Illinois needs diet of lean cuisine
Even if Illinois could afford all the local units of government it has — and it can't — it would be foolish to keep them.
Hope springs eternal when a new year begins, and nowhere is that optimistic feeling reflected than in the New Year's resolutions people make and then, unfortunately, often forget.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes, change is so important that it becomes a necessity.
That's why the State of Illinois has to change. There's no future in committing slow-motion suicide, no matter how hard our elected officials from the top to the bottom of government try to prove there is.
That's why Andy Shaw, president of the Chicago-based Better Government Association, is proposing a resolution for the people of Illinois to embrace
"Let's tackle morbid government obesity in Illinois," Shaw urges.
Most people know what morbid obesity is, but for the uninitiated that phrase refers to growth to the point of impending death. Obese people are killing them themselves by excessive food intake, and it's Shaw's contention that Illinois is killing itself with too much government, specifically too much local government.
There's simply no disputing Illinois' excess when it coming to creating separate and independent taxing bodies. There are nearly 7,000 taxing units in Illinois' 102 counties, the most in the country. Illinois leads runners-up Texas and California, both substantially larger states than Illinois, by 2,000.
What is Shaw referring to? He's talking about municipal and county governmental units but also schools, park districts, drainage districts and townships.
Champaign County alone has 30 separate township governments, each stocked with elected officials and supported by property taxes.
Township government is a throwback to the days of a mostly agrarian society in Illinois, when transportation was limited and small governmental units really were necessary to deliver services.
Times have changed, but township government persists, operating on strength of public inertia and its own lobbying power.
There's a high cost to all the government that exists in Illinois, the duplication of services, the excessive number of elected officials jealously guarding their separate bailiwicks as they hire their brothers-in-law and the sheer foolishness of government run amok.
That's one of the reasons the State of Illinois is in a death spiral, effectively bankrupt. Cancer can be contained for a while, but when it spreads the consequences are catastrophic.
Our elected officials don't like to admit that. But the public isn't fooled for long, and eventually they vote with their feet.
That's why Illinois' population growth rate trails many other states, resulting in the steady decline in the size of the state's congressional delegation and diminished influence in Washington, D.C.
That's why Illinois ranks among the top five states in terms of people moving to a different state, according to a survey recently published by Allied Van Lines. The other four states are New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.
That's why the state's budget is constantly stressed, why the state has $6 billion in old bills it can't pay, why core state functions like education are underfunded.
One of the reasons Illinois can't finance the government it does need is that it's too busy paying for the government it doesn't need.
There have been intermittent attempts to downsize government in Illinois, and they've been met with relentless hostility by the beneficiaries of morbidly obese government.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin has led efforts to consolidate governmental units in ways that reduce costs. Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks heads a legislative commission that's been assigned to study the problem and make recommendations.
But not much will come out of these probes without an aroused public pushing state legislators and local officials to do the same or more with less government. They won't do it on their own because they face too much political resistance from the very people whose jobs and jurisdictions ought to be cut down to size.
If Illinois' ship of state is to be set on the proper course, substantive change in the form of a severe diet is mandatory.