Editorial: Consolidation report is a strong beginning, but just the beginning
Those of us who have been clamoring for decades for action to reduce the costs of government and provide relief to local governments from state-mandated costs can't help but be excited about the report released Monday by a governor's task force assigned to study these important topics.
With 27 specific recommendations and a host of additional ideas for helping citizens pare down the costs of government, the Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates, headed by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti of Wheaton, has produced an impressive framework for significant reform. But one needn't read too far into the group's 404-page report to caution that policymakers not let the task force's potential achievements become weighted down by its ambitions.
Implementing even the group's most immediately appealing suggestions would demand thoughtful oversight. We have long been proponents of the notion of dissolving or consolidating township governments, for example, but we also recognize that townships provide important services that deserve to be maintained in whatever reorganization takes place.
The task force seems to recognize this, as many of its proposals -- including a four-year moratorium on creating new local governments, removing the mileage cap on the size of individual townships, encouraging mergers of adjoining townships, and more -- provide for methodical reorganization rather than abrupt elimination of government units.
Other ideas will require substantial debate and will encounter immediate political opposition by powerful forces. The proposal to reform prevailing wage requirements, for instance, could give local municipalities significantly improved control over project costs, but even reasonable supporters acknowledge that there is more to the issue than simply eliminating the requirement. Likewise on a provision that would allow, rather than require, governments to negotiate police and fire staff sizes. Labor unions are sure to fight such measures aggressively. Withstanding them will likely involve protracted legislative wrangling and require both well-thought-out proposals and lawmakers with resolve to match their rhetoric.
Still other proposals, such as allowing schools to drop P.E. and driver's education requirements, also must be critically debated before they're adopted.
Unquestionably, Sanguinetti, the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies and the entire consolidation task force have produced a monumental achievement and a richly promising set of ideas for empowering local citizens and local governments. But just as certainly, Monday's report is far from a completed outline for sweeping reform.
Legislators and policymakers should be willing and prepared to implement as quickly as possible those provisions that can be readily achieved, ensure broad debate of all provisions, whatever their magnitude, and take pains to guarantee that any idea adopted is implemented judiciously.