Home rule debate: Guest Column: Home rule powers advocated Dec. 19

Home rule’s chief opponent, with the help of a special interest group sponsoring illegal yard signs, has complained that it would be “unfair” for you to place this important issue on the March ballot. This despite the fact that 77 percent of today’s electorate has never voted on home rule—a form of government enjoyed by 167 other Illinois cities and countless more across the country. Actually, it would be unfair to deny these voters, many of whom have only a rudimentary notion of what home rule even is—the chance to study and vote on it in March.

The state constitution allows you to place home rule on the ballot—which makes doing so legal, just and fair. If home rule’s chief opponent doesn’t agree, well, that should make our argument that we shouldn’t be so beholden to Springfield all the more valid in his eyes. After all, Springfield wrote the rules.

Empower Rockford has previously identified many endemic problems that Rockford has experienced without home rule—and said that while our lack of home rule has not caused these problems, a return to home rule would allow our locally elected leaders to more efficiently address them—right here at home, independently from Springfield. Certainly, our current dependence on our Chicago-dominated state Legislature in which only two out of 118 state representatives hail from Rockford is not working to our advantage.

Such nagging problems include drug houses, sex businesses, urban blight, high truancy and poor school performance—not to mention millions of dollars in lost school funding BECAUSE of truancy—millions of dollars lost to our lower non-home rule bond rating, poor economic development performance and more. We also have the distinction of having the highest crime rate in the state nine out of the last 10 years. Being able to pass ordinances custom-built for our problems could go a long way toward solving them. And, being able to equitably redistribute our tax burden would help take pressure off property tax payers.

I wonder what Rockford would look like if the Ghost of Non-home rule Future could give us a glimpse of ourselves after 22 more years without home rule. How would we look in 2027? And, if we had the benefit of that glimpse, how would we act now—when we have before us a golden opportunity to change our future by taking a fuller measure of our own destiny into our own hands?

All indications are that Rockford voters are eager for change. Our new mayor was elected in a landslide of enthusiasm after running on a platform of Change, Change, Change. He has courageously asked for home rule authority so that he can team with City Council to implement that change more efficiently. He deserves credit for that—and I’d also like to applaud Ald. [Doug] Mark and Ald. [Victory] Bell for their welcome resolution last week.

Do you ever wonder, “where are the opponents’ solutions to our city’s problems?” How would they change Rockford for the better? I’m tired of listening to them chastise everyone from Empower Rockford volunteers to the mayor to City Council to the media. I’m tired of the fear mongering, attempted intimidation and unwelcome lectures on broad political constructs that have little to do with the real problems facing our city. They reach into their bag of tricks time and again for their silver bullet line: “don’t trust politicians—they’ll raise your taxes”—yet 30 years of data clearly indicate that there is NO connection between home rule and higher taxes. History and its truths are on our side.

At the end of the day, it all adds up to this: we wish to see our local leaders empowered, accountable and energized. Trust is not a four-letter word—it is a gift that we need to reacquaint ourselves with in Rockford. We should trust ourselves to elect the right local officials, then trust them to fulfill their responsibilities to lead.

In your hearts, each of you dedicated leaders knows home rule could benefit Rockford. The accountability that comes with it is simply the price of admission. I believe the citizens of Rockford need your LEADERSHIP on this issue now more than ever. Why? Because this may well be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically facilitate change in this city. You might even consider your support of home rule as a validation of the voters’ trust.

Please, let’s give the citizens of Rockford a chance to decide this issue for themselves in March, 2006. Remember, very few of them had a chance to do so in 1983. Thank you very much.

From the Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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