Rauner in Naperville to pitch government consolidation bills
Gov. Bruce Rauner presented four new bills Friday that he says could save taxpayers money and advance the government consolidation ideas a state task force presented last month.
Speaking at Naperville's municipal center, Rauner said the bills could empower citizens and local governments to consolidate units of government by referendum, to eliminate some county committees and to more easily consolidate townships.
"It's about giving power back to the people of Illinois, to the people at the local level in their communities to get power over the cost of government," Rauner said.
The bills list mainly Republican sponsors, but Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo also signed on to two of them. Franks said it's important to revisit whether units of government created by past legislation still function efficiently today.
Rauner said he's "optimistic" for more cooperation between parties to push the consolidation bills forward.
"We've got bipartisan agreement on these; let's get them done," Rauner said. "Let's start the process of saving taxpayers money. Let's win this fight to protect the taxpayers of Illinois. Let's win the battle to make Illinois more competitive."
Rauner said eliminating some of Illinois' 6,963 units of government -- the highest total in any state -- could improve the state's financial situation by lessening the tax burden on businesses and encouraging them to expand, thereby increasing the tax base.
Detractors say the effort draws attention from the lack of a state budget, but Rauner said consolidation is "directly about the state budget" and could shift the debate away from whether to cut services or raise taxes.
"That shouldn't really be the conversation. It should be how do we shrink the bureaucracy, shrink the cost of government so we can put more money into our human services, into our education system, which to me is the No. 1 priority," Rauner said. "We need to change the focus."
The four bills proposed Friday include:
• Citizens Empowerment Act: Would allow residents and local governments to consolidate "duplicative or unnecessary" units of government by referendum question.
• DuPage County Consolidation Powers Expansion: Would allow all 102 counties to dissolve or consolidate government units whose boards are appointed by the county.
• Evanston Township Consolidation Expansion: Would give all 19 pairs of townships and municipalities that share the same boundaries the ability to consolidate.
• Township consolidation: Would remove "arbitrary barriers" to township consolidation in state statute so residents or local governments can choose to combine.
Naperville and DuPage County leaders praised the effort to expand local ability to reduce excess layers of government.
"It is our responsibility to look for the most efficient, effective way to provide these services," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said.
Rauner said the bills offer a start toward greater government efficiency, but the report released last month by a task force on government consolidation and unfunded mandates gives more suggestions.
The report lists 27 recommendations, including a four-year ban on creation of new local governments except in cases of consolidation, removal of a limit capping township size at 126 square miles, and addition of the clause "if economically feasible" to bills imposing requirements on local governments without a funding source.
"If we can eliminate overlap and unnecessary expense, that's what we all should be aiming for," Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said.