St Clair Township Chairman Robert M. Goins (R) told the Record that he is behind government consolidation as laid out by the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandate’s Task force.
The task force, created by Governor Bruce Rauner, released a report on Jan. 4 outlining 27 legislative recommendations designed to help reduce the tax burden on Illinois landowners, while providing better public services.
Twelve of the recommendations were related to the issue of government consolidation. “I think it’s a good idea,” Goins said.”
Illinois has more local taxing bodies than any state in the nation, with a total of nearly 7,000. Most residents live under three layers of general purpose government including county, municipal and township.
“I’d say Illinoisans have just taken on a whole lot more than they needed to or didn’t get rid of antiquated ones,” Goins said.
One of the big roadblocks to consolidation is that there is currently no legal process that will allow citizens to merge special purpose districts, like fire or library districts with a government entity.
It’s also “virtually impossible” the report stated, for citizens to initiate the process of merging townships. It takes signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in every affected township to place a binding government-merger referendum on the ballot, and all of those have to be collected over a period of just 90 days. By comparison, amending the Illinois constitution takes signatures from just four percent of voters and the signatures can be gathered over 540 days.
The recommendations outlined in the report include giving Illinois citizens the power to consolidate or dissolve local governments through a referendum process.
The state already has an example to follow on the path to consolidation. DuPage County has already been given permission to pursue aggressive consolidation. The results have been encouraging. The county estimates that it will save taxpayers $116 million over the next 20 years.
Multiple layers of government mean high taxes, Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the nation, and a surplus of unfunded government mandates isn’t helping. In the last 20 years, Illinois has added 266 unfunded mandates, and in just over 10 years, school districts have had to address 145 unfunded mandates.
“Unfunded government mandates ought to be an oxymoron.” Goins said. “If the government is going to mandate that you do it, they ought to give you the money to do it.”
To address this issue, the report also included 15 recommendations regarding unfunded mandates. These include allowing schools to contract out services not related to instruction, giving local agencies the authority to decide whether employment issues should be subject to collective bargaining, and repealing or reforming prevailing-wage requirements.
“As a former government official myself,” Goins said, “We had opportunities to get the work done by volunteers, and yet we had to spend prevailing wage to get it done. I’d get rid of prevailing wage laws as well."
Now that the recommendations are in place, it’s up to lawmakers to decide what to do with them.
“I applaud Governor Rauner for what he’s doing,” Goins said, “sticking by his guns.”