- Published: Monday, November 30, 2015 12:38 PM
Associated Press - Nov. 29, 2015 | Original article via Chicago Sun-Times
By Sara Burnett
On the campaign trail and in his first weeks in office, Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged to save taxpayers money by eliminating some of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government — a piece of his legislative agenda with rare bipartisan support.
Now a task force the Republican governor named to put that idea in motion is preparing to present its final recommendations. Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, the commission’s chairwoman, says its suggestions could make government more efficient and effective if the Legislature and Rauner choose to implement them.
“At the end of the day the savings are going to be huge,” she said.
But some task force members say the year-long process is being tainted by a push to include anti-union provisions that are among Rauner’s top priorities, and that politics could prevent progress on yet another issue before Illinois lawmakers.
Here’s a closer look at the task force and what’s coming next:
From townships to park districts to counties, Illinois has more units of government than any other state. The state with the second-highest number — Texas — has about 1,800 fewer units.
Rauner said Illinois’ “unnecessary layers of government” led to waste, high taxes and the opportunity for corruption. In February, he issued an executive order creating the task force, whose roughly two dozen members include legislators and local government officials, and tasked them with finding ways to consolidate.
Rauner also asked the group to look at the unfunded mandates the state has imposed on local governments and recommend which ones should be repealed to reduce costs.
Since then the group has held about a dozen meetings statewide, inviting local leaders to speak about changes they think could streamline government.
The task force has voted on dozens of proposals that will likely be part of their final report, which is due Dec. 31.
GOP state Rep. Mark Batinick, a member of the task force, says some of the proposals they’re considering may seem small, but “the small things add up to big things.”
Take a state mandate regarding oil changes for government-owned vehicles. State rules require the oil to be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, Batinick said. That’s true even if the vehicle or the oil being used has a recommended range of 7,500 miles — meaning that over several years, government could be spending thousands of dollars on oil changes that aren’t needed.
Batinick would like to see that rule eliminated.
The task force also is recommending eliminating a requirement that governments pay to put public notices in local newspapers if those same notices are available online, among others.
To reduce layers of government, the group wants to impose a four-year moratorium on new governments and give Illinois voters the ability to dissolve or consolidate governments through a referendum. Passing such a ballot measure would require a three-fifths vote — the same as amending the Illinois Constitution.
It also wants to expand a 2013 law that allowed DuPage County to consolidate units within its borders, giving the same authority to all 102 counties. Since the law passed, DuPage County has dissolved a fire protection and a sanitary district.
Rep. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, says the key is letting local areas decide rather than using a “blanket approach.”
“What might work in Aurora may not be the same thing that works in Decatur,” she said.
But Democratic Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo noted expanding the DuPage pilot will be politically difficult. He sponsored legislation to do so that passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.
Both Franks and Holmes also say they have concerns about proposals approved by the task force that would weaken labor unions.
One would give local governments the right to decide what should be part of collective bargaining with public-worker unions. Another would repeal or make changes to union-backed laws requiring governments to pay a certain level of wages and benefits to workers on publicly funded projects.
Holmes said she doesn’t understand why the proposals are part of group’s discussion, other than that “attacks on collective bargaining and organized labor are an ongoing theme” for Rauner.
Sanguinetti countered that many of the officials who spoke to the task force — from cities, universities and elsewhere — said repealing those requirements would save money.
“When Bruce and I were chosen to lead, we promised the people we would change Illinois,” she said.
Franks argued that debating those measures is futile, since they have been repeatedly shot down by Democrats who run the Legislature, and even some GOP lawmakers don’t support them.
“Besides being a waste of time it’s a question of credibility at that point,” Franks said.