Illinois State Representative Dwight Kay says he supports consolidation recommendations put forth by the state’s Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force.
Governor Bruce Rauner created the task force in February 2015 to help find ways of “delivering efficient, effective and streamlined government to Illinois taxpayers.” The task force’s report, published Jan. 4, outlined 12 consolidation-related recommendations and 15 unfunded mandate recommendations to reduce the cost of living in the state.
“The consolidation plan that’s been put forth by the governor is one that I, at first glance, approve of.” Kay said.
“People in the district tell me all the time that the property tax rates are far too high. And I think that consolidation lessens the burden.”
Illinois has the second-highest property taxes in the nation at 2.32 percent of property value, according to the report. The next highest state, New Hampshire comes in at 2.15 percent.
According to research by the Illinois Policy Institute, since 1990 property taxes have grown more than three times faster than the median household income.
These high rates are caused in part by the high number of local taxing bodies. Illinois is the only state in which a majority of residents live under three layers of multipurpose government. With nearly 7,000 local taxing bodies, Illinois has the most in the nation. The state with the next highest number, Texas, has nearly 1,800 fewer local taxing bodies.
“People are concerned about how they’re going to pay their tax bills,” Kay said. “We have a responsibility to assure the tax payer that they’re not paying for something they don’t need or don’t get.”
The issue is compounded by unfunded mandates imposed on local governments by the state. The number has skyrocketed in the last 25 years, with 266 new unfunded mandates, according to the report. The most expensive of these include public pension benefits, collective bargaining and interest arbitration, and workers' compensation, the report indicates.
One big roadblock to consolidation is that Illinois citizens have little or no power to consolidate or dissolve local governments, the report says. Placing a binding government-merger referendum on the ballot requires signatures from 10 percent of voters across all affected townships, and they must be collected within 90 days.
Kay agrees with the task force that this state of affairs needs to change. “I favor a commonsense consolidation,” he said. “I think that’s needed and it’s needed quickly.”
Consolidation has worked before. Lawmakers gave DuPage County the green light to pursue aggressive consolidation, the report says. The county estimates that its consolidation efforts will save taxpayers $116 million over the next 20 years.
The consolidation recommendations, which were created through months of study and examination, will serve as a roadmap to future action by the state. “I think they’ve done their due diligence,” Kay said. “It’s a pretty good start.”