Numbers Are In! Illinois Leads In Most Government Bodies

Illinois has more units of government than any other state and activists’ efforts to reduce that number have come up short.

The State Journal Register reports that Illinois is home to almost 7,000 different bodies each with its own administrative needs, equipment, budget, and taxing ability.

Coming in a far second is Pennsylvania with about 5,000 units.

Despite cries to consolidate overlapping school districts, abolish unnecessary townships and streamline government services, the number of units of Illinois government has decreased by only twenty-six in the last five years.

The BGA policy unit has called for a reduction in the number of stand-alone government units along with the consolidation and sharing of government services and systems where they overlap.

Specifically, a BGA investigation found that Illinois has more townships than any other state, and that of many of these townships provide services already or otherwise easily provided by other municipalities.

Read the State Journal Register article

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Filed under Budget Crisis, Townships

Check Out Chicago’s New Infrastructure Trust Bylaws

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust–a newly-created, city-backed program that aims to find private and public funding for Chicago and related public agency projects–recently held its first meeting.

As a non-profit entity, the Trust will have to file articles of incorporation and bylaws with the state that explain the Trusts purpose and the basic rules it intends to adhere to.

A copy of the proposed bylaws, which the BGA requested, is available below, or by clicking here.

The Infrastructure Trust Board, which governs the trust, plans to vote on the proposed bylaws at its next meeting, scheduled for 10 am on August 28th at the Chicago Cultural Center.

The BGA will evaluate the bylaws but also wants to know what you think about them and invites your comments.

Bylaws of Chicago Infrastructure Trust (PDF)

Bylaws of Chicago Infrastructure Trust (Text)

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Municipalities’ New Frontier: Ending Local Debt Disaster

“When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters-one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”  — President John F. Kennedy

JFK’s quote is an older and classier version of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s oft-repeated admonition to “never let a serious crisis go to waste” but the sentiment still applies today, especially when we’re assessing the financial dangers and opportunities sweeping over this area’s suburbs, towns and small cities.

A recent Better Government Association investigation found many Northern Illinois municipalities are buckling under the weight of a whopping public debt that threatens to forever alter the very standard of living that traditionally makes many hometowns desirable places to live, work and raise families.

We know that Chicago and Cook County have debt burdens but the raw numbers for our suburbs are also terrifying: Taxpayers are on the hook for a mind-blowing $140 billion in debt, or an average $35,774 per household in Cook County suburbs, according to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

Scary as these figures are, municipalities can take corrective action to lighten their debt loads and save these hometowns from financial collapse. Consider:

Cutting needless government. Muni leaders, and the voters, should support getting rid of unnecessary government entities that collect taxpayers’ money but offer too little in return. One example: The BGA has long favored dumping irrelevant townships, especially those in northern Cook County, which horde taxes, spend too much and provide little value to residents. Already, Evanston leaders are looking to drop its namesake township and save at least $400,000. With a record-breaking 2,000-plus government units in Cook County alone, there are plenty of candidates for the ash heap of history. Time, and money, is wasting.

Merging, consolidating or outsourcing. Tough financial times cry out for smart reorganization and cost cutting. Dump outmoded or unneeded departments or functions while outsourcing other in-house jobs in an honest and transparent manner—one that sidesteps the pitfalls of the much-hated Chicago parking meter deal. Furthermore, municipalities must aggressively seek to save money via appropriate cross-border mergers and shared services with other nearby towns or surrounding counties, including the option of forming new fire and police protection districts. Nothing should be overlooked or considered taboo.

Selling assets. Every suburb, village or town has a spare building, patch of land or garage that can be sold, hopefully at a premium, to private investors and used to pay down debt. Yes, spinning off these assets is tricky business. But in an era of mounting public obligations, unloading some public assets must be seriously explored.

Making a debt plan. The BGA policy unit found very few municipalities have a formal debt policy–an official guideline for making decisions about taking on more debt. A    policy can force municipalities to face some hard realities about the perils of too much spending and not enough thrift. Of course, a debt policy is only as good as the decision makers following it but having one is a best practice worth implementing.

Cleaning up local public pensions. With astonishing regularity, the BGA has uncovered suburbs and towns abusing the public pension system. Some examples: Double dipping, where employees get multiple pensions while working for the same employer; Pension-spiking, where end-of-career raises boost pension payments for life; Pension “tacking”, which allows outside consultants and contractors to improperly join public pension rolls even though they were not actual employees. It’s time for all municipalities to honestly re-examine their pension practices and end these costly and wasteful abuses.

Yes, the elephant in every City Hall is the multi-billions of dollars in public pension liabilities, which can be traced to the state’s decades–old mismanagement, inattention and lack of political will. Those liabilities are growing like a fungus for nearly every suburb, town and small city.

It’s a giant problem that must be remedied or we’re all in deep trouble.

