More comments on State. Rep. David McSweeney’s bill allowing voters to abolish their township government by referendum:
From Steve Willson:
I’m going to offer my opinion here in the hope of trying to sort out some of the wheat from the chaff concerning this issue and to lower the level of invective.
Let me being by saying I’m somewhat agnostic on this issue.
I simply don’t have strong opinions in favor of or against townships, and that’s despite having served for four years on the Township Board in the People’s Soviet of Oak Park.
But, whatever my ultimate conclusion, I think the decision should be based on logic and evidence, and so I propose the following discussion points.
First, the argument that townships are a small part of the tax bill and therefore do not deserve attention is a non sequitur.
We should work on cutting the tax bill of all our local governments, and townships are not exempt because of their size.
Nor does it follow that we should wait to try to fix townships until other governments are fixed.
Second, there are three arguments for eliminating townships, only one of which has something to do with cutting taxes, and all of which should be addressed by those who favor townships.
Argument One is that there are too many governments, too many elected officials, for voters to follow.
I have 58 local and county elected officials I’m supposed to monitor.
It’s not possible for me to know all of them and if they’re doing a good job.
Eliminating positions reduces the burden on me.
(Having said that, the biggest problem isn’t the number of governments, it’s at large positions. For my five governments – two school districts, MCC, my Village and the park district, I have 35 elected officials to monitor. Just going to election by district would cut my burden by 30. Still, cutting the townships is a start.)
Argument Two is that specifically because townships are so small, voters rationally pay little attention to them, which gives townships unique opportunities for nepotism and other waste.
Having fewer governments to monitor empowers voters.
(The counter to this argument IS the cost saving argument. There are virtually no economies of scale in government. In fact, larger governments are generally less cost effective than medium size governments, and I say that having explicitly studied the costs of governmental services of cities in Illinois based on population size. And, frankly, in my 40 years of experience following local government finance, I would say that for every tax dollar lost to graft, ten dollars is lost to pure bureaucratic ineptitude and waste, not including purely stupid programs.)
Argument Three is that administrative/ministerial positions, such as Road Commissioner and Assessor, violate the basic principle of our government of checks and balances.
Assessors and Road Commissioners don’t report to the Township Board, and it’s not possible for the voters to know if a good job or a bad job is being done.
(This is not just true of townships, it’s true of ALL administrative positions, including positions such as Clerk, Assessor, etc. As an example, how would the voters ever know if the coroner was doing a bad job unless a story about moldering bodies showed up on the evening news? The voters lack the time and the access to the information needed to follow the performance of most administrative officials. I think the world of Joe Tirio. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s highly competent and scrupulously honest. But I don’t think the Clerk should be an elected office; it’s strictly administrative. And having said that, until it stops being an elective position, I’ll be supporting Joe Tirio.)
Third, there is an old saw: the perfect is the enemy of the good.
The bill may not be perfect, but the solution is not to do nothing until we have a perfect bill.
Sometimes an imperfect action is better than no action, and it often leads to an improved outcome as we learn more through experience.
So far the arguments I see against this bill are highly general and lack any proof that taxes would actually go up or that there would be serious disruption in services.
If there is strong evidence to support the pro-township position and I’ll be pro-township.
Fourth, I find it especially pernicious to argue that voters can’t be trusted to make good decisions.
I say let the voters have their say. They have that right, and who here would deny them?
If a referendum makes it to the ballot, pro-township forces will have their chance to argue that further study is needed, and the voters can decide if that’s sufficient reason to retain townships.
As always, I’m open to logical arguments, especially with evidence, that address my points.
But let’s decide this based on proof and logic, not name calling and platitudes.
One final comment: I think it is a tribute to the respect that Rep. McSweeney obviously commands from his peers that he was able to guide this legislation through the Illinois Legislature.
A less skilled or less respected legislator’s bill would have failed, especially when some of his regional and party colleagues opposed the bill.