"We have over 7,000 units of government. Most states have thousands, thousands less."
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."