The following BGA piece, first published in the Chicago Sun-Times on June 1st, is reprinted with permission of the Better Government Association.
Local Government Has Obesity Problem
Public agencies need a crash diet, with unnecessary units of government eliminated and duplicative functions consolidated.
The Land of Lincoln still has about 7,000 units of government, more than any other state. Cook County alone has 50 library districts, 38 fire prevention districts, 30 townships of dubious value and four mosquito abatement districts. If I’m a mosquito I’m flattered by so much attention, but if I’m a taxpayer I’m fuming at the wasteful overlap.
Illinois also has more than 300 boards and commissions, including the Human Rights Commission, which lavishes a dozen politically-connected members with generous pensions, low-cost health care and salaries of nearly $50,000 a year for — hold on to your wallets — 12 hours of work each month!
The state also has nearly 900 public school districts but nearly a third of them have — you guessed it — only one school. Gov. Pat Quinn and a few reform-minded lawmakers have been promising a major downsizing but so far it’s been mostly talk. Like most diet plans. So maybe it’s time for a 12-step program that works.
The Biggest Losers?
Technically, all 177 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs this fall. The reality’s a different story.
Roughly 40 Democrats ran unopposed in the March primary and don’t have Republican opponents in the Nov. 6 general election, the BGA found.
Several dozen Republicans had the same luck.
And, collectively, nearly 40 Republicans and Democrats had primary opponents but now have no general election foes.
That means more than 60 percent of the seats in the Legislature are basically already won — so long as nothing changes.
For instance, there is a window in early June for the two parties to file a candidate in uncontested races and third-party candidates can file later in June. Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he plans to file roughly 18 candidates in uncontested races while Democrats wouldn’t say what their plans are.
Either way, it appears many legislators still will have no competition. And that poses a problem.
“The more competition you have . . . the more you engage voters,” said Kent Redfield, a retired professor of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield.
And an apolitical redistricting process would increase the competition, which is why incumbent politicians oppose it.
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This column, a weekly feature in the Chicago Sun-Times called “Public Eye,” was written and reported by the BGA’s Andy Shaw, Patrick Rehkamp and Andrew Schroedter. To reach them, email [email protected] or call (312) 386-9201.