxes are too high in Illinois

A bill to eliminate some of Illinois’ 1,400 townships is on hold, but state lawmakers could revive it and give voters the power to reduce their property tax bills.

Illinois has more units of local government than any other state and the second-highest property taxes in the nation. House Bill 1861 would have given Illinoisians the power to potentially reduce both at the ballot box.

Illinois is home to nearly nearly 6,000, layers of government, excluding school districts – over 1,000 more than Indiana, Kentucky and Iowa combined. The average Illinoisian lives under six layers of government, which are often duplicative and share overlapping duties.

Illinoisians find themselves paying those multiple layers of government for nearly identical services, leading to excessive property taxes.

Sponsored by state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, the aim of HB 1861 is to empower taxpayers to consolidate townships at the local level without relying on permission from Springfield. The bill failed to make it out of a House committee by the March 26 deadline, but it could return in the fall.

While Illinois has more than 1,400 townships, only McHenry County residents currently have the power to eliminate them. A county-specific bill was signed into law in 2019, giving McHenry County taxpayers the opportunity to eliminate any of the county’s townships by a referendum.

Evanston and Belleville were both required to appeal to the Illinois General Assembly to dissolve Evanston Township and Belleville Township. Both cities shared identical boundaries with the townships.

Despite a vote showing two-thirds of residents favored dissolution, Evanston could only move forward after Springfield lawmakers approved. The move ultimately saved taxpayers almost $800,000 in 2015 and will save approximately $19.4 million over 20 years, according to The Civic Federation.

Belleville taxpayers saved $260,000 after Belleville Township was eliminated in 2017 following a multi-year effort including the special legislation. The township’s sole function was to hand out a small amount of aid to about 40 qualifying residents.

HB 1861 would expand the power granted to McHenry County to all counties in Illinois, giving Illinoisans greater autonomy to cut taxpayer-funded government inefficiencies in their local community.

House Bill 433, the Citizen’s Empowerment Act, would take HB 1861 a step farther. It, too, failed to advance to the full House by March 26 but could resurface in the fall or a version could be taken up in the Illinois Senate.

By obtaining signatures from 5% of the total residents who voted in the preceding general election, taxpayers could put a referendum on the next ballot to dissolve a local government entity.

While the aim of government consolidation is to save property tax dollars, there currently is no guarantee taxpayers’ dollars cannot be used against their efforts to eliminate government layers. House Bill 566, sponsored by state Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, would prohibit the governmental unit targeted for elimination, and public officials of that unit, from using public funds to oppose the measure. It, too, remains in a House committee and will not be considered by the full House during the current session.

Ultimately, Illinoisians should get to choose their local government, not have local and state government choose what is right for them. Consolidation is an essential step toward improving efficiency and transparency in those local governments while reducing Illinois homeowners’ crushing property tax burdens.

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