Guest Column: Home rule without asking citizens’ permission

Students of government and political science have described the Illinois version of so-called home rule as the most uncontrolled form of government anywhere in the United States of America. Article 7, Section 6 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution explains why.

It stipulates that “a Home Rule unit may exercise ANY POWER and perform ANY FUNCTION pertaining to its government and affairs”—all without asking for the permission or approval of the citizens whose lives are affected and the taxpayers who must pay the bills.

So-called home rule strips citizens of the right to vote on community issues. Everything is decided by the politicians in power—who can tax, regulate, and incur debt with no checks and balances to control them. Even if voters throw them out of office at the next election, the citizens remain liable for all damages done.

Like the citizens in wide-open frontier towns who cowered under the control of paid gunslingers, citizens of so-called home rule communities in Illinois cower under the control of politicians. No man, woman, child, or anyone’s property is safe from politicians’ whims in Illinois’ so-called home rule communities.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—raise property taxes and incur debt beyond statutory limits.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—broaden the use of eminent domain powers, license (tax) installation and maintenance of burglar or fire alarms, revise zoning regulations, expedite seizure of private property, regulate property maintenance, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—buy and sell land, make taxpayers liable for non-referendum general obligation bonds for private loans, issue revenue bonds to finance projects not specified in state statutes and at higher interest rates, use ordinary bank loans which may not be allowed under statutory law without so-called home rule, secure Industrial Revenue Bonds not subject to outside competition, adopt investment policies not restricted by state statutes, provide subsidies or credits to private businesses, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—issue and make taxpayers liable for bonds used to develop private shopping centers or to build or expand a civic center, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—issue sales tax rebates to favored businesses, circumvent state mandates regarding budget and appropriation ordinances, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—license (tax) and regulate cable, liquor, utilities, land use, public transit, mobile homes, vendors, nursing homes, tow trucks, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—impose fines greater than statutory limits, license (tax) and regulate cats, license (tax) vending machines, impose fees on trucks, set juvenile curfews, abridge citizens’ rights to bear arms, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—impose beyond any state restrictions real estate transfer and exit taxes, hotel/motel taxes, utility taxes, property taxes, amusement taxes, new motor vehicle taxes, gasoline taxes, food and beverage taxes, liquor taxes, mobile home taxes, cigarette taxes, storage of flammable liquids taxes, retail sales taxes, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—reorganize the police department, reorganize the fire department, change Police and Fire Commission powers, hire a personnel director and personnel board instead of having a Police and Fire Commission, give Police and Fire Commissioners more authority over personnel including demotions, and on and on.

So-called home rule cities can—without asking citizens for permission—do just about anything politicians and their coterie decide they want to do because Article 7, Section 6 mandates that the “powers and functions of home rule units shall be construed liberally.”

Politicians may call their so-called home rule “government of the people.” And they may call it “government for the people” whom they seem to deem incapable of governing themselves. But they can never call it “government by the people.”

Advocates of so-called home rule often ask bogus questions such as, “Don’t you believe in representative government?” or “Don’t you trust your elected officials?”

The real question voters must ask themselves is, “How much power do we want to trust them with?” (This text includes copyrighted excerpts from www.fixhomerule.com used with permission.)

John Gile is the author of The First Forest and a Rockford resident.

From the Nov. 9-15, 2005, issue

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