While battling over big budget issues, legislators have reached an accord on a smaller one.
Given the nastiness of last year's fight between Gov. Pat Quinn and state legislators, it was virtually certain that structural changes would be made in the state's regional superintendent of education offices.
Last week, legislators put the finishing touches on a bill that mandates a reduction in the number of offices from 44 to 35. Now the legislation goes to Quinn for his signature. Given the overwhelming support for the proposal in the General Assembly, it's hard to imagine that he won't sign it.
What is harder to determine is how much this reduction will save taxpayers or what, if any, benefits will derive from the elimination of nine of these offices.
The aim of the legislation is to reduce the number of offices by increasing the minimum size of the population these offices serve from 43,000 to 61,000.
Readers may recall that last summer, just before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, Gov. Quinn vetoed a roughly $11 million appropriation to pay the salaries of the regional superintendents. It was Quinn's way of expressing his desire to eliminate the offices and reassign their many duties to other entities.
His concern may have been legitimate, but the method Quinn used was atrocious.
For starters, it was cruel to deny salaries to the superintendents for months while a political accommodation was reached. On a more substantive note, if Quinn had a problem with the office, he should have taken the issue to the General Assembly for discussion and debate.
These offices are, after all, created by state statute, and the regional superintendents are elected officials. Whatever is created by statute must be restructured or eliminated by statute. That's just reality.
Still, Quinn's stance did spark a desire to address this issue in a more organized way, and that's what this legislation is intended to do.
Under the proposal, before June 30, 2013, regions may be consolidated voluntarily or by joint resolution of the affected county boards. The consolidations would be effective July 1, 2015.
The legislation also provides that regions already meeting the population requirements may not be changed except to consolidate with another entity that does not meet the population requirement.
If enough regions don't volunteer to consolidate, the Illinois State Board of Education can mandate mergers.
It will, of course, take some time to carry out these mergers and see how they work. But there should be no inherent problem with requiring smaller offices to join larger ones.
Further, the idea of having less government is appealing in many ways.
Illinois is not just broke, but deeply in debt. At the same time, it has more units of government from top to bottom than any other state in the union, and they cost a fortune to maintain.
Restructuring and reducing the cost of government has to be a big part of any solution to the state's overwhelming financial problems. That's not an easy change to make because turf-conscious bureaucrats will do anything to defend the status quo, and controversy-shy legislators hate to make enemies among other elected officials.
The size and cost of government, however, is too important not to pursue.
Perhaps the example set by mandating a consolidation of regional superintendent offices will serve as a guide for similar reductions in expensive government bureaucracy elsewhere.