Editorial: Speed up glacial progress on consolidation

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted4/20/2016 1:00 AM
  • State Sens. Melinda Bush, left, and Julie Morrison have introduced separate bills making it easier to merge township governments and road districts.

      State Sens. Melinda Bush, left, and Julie Morrison have introduced separate bills making it easier to merge township governments and road districts. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Illinois has 6,963 taxing bodies, according to the The United States Census Bureau. The state with the second most is Texas, at 5,147. That's 35 percent fewer.

Wisconsin next door comes in 10th place, with 3,128, fewer than half of what Illinois has.

Can you make the argument that Illinois is any better governed than either of them? Perhaps that's a discussion for another day. But no right-minded person would say that 6,963 sounds appropriate.

Why does this get us so riled? Could it be that Illinoisans pay higher property taxes than anyone except for the people of New Jersey?

The argument for economizing by consolidating some of the more anachronistic or singularly focused units of governments in Illinois is not new but is gathering steam.

A group of state legislators from Lake County -- which just so happens to rank in the top 25 counties nationally for highest property tax rate for homeowners -- introduced two bills in the Senate this week that seek to give townships and township road districts the opportunity to ask voters via referendum whether they favor dissolution or consolidation.

Democratic state Sens. Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Julie Morrison of Deerfield put forth the proposal and let a group of township officials know about it.

"We're not telling you what to do," Bush told them Monday during a news conference at the Lake County transportation building, according to a story by Staff Writer Mick Zawislak. "It gives you and your voters the ability to decide what makes sense for you."

It would be a big win for the property tax-weary people of Illinois to be given the choice, but the problem remains that those who lead those units of government are the ones who need to put it to a public vote.

Certainly, the reactions we received from township officials to the legislation were more expressions of worry about the unknown rather than enthusiasm for the concept.

There certainly hasn't been a lot of movement by townships to ask voters whether to abolish their road districts since Gov. Pat Quinn signed that measure into law five years ago.

As we've seen in the dispute over whether the city of Naperville should take over road maintenance responsibilities from Naperville Township, those who lead these small units of government see very little upside to giving up their control -- or their salaries.

So, provided the Senate OKs these measures -- consolidation of this nature is one of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's big initiatives -- it is incumbent upon those who feel these levels of government have outlived their usefulness to bring pressure to bear on the leaders of those units of government to put it to a vote.

Three years ago, Illinois had five more taxing bodies than it does today. That is progress, albeit glacial.

It's high time we speed things up.

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