In the interim, however, municipalities would profit from JFK’s advice — recognize the danger of this local debt crisis and use it as an opportunity to regain control of their finances and fate.

 Robert Reed is the BGA’s director of programming and investigations. Contact him at rreed@bettergov.org. Follow him on Twitter @bobreedbga.

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State Senate Passes Bill To End Legislative Scholarships

BGA Legislative ScholarshsipA bill to eliminate the controversial legislative scholarship program passed the Illinois Senate and is very close to becoming law.

The Better Government Association’s policy unit has been advocating a complete dismantling of the scholarship program and had strongly recommended President John Cullerton call for a full Senate vote on a bill that will scuttle the troubled and clout-riddled legislative perk.

Forty-three Senators voted to end the program while five voted no and five members voted present.

The Senate sends the measure back to the House, which earlier had approved eliminating the program, to address some changes attached to the Senate bill.

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has agreed to those changes, so it’s expected the bill will be approved and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn to be signed into law.

This year, Quinn has repeatedly stated that he favors total elimination of the scholarship program, which has been in place for nearly a century, and allows every member of the Illinois General Assembly to give two tuition-free scholarships a year to major state universities to constituents in their district. In total, those scholarships cost taxpayers about $13 million a year.

The BGA and media outlets throughout the state have reported for years that this program is being misused and abused for political, not educational, purposes.

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Statewide Update—May 1, 2012

Richard Daley

Former Mayor Richard Daley

Chicago TribunePension Games: Chicago aldermen to reap millions from inflated pensions, “When Chicago aldermen floated a proposal in 1987 to boost their city pensions dramatically, Mayor Harold Washington’s administration dismissed it as an arrogant ploy that lacked even a cursory cost analysis. Three years later, the proposal still didn’t have a price tag. But records show that the new mayor, Richard M. Daley, helped push it through the state Legislature anyway. Now a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation reveals how much those lucrative pensions could end up costing taxpayers.”

Chicago Sun-TimesEmanuel: I’ll get to promised ethics fixes, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday embraced a proposed overhaul of Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance, then struggled to explain why he has failed to deliver on a promise to give the city’s corruption-fighting inspector general broader powers and more resources. For all his efforts to draw the curtain on the scandal-scarred years of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, Emanuel hasn’t given Inspector General Joe Ferguson the authority he’s promised to investigate the City Council, the Chicago Park District or Public Building Commission. Nor has the mayor guaranteed the office one-tenth of one percent of the city’s annual budget. “

Chicago TribuneLawmaker pleads not guilty to bribery: ‘I will not cower’, “State Rep. Derrick Smith pleaded not guilty today to federal bribery charges and issued his first public comments after his court appearance. Smith, under pressure to resign his position, accused the FBI of engaging in ‘shenanigans’ during the investigation and said agents pressured people to ‘say bad things about me.’… Smith also suggested he will remain in office while he fights the charges.”

Daily HeraldPreckwinkle: Towns should annex unincorporated Cook County, “A task force empaneled by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is calling for municipalities to annex all unincorporated areas of Cook County to save the county money. Preckwinkle offered no timeline to eliminate the unincorporated areas where roughly 98,000 of the county’s 5.2 million residents live. Nor did she estimate what the county would save by no longer having to provide sheriff’s patrols and other services to those areas.”

Chicago Sun-TimesFormer Daley aide Teele now lobbying Chicago tourism agency, “Terry Teele — a trusted adviser to former Mayor Richard M. Daley forced out in a 2000 ethics scandal — has landed a lucrative lobbying contract with the mega-agency charged with promoting Chicago as a site for conventions and tourism.  Don Welsh, CEO of the agency now known as Choose Chicago, was tight-lipped when asked why he chose Teele.”

Chicago Sun-TimesEditorial: Unwise rush to judgment on victims’ rights amendment, “Nothing that goes on in Springfield should surprise us. Yet we confess we’re scratching our heads over the Legislature’s rush to approve a victims’ rights constitutional amendment without first addressing potential pitfalls.”

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Statewide update—April 30, 2012

Al Podgorski
/Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-TimesTask Force: Whistleblowers should get more protection, “Whistleblowers will get more protection and city employees will be required to report corruption under proposed changes to Chicago’s ethics ordinance that will be announced Monday. Those changes are among 34 recommendations by an Ethics Task Force recruited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to overhaul the city’s ethics ordinance.”

