Task force drafting downsizing plan

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — A task force aimed at the Illinois local government glut began shaping its report to the governor and legislature Thursday as members approved nine proposals.

Most of the items passed with little or no opposition, but a handful are expected to draw debate should they make into bill form and be considered by the General Assembly.

The items passed involved:

  • Giving the Illinois State Board of Education flexibility to provide incentives for the outcomes of school consolidation.
  • Encouraging sharing of regional safety equipment, resources, training, facilities and administrative functions.
  • Merging downstate and suburban public safety funds into a single pension authority or perhaps two (one each for police and fire). Each unit of local government’s fund still would be uniquely maintained. The model would be somewhat akin to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
  • Allowing the merging of township road and bridge districts with less than 25 miles of roads into township general funds.
  • Protecting the Illinois’ Intergovernmental Cooperation Act.
  • Making collective bargaining at the local level permissive rather than mandatory.
  • Eliminating minimum firefighter and paramedic staffing for collective bargaining.
  • Adopting the federal definition for catastrophic injury for lifetime total health insurance benefits for public safety workers.
  • Allowing arbitrators to use local governments’ existing financial parameters as a primary consideration during interest arbitration.

The group tabled an item suggesting a constitutional amendment to end all future, unfunded state mandates. Members agreed the draft language needed more work.

Seventeen of the roughly two dozen voting task force members were present in person or by conference call, and the votes cast showed no opposition or drew only a single “no” vote.

The task force, appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and led by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, includes state legislators, local government and education officials and others.

State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, cast two “no” votes and two present votes on the last four items, which are the ones expected to draw the most scrutiny from legislative Democrats.

Holmes, the lone Democratic lawmaker voting in this task force session, said she thinks the group has “fostered a lot of good discussion, so I think that’s definitely a positive.”

Still, Holmes said, she’s not entirely comfortable with all the items on the group’s agenda.

“Let’s be completely blunt here,” she said. “I think in some cases, some of these items are bleeding over into this administration’s goal of eliminating the powers of organized labor.”

She said she wonders if those items involving collective bargaining are “more items on the governor’s turnaround agenda than … specific to the unfunded mandates and government consolidations committee.”

The group — formally the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force — intends to finish its report in December.

To that end, Sanguinetti asked members to keep space on their calendars open for the first three Tuesdays in December. Only one December meeting had been planned, Sanguinetti said, but the other two might be necessary.

Rauner says Illinois must rein in government. The state has more than 7,000 units of local government, reportedly the most in the nation and a full 1,800 ahead of the next most government-heavy state.

The administration says bloated government is inefficient, aids corruption and contributes to high tax burdens.

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