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Our View: Report suggests reasonable approach

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 10:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:04 a.m. CDT

Illinois has long had the most units of government in the nation – 6,963 at last count.

Do we need so many taxing districts to provide governmental services across the Land of Lincoln?

Supporters and opponents of the status quo can both find something to cheer in a 90-page report released recently by the Local Government Consolidation Commission, which was created in 2011 by the Illinois General Assembly.

Led by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, the commission researched the situation and listened to local government officials.

The report acknowledges those officials’ concerns that the state not mandate consolidation and elimination of units of government, such as townships, municipalities, fire protection districts, library districts, drainage districts, mosquito abatement districts, and the like. In other words, let the decisions be made locally.

The report also points out that “simply reducing the number of local governmental units does not necessarily result in a reduction of costs to the taxpayer,” which is a position long held by those who support the status quo.

Both conclusions appear reasonable.

Equally reasonable are other conclusions that bolster the side of people who think Illinois needs to cut back on its governmental units.

The report found that the duties of some units of government overlap, and that it is very difficult or impossible to eliminate a unit of government, even when its purpose may no longer exist.

As Franks said: “In the private sector, if a company or a corporate division is no longer necessary, it is reconstituted, merged with another division, or eliminated. We need to apply that type of common sense to how we think about government in Illinois.”

The report calls on the Legislature to review its laws so that every taxing body in the state has a legal mechanism, which does not contain unreasonable barriers, to dissolve or consolidate.

One example was given of two contiguous library districts that are prevented from merging because they do not have the same limits on their property tax levies.

In conjunction with the report’s findings, Franks introduced a bill that would eliminate barriers to consolidation so that local governments that wish to merge have the legal authority to do so.

We find that reasonable. Local governments, once established, should not exist in perpetuity with no way to get rid of them.

We support the enactment of Franks’ legislation as a means to pare down the confusing layers of government so that, through greater clarity, the public can keep better watch over how their tax dollars are spent.

We encourage people to consider the question, If Illinoisans started from scratch today, would we create 6,963 units of government to provide necessary services across the state, or would we do it differently?

A better, more efficient way could be found.

Government officials would be wise to review the Local Government Consolidation Commission’s report and voluntarily investigate mergers before budgetary concerns make them a necessity.

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