  • The SouthernPublic larceny can be easy in Illinois, Feds: $30 million milked from one small town, “Ghost employees and phantom vendors aren’t characters in the next big horror movie. Rather, they represent just two of the ways government employees can defraud taxpayers. The recent arrest of a small-town finance official accused of siphoning $30 million over the past few decades highlights just how vulnerable to fraud the approximately 4,900 taxing bodies in Illinois are… Having only one person in charge of finances in small towns and other taxing bodies is a common arrangement, making taxpayer dollars inherently vulnerable to abuse and to theft.”
  • Chicago Sun-TimesClout builder settles whistleblower suit for $6.4 million, “Walsh Construction — a behemoth builder of roads, bridges and buildings with long ties to the Daley family — has paid $6.4 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that accused the contractor of overcharging taxpayers on 11 federally subsidized housing projects, records show.”
  • State Journal-RegisterLegislators take aim at subsidy for retiree health insurance, “Legislation to do away with the health insurance premium subsidy available to state retirees opens a new front in the battle between legislators determined to cut the state’s retirement debt and unions representing state workers… The amendment to Senate Bill 1313 would eliminate subsidies for health insurance for retirees. Instead, the Department of Central Management Services would determine how much the state would contribute to ‘the basic program of group health benefits on behalf of retired employees, annuitants and survivors.”
  • Chicago TribuneCity seeks gag order in police neglect case, “In the wake of a damaging appellate court ruling against the Chicago Police Department, lawyers for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration have asked a judge to keep the family of a mentally ill California woman from speaking publicly about the case. The move was prompted by a sharply critical statement Christina Eilman’s family issued after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that their lawsuit could proceed after a two-year delay, a legal opinion that likened police conduct to throwing her in a lion’s den.”
  • (AP) State Journal-RegisterState lawmaker accused of bribery due in court, “A state lawmaker accused of bribery is due in federal court. The arraignment of state Rep. Derrick Smith is scheduled for Monday before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman. The Chicago Democrat has been charged with accepting a bribe in exchange for using his influence to obtain a state grant for a daycare center. Smith was arrested March 13, days before Illinois’ primary election where he won the Democratic nomination despite his arrest.”

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Statewide update—April 27, 2012

Scott Steward~Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-TimesCicero library board members get pricey perk: free health care for life, “Former library board members in Cicero, though, get something worth a whole lot more, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. They get excellent health insurance, currently a BlueCross BlueShield PPO plan. For life. For free. Their spouses and kids, until they turn 19, are covered, too, for free. What if the trustee dies? Not to worry. The family inherits the benefit, according to a legal analysis obtained by the Sun-Times. The former trustees don’t even have to serve their full six-year terms on the library board to get the benefit, once they leave.”

  • Chicago TribuneCourt: Parents of disabled woman can sue Chicago police for neglect, “More than two years after getting the case, a federal appeals court today ruled that a mentally ill California woman can sue the Chicago Police Department for releasing her into a violent neighborhood where she was raped and nearly killed… The city’s appeal had asked the court to dismiss the case against 10 police officers accused of negligence, arguing the police had no responsibility to take care of Eilman, a 21-year-old former UCLA student who had been arrested after creating a disturbance at Midway Airport.”
  • Chicago TribuneTollway: Employee was suspended for misuse of agency vehicle, “An Illinois Tollway employee was suspended for two days and ordered to pay $581 in restitution for using a tollway-owned vehicle for personal business, officials said Thursday. The discipline was disclosed in an internal audit, which concluded that the tollway could improve how it tracks employee vehicle use and recommended steps to better document the practice.”
  • Washington PostIs Rahm’s plan to rebuild Chicago brilliant—or disastrous? “The big question, however, is why Chicago would do things this way. An infrastructure bank, after all, is just another form of borrowing.. But here’s the problem. For this to work reasonably well, a city has to be smart about how it structures its contracts with private investors. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility that Chicago could pay too much for its infrastructure and, essentially, get fleeced by shrewd investors like Citibank and J.P. Morgan.”
  • State Journal-RegisterIllinois lawmaker asked to limit bribery probe, “Federal prosecutors aren’t making things easy for Illinois lawmakers who are looking into bribery allegations against a House member. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told the legislative panel that he can’t reveal details of the case against Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith of Chicago. He also asked lawmakers not to conduct their own investigation because it might interfere with the criminal case. But Fitzgerald did say he has no objection to lawmakers asking Smith to testify.”
  • Daily HeraldSenate approves measure regulating ‘fracking’, “The Illinois Senate unanimously signed off on a measure Thursday that would regulate debated technology used to reach previously inaccessible natural gas reserves deep underground, a method that worries some environmentalists because of possible pollution from mixtures of water, sand and chemicals. The Senate’s 54-0 passage of the bill addressing hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — comes amid reports that energy companies are in a torrid push to explore possible drilling sites in southern Illinois, long known for its rich below-ground coal and oil reserves.”
  • The SouthernSenate Oks enterprise zone extensions, “The Illinois Senate unanimously approved legislation Thursday designed to extend a long-running business tax incentive program… The legislation is being pushed because some of the zones are scheduled to expire next year, including Decatur, Rockford and Peoria. With the tax incentives in limbo, city officials say they aren’t able to offer businesses long-term investment packages. Enterprise zones give state and local tax exemptions to businesses locating in the area. One of the more popular incentives provides a sales tax exemption on materials used in construction of business facilities.”

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