It’s not often a community gets to go the polls and truly shape its future. But that’s what’s on-deck for Rockford voters in the March 20 primary, when we can return home rule powers and reclaim a critical tool our city needs to right its financial footing.
Rockford is still suffering. Our region was abandoned by the outflow of industrialization during the late 20th century. And effects of the recession are hampering our local economy to this day. This year, our government bodies could finally report that home values across the area were just barely on the upswing. Recovery has been slow, and the damage done to our region will take years still to unravel.
But to hear the opponents of home rule talk over the past months, you would think a return of critical powers to our city government would lead Rockford into a hyper-localized Great Depression. They have stoked fear and produced misleading and outright false statements and advertisements intended to scare voters away from trusting their own government.
The irony is palpable. The money to combat home rule has rushed in from Springfield since the calendar turned to 2018. Springfield, the very seat of government dysfunction. It’s almost as if we’re not to remember this state went two full years without a budget. That key projects for our city were threatened because the gears of Illinois’ government slowed to a halt, leaving our schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, roadways and more in peril.
And the same people who fight home rule now are the ones who say we must, at all cost, seek change in Springfield, and push for local governing powers at all other levels. They speak out of both sides of their mouth and plainly hope no one will pay attention. “You can’t trust Springfield,” but apparently the citizens of Rockford, in this case, must.
Fear mongering has become the hallmark of the loudest opponents. They say home rule will harm the most vulnerable in our community. But do they heed the warnings of the city council which have said, without a return of the powers home rule grants, Rockford will most certainly adopt a utility tax? That tax would directly target the most vulnerable in our community, and would slash into the bottom line of our manufacturers and retailers. That tax will be coming should we turn away a chance to reclaim home rule authority; there is no way around it.
And opponents talk endlessly about how property taxes will skyrocket. But property taxes have done just that since home rule was taken from Rockford in 1983, increasing nearly 80 percent with the tax levy leaping more than 180 percent. Thankfully, the city council has elected to freeze or lower the property tax levy five years running, the same city council that would be in control of that measure should home rule return. There is zero evidence to the naysayers’ claims that returning home rule to Rockford would see further escalating property taxes. None.
Trust is essential for governance at all levels. And the city council has taken proactive steps to help mitigate the fears of many over the potential return of home rule powers. In fact, the self-limiting ordinances enacted by the council were drawn from ideas opponents of home rule put forth. Opponents asked for these measures and the city council listened.
Just last year, 84 out of every 100 voters in the mayoral election cast their votes for either Tom McNamara or Rudy Valdez, two of the key figures in the fight to return home rule to our city. If 84 percent of voters trusted those two in 2017, why shouldn’t we trust them today? Why should we trust an industry group-backed fear campaign being run from Springfield over the very people we went to the polls and voted for? Why should money pouring in from all across Illinois be allowed to decide the outcome of what is a very local decision?
Rockford needs home rule; it’s that simple. Without it, the city’s interest rates will continue to climb, our industries will continue to miss opportunities, our citizens will continue to pay more for less. The status quo is not acceptable; capitulating to a campaign of fear will all but guarantee the status quo persists. Rockford cannot allow that to happen.
On March 20, go to the polls and vote yes for a brighter future. Go to the polls and vote for a better version of Rockford. Go to the polls and vote for your community.
Go to the polls and vote yes on home rule. R.