Illinois is No. 1 in a dubious category

Illinois is No. 1 in a dubious category

Don't get your hopes up for decreasing the number of local government units in Illinois.

Illinois is last or near the bottom in a number of different metrics — public pension funding and quality of its bond ratings, to name just two.

But it's No. 1 in another important category, and that ranking helps to explain why the Land of Lincoln is a bottom dweller.

A finding by the U.S. Census indicates — and all taxpayers should prepare to cringe — that our state has the most units of local government in the nation. Pennsylvania ranks No. 2, but it's miles behind.

Illinois has 6,968 units of local government — counties, municipalities, townships, special districts and school districts — compared with 4,905 for Pennsylvania.

We're not the only state with too much government that is way too expensive. Texas has 4,856 units of government and California, 4,350.

This isn't the way it has to be. There are 10 states with 542 or fewer units of local government.

A limited number of local units of government does not automatically mean efficient and honest government. The District of Columbia has just two units, and it's historically been an absolute mess of corruption, incompetence and waste. But the fewer the units of governments citizens have to keep track of, the easier it is for voters to hold them accountable.

Why so much local government in Illinois? Voters continue to create new units, like library or tax-increment-finance districts, but many are holdovers from a bygone day. They are testimonials to the eternal truth that once government creates something, no matter how useless it becomes, it will live forever.

Exhibit A for the concept is township government, which most people know nothing about. Illinois has 102 counties and within those 102 counties are 1,400 units of township government, including 30 in Champaign County alone.

DuPage County Chairman Daniel Cronin has drawn considerable attention for trying to consolidate his county's 400-plus units of government, 45 of which provide mosquito-abatement services.

It would appear to be plain common sense to see how to do as much or more by spending less on fewer units of government. But the elected officials and employees whose livelihoods depend on their continuation vehemently resist change.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, last year tried without success to pass legislation establishing an eight-member commission with the authority to abolish local units of government.

Stirring up a hornet's nest of opposition, it never had a chance.

The Legislature subsequently created an advisory commission, headed by state Rep. Jack Franks, to explore the consolidation of local units of government and merge services.

"People can't follow them, no matter how hard they try, and as a result there is very little oversight," said Franks, who appears to be serious about bringing about a change.

But the lack of enthusiasm among state legislators for this issue is undeniable. The law establishing the Franks commission was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in August 2011 and the panel was required to submit its report by Dec. 31.

But somehow legislative leaders never got around to appointing commission members for months, and the commission didn't hold its first meeting until February 2012. Because of that delay, Franks said he's been forced to ask that the report deadline be moved back until September 2013.

Why is there such reluctance to pursue reorganization that could produce tremendous savings at a time when local governments are strapped for cash?

It's partly inertia. But it's largely because politicians run many of these local units of government, and they apply pressure on legislators to protect the status quo.

Legislators of both parties, always concerned about keeping friends and getting re-elected, find it easier to let sleeping dogs lie and do nothing.

It would be nice to think that's going to change, that Illinois is so broke sensible people in positions of power recognize the practices of 1912 need to be brought up to the speed of 2012. But change comes hard in Illinois, a state where politics almost always trumps policy.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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rsp wrote on September 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm

We should compile a list of all the ones in Champaign County and what they do, how much they cost. This one I really don't understand. It can't be done by someone already in the business for less money?:


"Champaign County is late in establishing the veterans commission, Busey said.

"The law requiring this has been in existence a very long time. We're only one of two counties in the state that doesn't have a county VAC," she said.

The commission will have a budget of $122,500, with the major expenses being $80,000 budgeted for assistance to veterans and $40,500 set aside for the salary of a superintendent. The commission, which will have an office at the Brookens Center, will become effective Dec. 1."

Almost a third of the money is going to salary. But we are required to have a commission? What if all of the money is gone in the first three months. They next nine months they answer the phone and say they are out of funds? Why not make the money available as grants through the townships at set amounts? They are already in place and known. Is it about helping vets or creating another layer of bureaucracy?

scollins4443 wrote on September 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm
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It's why there is so much corruption. I know they are No.1 in that also. As long as they have these type of payments going to local government, we will always be in the red. The taxpayers are riddled with paying pensions, benefits, and other perks that goes with local government. Dixon Il for example can't explain why the local government officials can't get peid. That quarter-horse breeder got away with all the trimmings that comes with local goverment salaries. I wonder how much time she will get for syphoning off 53 million dollars of the coffers money. I am in the wrong business and if I were in local government, I would definately be a comptroller. lol