Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law into effect Monday that would allow local government agencies to vote themselves out of existence and reduce the number of taxing bodies in Illinois. The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Jack Franks, has been hailed by some as a way to cut down on the expensive bureaucracies of many small government units that currently are funded through property taxes.
But The Illinois Oberserver's David Ormsby warns against singing government consolidations' praises too quickly -- there may be hidden negative effects.
When consolidation advocates cheer "government efficiencies" understand that consolidation's hidden cost is less democracy, less granular democracy.
Eliminating the governing boards and a few administrators of various municipal districts does not eliminate the schools, the parks, the sewage, the fires, or the mosquitoes that must all be dealt with. The services, front-line staff and management, and the taxes to pay for them remain. But the distance between voters and their concerns and their voices and their elected officials is lengthened.
Certain parts of municipal governments would be eligible to pare down, and some of them are already facing issues. The state is slated to owe more than $100 billion to public pensions by 2045, and in fiscal year 2015, police and firefighter pensions in Chicago will need $590 million to comply with a 2010 state law.
But an even bigger problem faces cities throughout the state. Dozens of municipalities have police and firefighter pension funds that are so poorly funded they will collapse within 10 years. Springfield's and Joliet's firefighter pensions are currently only funded just over 40 percent, but some towns have public safety pensions that are funded at half that level. Check out which cities have the largest police and firefighter pensions at Reboot Illinois, plus which cities have the worst unfunded police and firefighter pension funds.