SPRINGFIELD — With nearly 7,000 units of government, Illinois is No. 1 in the nation, and that’s an honor Gov. Bruce Rauner would like some other state to enjoy.
The governor on Friday signed an executive order creating a task force charged with streamlining government functions.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti will lead the group, which will be made up of representatives from local governments, school districts and members of the legislature from throughout the state.
The governor will appoint the members and the task force will report its findings to the General Assembly no later than the last day of 2015, at which time the task force will dissolve.
“Many of these unnecessary layers of government are why hardworking families end up paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation,” the governor said at event in Elmhurst.
Eliminating duplicate functions and finding more efficient ways of doing things is certainly a focus, but so is reducing the number of unfunded mandates imposed on local governments, the governor said.
State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he thinks getting Illinois government realistically sized is a worthy priority.
“We definitely need to look at ways we can save taxpayers money by right-sizing government and reducing the number of units we have,” the representative said.
The task won’t be easy. Government institutions, once established, tend to become self-perpetuating. But, Sosnowski said, state and local officials of both parties working to find common ground.
“It’s a matter of getting enough good people in a room and saying, ‘How can we combine the effort,’” he said.
State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, agreed.
“Anything we can do to consolidate taxing districts in Illinois will be getting us on the road to true competitiveness,” Bellock said.
And government often does tend to spawn more government, she said.
Bellock recalled advice she received from a mentor when she entered government: “Be very careful if you create a program, because once it’s in government, Patti, it will never go away.”
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said he wishes the task force well, but he added the group will have to take into account the need for some small units of government in rural parts of Illinois.
“For example, when you’re talking about rural communities with big agricultural areas such as here — throughout LaSalle, Bureau, Putnam and Livingston counties — the state representative, the senator, the governor are not their government.
“Their government is the road commissioner… the township supervisor. That’s really the seat of government in rural areas. In any consolidation of districts, you really have to look at that.”
Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said he knows that feeling.
“Where I live, I need the services a township provides,” Smiddy said. Insufficient road maintenance or plowing, for instance, “causes us some very spectacular issues that we just can’t have.”
Illinois is “a pretty extreme outlier” when it comes to the number of units of government, said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the university of Illinois.
Still, Mooney said, some units of government are small, specialized and board members are serving for free or for expenses. In other states, some of the duties — mosquito abatement, for instance — are present but absorbed by other government entities.
And there surely will be challenges for the task force when it comes to reducing units of government that do tax and spend, Mooney said.
One local concern will be jobs.
“Any unit of government you want to get rid of is going to have people who have a vested interest in keeping that unit alive,” Mooney said. “Somebody’s going to lose a job.”
Local control and pride are also factors, he said.
“When it’s your school district that’s being closed and they’re getting rid of the Fighting Eagles or whatever … people care about that and they will fight.”
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.