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Put super-sized state government on diet

Updated: April 24, 2014 9:53AM



The Illinois primary is history, and sadly, also historic — a record low voter turnout in the Chicago area of less than 20 percent — in part because nearly 80 percent of the non-judicial races were uncontested, and a lack of competition apparently produced a lack of interest.

So an obvious challenge for those of us who consider civic engagement a key component of a healthy democracy is to encourage more people to run for office, and more people to vote.

That means, among other things, reforming the electoral process, and we’re on it.

The push for a healthier democracy also includes our “smart streamlining” campaign, which calls for consolidating or eliminating some of the state’s 7,000 units of government — Illinois has 2,000, or 40 percent more than any other state — to save tax dollars and increase efficiency.

Thankfully, we have a lot of allies in our fight against this “obesity epidemic” — lawmakers, civic groups and a few government entities themselves that are downsizing their delivery of public services.

Here’s an update:

♦ In DuPage County, officials are touting nearly $80 million in savings from shared service agreements, joint contracts and other cooperative approaches.

♦ Chicago and Cook County claim more than $70 million in savings and new revenue by sharing equipment, making joint purchases, partnering on grant applications and coordinating enforcement of cigarette tax violations.

♦ Two downstate school consolidations reduced the number of districts to 861. There were 1,008 in 1985.

♦ And on primary day, Evanston residents voted overwhelmingly to dissolve their township and transfer its duties to their city, while voters in Springfield reauthorized their Efficiency Commission to keep fighting local government waste and duplication.

Those are encouraging steps, but other streamlining initiatives aren’t faring as well.

Two years ago, for instance, the Classrooms First Commission made 23 thoughtful recommendations for promoting efficiency among Illinois school districts, and that produced a state law aimed at facilitating mergers of small districts with fewer than 750 students.

Downstate districts are taking advantage of it, but not suburban Cook County, where 20-plus districts qualify, but not a single one has requested a state-funded reorganization study.

Do your homework, people.

Another commission, on Local Government Consolidation, was expected to release its recommendations nearly two years ago, but we’re still waiting.

They’re supposedly tweaking their final report, so tweak away, but quickly.

And finally, several consolidation bills have stalled in the State Legislature.

One would make it easier for counties to eliminate specialized taxing bodies — a power only DuPage has now.

Another would give voters in River Forest Township the power to consolidate with the village of River Forest.

Both face pushback from public employees whose jobs and benefits are at risk, and they have powerful allies in Springfield.

We get it, but it’s time for common sense to start trumping clout. Stalling and stonewalling simply delay long overdue reforms.

Illinois teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff — our “super-sized” government is one of the culprits — and a carefully crafted downsizing diet can help put it back on safe ground.

But admonitions won’t accomplish much without citizen engagement.

And that’s why people have to be registered, informed and ready to vote for supporters of our “smart streamlining” campaign.

It’s a daunting challenge, but as I said earlier, we’re on it.

Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.

Email: ashaw@bettergov.org

Twitter: @andyshawbga



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