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Wayne's Words: What Legislative Update?

Wayne Horne | 3/2/2017, 6 a.m.
Governments at all levels want voters to believe they are working hard for the best interests of their constituents.

Governments at all levels want voters to believe they are working hard for the best interests of their constituents. Most of the time they are sincere in their beliefs and the facts can often bear them out. Of course, the political biases of the individual party members can often throw-up barriers. That’s where compromise comes into play, although it doesn’t seem to happen often. No one side is ever completely satisfied with the final result. It works best in local government because it’s a small group of elected officials. They also have a more “hands on” experience with their constituents. Municipalities, townships, school boards and the like fall into that category.

That compromise skill gets harder as you go up the ladder. County boards and higher have a more difficult time reaching a goal that is satisfactory to a majority. That brings me to the most recent Illinois “legislative update” sponsored by the Joliet Chamber of Commerce at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville. It was billed as “the latest news on the Illinois Budget, Pension Reform, Education Funding, and Workers' Compensation.” The actual update could be summed up in a few words. We in the legislature know what needs to be done, but we can’t agree to do it.

Earlier in February The Civic Federation, a non-partisan government research organization, released a report titled “State of Illinois FY2018 Budget Roadmap”. There were 10 points that outlined possible solutions to Illinois’ budget crisis. Besides the obvious points to reduce spending and raise taxes (state income tax), there are also two recommendations regarding teacher pensions, one to eliminate tax exemption on retirement income and one to borrow money to pay off the backlog of bills the State owes.

One of the two remaining parts of the comprehensive five-year plan proposed by the Federation would be to establish a Rainy-Day Fund equal to 10 percent of the State’s General Funds revenue. That helps offset the idea of living paycheck to paycheck. What a concept!

Another recommendation in the 10-point proposal was the suggestion to “Consolidate and Streamline Government Units.” The proposed idea states that many of the highest-in-the-nation 6,963 units of local government are one reason for high property taxes. That’s almost 2,000 units more than the next closest state, Texas. That subject has been raised by many in the past, including in this space. The easy target is the multitude of township governments in Illinois. There are 24 township government bodies in Will County alone. There are 102 counties in Illinois. Not all of them have township governments.

While the over 1,400 townships in Illinois are a large percentage of the state’s governments, they are just a part of the units. There are almost 1,300 municipalities, more than 900 public school systems, airport authorities, and many others. While there is a focus to consolidate governing bodies into more cost-effective units, there is the issue that they tend to create larger elected boards, as mentioned above.

My suggestion for our area legislators is to wait until there is actually something to update before the next request to update any of your constituents. Just a suggestion.

Stay tuned…