Can merging or eliminating a measly 13 localized government bodies in DuPage County lead to more efficient government across the state of Illinois? State Sen. Tom Cullerton thinks so, and we're inclined to agree.
Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, got the legislative ball rolling on a proposal permitting consolidation of the government bodies, taking off from an idea that Republican DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin has been pressing for years. His legislation won unanimous support in the Senate in April, and the House bill sponsored by Elmhurst Democrat Deborah Conroy passed in May on a vote of 108-6.
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To some extent, the overwhelming bipartisanship supporting this legislation is easy to explain. Most lawmakers outside DuPage County aren't likely to take any flak back home for their votes on a bill affecting just one county, and at the same time they can add to their resumes a vote in favor of consolidating government.
It's more revealing, though, to see what happened inside DuPage County. There, every lawmaker -- Republican or Democrat, House or Senate -- favored the legislation. In so doing, they set a standard in terms of both vision and process for every other county in the state.
At the heart of the legislation are 13 nonelected, tax-collecting local boards and commissions in DuPage County -- ranging from a small subdivision's street lighting district to the DuPage Airport Authority. Cronin has long wanted to squeeze economic efficiencies out of the organizations by absorbing or consolidating those where it made financial sense, but state law would not allow it.
Although tradition, bureaucratic complexity and local politics can make messing with entrenched local boards challenging, lawmakers from both parties in DuPage County recognized that a mechanism had to be available at the regional level to enable elected officials to determine whether certain boards under their purview operate effectively and efficiently.
They came together behind a proposal to do that, and the result is a process that will save taxpayers at least hundreds of thousands of dollars and perhaps millions.
The legislation awaits the approval of Gov. Pat Quinn, who supporters say stands ready to add his signature. When he does, the governor will lay out -- as Elmhurst Republican state Rep. Dennis Reboletti said following House passage of the bill -- a model for other counties and municipalities across the state, which, by the way, is among the states with the highest number of units of government.
Surely, opportunities for consolidation of boards and commissions lie waiting to be seized in Kane, Lake, McHenry and Cook counties. Now, it's up to efficiency-minded leaders in these counties to begin identifying them and rounding up support from lawmakers.
Politicians constantly hail the value of working "across the aisle," and they speak often in broad terms about the need for more streamlined government. State and county officials in DuPage County have shown how to move those goals beyond mere talk. If officials elsewhere pay close attention, the savings across the state may extend far beyond the boundaries of just 13 local panels.