Rauner exploring ways to consolidate local governments
Gov. Bruce Rauner says he wants to reduce the massive number of local government agencies in Illinois after previous consolidation efforts by state lawmakers stalled.
Rauner signed an executive order Friday creating a Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandate Task Force that will be headed by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti of Wheaton. The panel will be charged with finding efficiencies and encouraging streamlining of local government functions, officials said.
Illinois has nearly 7,000 separate taxing bodies, ranging from counties to townships to fire protection districts.
Rauner said Illinois has far more units of local government than any other state.
"Some of the unnecessary layers of local government are the fundamental reasons why residents of Illinois face some of the highest local government taxes in America," Rauner said during a news conference in Elmhurst. "These inefficient layers of government for the taxpayer have got to be brought down so we can help reduce this environment we have that's conducive to corruption."
Task force members will be appointed by Rauner and include state lawmakers and representatives from school districts and other local governments.
Sanguinetti said one goal of the task force will be to "free local governments from unnecessary, unfunded mandates imposed by the state."
She said the state has imposed more than 280 unfunded mandates, which has cost local taxpayers money.
After doing a cost analysis of all the unfunded mandates, the task force will recommend which ones need to be replaced, revised or repealed, Sanguinetti said.
"Every dollar we save through this process is a dollar that goes back into the pocketbooks of our taxpayers," she said.
The task force is required to submit its findings to Rauner and the General Assembly by Dec. 31, officials said. It then will be dissolved.
Rauner said the recommendations "will get the conversation started" on how to end duplicative services and improve efficiency within local government agencies.
"We need to encourage streamlining of local government and the school districts to reduce costs and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," he said.
Some have long argued that consolidating small units of government would save tax money and improve services. Others say it's very difficult to eliminate a taxing body after it has been established.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, however, said the county has shown consolidation is possible.
Cronin has been championing consolidation as a way to save money and improve services since before he took office more than four years ago.
During his first term, he launched his ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative, which called on 24 local governmental entities to make structural and operational reforms.
"We've created partnerships, economized, simplified and streamlined," said Cronin, adding that the DuPage Water Commission -- the location of Friday's news conference -- is one example of a once-troubled government entity becoming a success story.
Thanks to a state law approved in 2013, DuPage was able to dissolve a fire protection district and has the power to eliminate up to a dozen other units of local government.
"Sometimes the best approach is consolidation," Cronin said. "Sometimes, there are reforms you can realize that stop short of consolidation."
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, who was the chief sponsor of the 2013 legislation, said he's pleased Rauner recognizes that DuPage has been a leader in effective, efficient government.
"I passed legislation to dissolve redundant appointed positions to provide taxpayers with a smaller, less costly local government," Cullerton said.
The Villa Park Democrat added that he looks forward "to working with the governor to find ways to apply the same practices throughout Illinois."
Cronin said the creation of the task force shows Rauner is committed to the issue.
"It gives momentum to our movement, our efforts," Cronin said. "We want to take consolidation to the next level.
"With the enthusiastic support of this governor and his commitment to it with Evelyn Sanguinetti," he said, "I think it will help us get votes in the legislature for our agenda and for things we want to do. We have to keep the momentum going."