Rauner: Reduce number of governments in Illinois

Rauner: Reduce number of governments in Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — One of the first things he'd do as governor, Republican nominee Bruce Rauner said Wednesday, is appoint a task force to study Illinois' state and local government structure with an eye toward reducing their numbers and size,

Rauner also said, during a brief stop at the Scott Bidner farm northwest of Champaign, that he soon will unveil "a comprehensive tax review and tax overhaul" plan.

He said his campaign is "in the mid-stage of that and we hope that in the coming few weeks we come with a comprehensive plan recommending how we should overhaul the tax code.

"We're a couple, a few weeks away from that. Early on in our campaign we want to set an agenda that's for economic growth, tax overhaul, spending overhaul, bureaucracy reduction and investment in education and all will be part of our plan that we will be rolling out in the coming weeks."

He contrasted his tax plan with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to make permanent a 67 percent income tax increase approved by lawmakers in 2011.

"We really need to look at our entire tax code. Pat Quinn wants to pick out income taxes and raise them. I think what we should do is look at our entire tax code, our sales tax, our fuels tax, our real estate tax. We need comprehensive tax reform," he told a group of about 30 people at a barn on the Bidner farm.

Rauner also said he wanted the state to spend more on infrastructure improvement, although he also said he didn't think Illinois' motor fuel tax would need to be increased.

"I don't think so today, based on what I've seen," he said.

But he spent much of his time talking about making governments in Illinois more efficient, productive and transparent.

"What we have is far too many units of government. We have over 7,000 units of government. Most states have thousands, thousands less. We need to reduce the number of units of government," said Rauner. "We also need to make our government workers more productive. We lag most other states and the private sector in the use of technology and data and information systems and computer systems to make government workers more productive."

Among his top priorities, Rauner said, is to "form a task force immediately on day one. It's not going to be long-lived. It's going to be about a six-month task force composed of county (board) chairmen, mayors, city managers and school superintendents, to form a task force with me and (lieutenant governor nominee) Evelyn Sanguinetti with a goal of meeting to talk about how we bring efficiency through the layers of government throughout the state of Illinois. Today our spending problems and our tax problems are not only at the state levels. They're at the county level, the school district level and the city and municipal level.

"I want to get in one room with one agenda, to reduce the spending and drive the efficiency higher, and transform our state government through all the layers and do it comprehensively."

Rauner added there is "no reason that Illinois should have more than 3,000 more units of government than any other state."

Asked if he wanted to eliminate 3,000 units of government, he answered, "What we have to look at is, how can we be more competitive and efficient? I can't name numbers today. I know we have thousands more units and you've got to ask yourself, common sense would say, why? We're not that different than other states. Why do we need 3,000 more units of government than any other states? That doesn't make sense."

Although Illinois does have more units of local government than any other state — 6,963 as of June 30, 2012, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report — it has only 1,816 units more than Texas. But Texas is almost five times larger than Illinois and has about twice the population.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Rauner was referring to other Midwestern states, none of which has more than 3,752 units of government (Missouri).

The wealthy Winnetka businessman said "we need to transform many of the bureaucracies" and cited three state agencies — Central Management Services, and the Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources — as being filled with "patronage and cronyism."

"Too often it's cronies with no expertise in the field that they're asked to be an administrator in. We need to bring in experts, folks who really know farming, folks who really know natural resources, really know government operations and are doing it for the right reasons, not for patronage or cronyism," he asserted.

Rauner also said he planned to increase funding to higher education.

"Under Pat Quinn's administration state support for the (University of Illinois) and other universities has been cut. That's wrong. We should be increasing our investment in education. Education's the most important investment we can make together as a community."

He also said he'd undertake a closer review of university spending as governor.

"Much of the spending at the University of Illinois and in other universities has grown very highly in the administrative cost structure whereas spending inside the classroom and on research hasn't necessarily kept pace. I'd like to see us re-prioritize, invest in the classroom for the students and invest in the research and the potential economic development and be more efficient in the administrative layer."

The theme of Rauner's visit to the Bidner farm was Quinn's "Broken Promises," particularly regarding the 2011 income tax increase that was supposed to be temporary.

Gifford area farmer Mark Pflugmacher, 36, said he supported the tax increase then "because I thought that we needed money to pay for our schools and to pave our roads until the state got their spending problem under control."

As for making the tax increase permanent, he said, "I have a problem with that because (Quinn) has continued to spend and spend with no long-term goals to bring our state to good financial health. So now we have a long-term sacrifice with no long-term goals."

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EdRyan wrote on April 02, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Nice sound bite but really pointless.  If you consolidate all those drainage districts and township governments into the county government you'll not save much money, and not one dime of it would impact the state budget.

First, I really don't think you could convince the farmers to let go of the drainage districts that they themselves actually pay for and manage.  The townships could be consolidated into county government, but someone still has to maintain the roads that the township maintains, assess the taxes, and provide the small bit of general assistance that the small rural townships provide.  So you can get rid of the likes of Condit Township in Champaign or Pilot Township in Vermilion and in the process likely spend more money consolidating the functions than you'll save in a century of having fewer governments.

Overall, this is like saying we can salvage the state budget by cutting the number of erasers used in Springfield.



rsp wrote on April 02, 2014 at 8:04 pm

He sounds like someone saying "look over there! Look over there!" instead of talking about the fact that too many are looking to get what they want instead of working together. A task force a special interest groups? Just what we need.

serf wrote on April 02, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Although it wasn't explicit, one can easily extrapolate that by reducing government, that in turn will reduce the number of government employees.

For the record, Illinois has the lowest number of state employees per capita in the entire nation.  

eastsideexp wrote on April 03, 2014 at 1:04 am

I would like to see the News-Gazette or working with other news organizations, explore how much money all these different units of government are holding in reserve.

As an example, you frequently read about 'XYZ School District has a deficit budget for 2013-14 school year, but they are making up the difference with their reserves.' How much money are park districts, fire protection districts, and even mosquito abatement districts holding in reserve around the state of Illinois?  News coverage about 18 months ago had some school districts in Illinois with as much as 2.5 years worth of operating budget held in reserve. (If you have 2.5 years worth of money, why even collect property taxes in that district for a year, or reduce the rate)

How about some Freedom of Information requests to every taxing body in the state of Illinois for the last fiscal year's budget, expenditures, and reserves held at the end of the last fiscal year.

If you add it all up, there are probably billions of dollars held in reserve by the thousands of taxing bodies in Illinois.

EdRyan wrote on April 03, 2014 at 5:04 am

None of that would solve the state problems since the money mostly comes from local taxes, but it is a question that should interest the constituents of those taxing bodies. Most of the small governments that I know of don't have all that much in reserve.  They also don't have employees and the office holders don't get paid much, if at all.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 04, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Reality has little to do with politics.  Rauner's comments were meant to excite the electorate, not solve problems.  If he were to be confronted on his statements, he would flip flop like he did on his idea to reduce the state minimum wage.  Whether the ideas will work, or not is not as important as buying the governor's office.  Statements without questions has worked well so far.