By David Soll
The Illinois Constitution allows any city or town with a population of 25,000 to enact what is called home rule. This extraordinary power gives elected officials almost near unlimited powers to tax, to spend, to incur debt, ignore real estate transfer or tax caps, create or increase existing property taxes, or raise sales and gasoline tax with impunity. In other words, under home rule, local government can quite literally tax you without representation.
Normally, to fight against any government overreach, there is a tool (beyond voting) the people can use called the “voter referendum,” but under home rule, this important tool could be virtually abolished, allowing the local government to pass any tax it wanted. That is, unless a voter referendum is specifically written into a home rule charter. Otherwise, the power of the people to have a say in local taxes would be severely diminished once Election Day passes.
I cannot stress enough the importance of a voter referendum under a home rule charter. This provision would be absolutely necessary if home rule were to come to Loves Park. And rest assured, home rule is a very real possibility for Loves Park, population approximately 24,500.
Of course, even with a voter referendum as part of the home rule charter, the voters would still be at a disadvantage, as opponents of any measure would be forced to go door-to-door with petitions, as simply showing up at city hall to complain would no longer be enough. It would take dedication from those opposed to a measure and many filled-out petitions, while the city council and mayor, armed with business leaders and experts, need only a slim majority of the city council to pass whatever they wanted.
What is most interesting to note is that home rule is not even necessary. About the only reason I can grasp for anyone seeking home rule is to have the ability to bypass the people when and where possible. There have been several municipalities across Illinois that had for a time and ultimately terminated home rule, but I will stick to the one closest to home, Rockford. In 1983, the citizens of Rockford voted to terminate home rule.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Rockford, the elected officials at the time had issued poorly-designed municipal bonds that caused a classic catch-22. The debts incurred by the bonds continued to shackle taxpayers with a property tax rate in excess of its former non-home-rule statutory limit for many years after. So, you can see the potential danger of allowing home rule, especially when it comes to your individual tax burden.
I implore the citizens of Loves Park to call their alderman and the mayor and express their displeasure about the possibility of home rule coming to our city. Home rule may sound good on paper, but in practice, it is too dangerous to allow. Also, I’d be very wary of any politician, even ones you may like, who seeks home rule quietly or openly.
David Soll ran as a write-in candidate for Loves Park City Council, Ward 2, in the April 9, 2013, election.
From the May 22-28, 2013, issue