Editorial | A worthy experiment

Editorial | A worthy experiment

The Governor should sign the township bill and see how it plays out in McHenry County.

The 50 states that make up the United States are often characterized as "laboratories of democracy." The reference refers to the public-policy experimentation that our federal/state systems not only permit, but also encourage.

If the governor and legislators in one state want to try out something new, the results they get — good or bad — can be used as guidance for governors and legislators in other states.

In that context, the same approach can be taken in each of Illinois' 102 counties.

What works — or doesn't work — for some can be an object lesson for others.

In that context, last week's passage of H.B. 348 is welcome. Gov. J.B. Pritzker should sign the bill.

Illinois has far too many units of government, a circumstance that contributes to onerous property taxes. H.B. 348 lays the groundwork for reducing the number of units of government — in this case, townships in McHenry County.

The legislation establishes a referendum process for voters to dissolve McHenry County's 17 townships. It was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

In addition to the township issue, the legislation also requires the abolition of road districts in McHenry and Lake counties that maintain fewer than 15 miles of road.

In this case, legislators are trying to address the issue of units of government created many decades ago whose usefulness now is open to question.

There is, of course, opposition to messing with the relic of township government, most from township officials. They vehemently argue that they play a vital role and that their constituents will suffer immeasurably if the townships are consolidated or eliminated.

Proponents of the elimination or consolidation contend those concerns amount to scaremongering — that township functions can easily be picked up by municipal or county governments.

So let's find out by watching what happens in McHenry County, where township officials are already raising a ruckus about this threat to their mostly invisible sinecures.

Do the people of McHenry County, one of the collar counties with a population of 300,000, think they really need 17 townships with an average population of 17,600 each? (Champaign County has 30 townships.)

What will be the consequences if they consolidate or eliminate some or all of them?

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans worked to pass this legislation. But Democratic state Sen. Terry Link and Republican state Rep. David McSweeney were the principal sponsors in the Senate and House, respectively.

Unfortunately, it's been a long time coming.

Shortly before he left office in January, former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed similar legislation. He said he supported government consolidation and only objected to this bill because he said it should have applied statewide.

Well, perhaps it should have. But the bill Rauner vetoed didn't because the Legislature wasn't willing to pass such a potentially sweeping measure.

But even if it's just one county, it's a good start. Pritzker must recognize that, then let the experimentation begin.

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