The state of Illinois, its legislators and its governor, have not a clue how to solve the stupendous morass of problems they have created, inherited, exacerbated. And so, of course, legislators have turned their full, misguided attention toward the only level of government in Illinois that sort of, sometimes works: local government.
Bringing the full force of conflicted interests and a resolute desire to distract from their total ineptitude as governing bodies and leaders, forces are simultaneously at work to bankrupt local schools, parks, libraries with a hare-brained measure to freeze local property taxes … forever!
Yes, this state’s property tax system in onerous and unfair. But it happens to be the primary method of funding all the services real people in real towns actually need. You know, ambulances, schoolteachers, swing sets, sewers. You can’t permanently cap the revenue source and expect local services to function.
Now if they want to overhaul property taxes statewide by raising state income taxes and making those taxes progressive by finally taking on the primary financial responsibility to fund schools that the state constitution calls for, good.
But only then can these stick figures in Springfield pretend to be ready to muck around with a proven and imperfect funding mechanism that works in our local towns.
Meanwhile, there is another low-grade fever sweeping the state capital that would greatly expand “home rule” authority in any Illinois community that sports a stoplight and a Casey’s General Store (any town bigger than 5,000 souls). Local governments love home rule as it gives them greater authority to make key decisions. It also allows local governments bigger than 25,000 people, or that have directly OK’d it by referendum to increase revenues in any number of ways.
Around here, two towns, River Forest and Forest Park, have put home rule on the ballot in recent decades and it went down harder than Trump will in this fall’s general election.
At this paper, we are believers in local government and so we have typically been full-throated in support of home rule. But voters, even on the level where they go to church and the gym with their electeds, are adamant in rejecting that expansion of local taxing authority. Only Springfield would take this moment of near-unanimous loss of faith in state government to put this measure forward.
Of course, the statewide home rule expansion has little chance of going anywhere. Although a municipal lobbying group is pushing for it, the legislation, which calls for putting the question to voters statewide, is stalled in the House.
And anyway it’d take three-fifths of legislators to get the question on the ballot and then three-fifths of voters to approve it. Not exactly what we’d call terrific odds.
We get it. You’re powerless to actually pass a state budget and now you’re bored. But don’t take it out on the rest of us trying to just live quietly and survive Springfield’s implosion.