In a recent editorial, Better Government Association, or BGA, President Andy Shaw debates examines Illinois’ “obesity epidemic.” But bulging waistlines are not the target of Shaw’s ire. Instead, he complains about Illinois’ abundance of taxing bodies.
“This is about a state that’s morbidly obese when it comes to government:Illinois has nearly 7,000 separate taxing bodies, the most in the country by a mile and, in fact, nearly 2,000 more than runner-ups Texas and California, which have much larger populations, and Pennsylvania, which is about the same size as Illinois.”
Shaw argues for “smart streamlining” of local government, because Illinois’ nearly 7,000 local taxing bodies “spend billions of our tax dollars every year to operate and deliver services that often overlap and duplicate one another.”
One of Shaw’s top targets for local government consolidation is Illinois’ 1,400 townships. Eighty-five counties in Illinois have townships and represent Illinois’ third layer of general purpose local government.
Last year, in our report “Too much government: Illinois’ thousands of local governments” we found Illinois is the one and only state in which more than 50 percent of its citizens are represented by three layers of general purpose local government. The report concluded: “This triple-layering of local government often leads to a replication of services and higher costs for taxpayers.”
Objectors to eliminating townships often point to rural areas of the state as a reason why townships are necessary; but of the 17 Illinois counties without townships, almost all are rural.
In questioning if Illinois really needs townships, Shaw likened them to “the horse-and-buggy era” and noted that most townships’ “statutory obligations are being handled by nearby counties or municipalities.”
Shaw is right. Illinois stands in stark contrast to all 49 other states when it comes to local government, and lawmakers must act now to address the issue. The consequences of too many layers of local government shouldn’t be ignored.
Illinois’ unique local government structure significantly contributes to its excessive property taxes, which rank as second highest in the U.S. and significantly contribute to the state’s out-migration problem.
The excessive layers of local government also contribute to Illinois’ high corruption rate. As a study by the University of Illinois-Chicago stated: “Since there are more than 1,200 separate units of government in the Chicago metropolitan region, there are too many jurisdictions and officials for the U.S. Attorney adequately to police.”
With the BGA, the Illinois Policy Institute and other good government groups making local government consolidation a major priority, hopefully more legislators will embrace needed changes in Springfield in 2014.
Brian Costin is Director of Government Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute