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Opinion

Another View: McSweeney bill another shot at reducing size of government

State Rep. David McSweeney of the 52nd District.
State Rep. David McSweeney of the 52nd District.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, has taken that advice and, so far at least, it’s working out well. There’s still a ways to go before a piece of legislation he’s sponsored can become law. But H.B. 348 was approved by the Illinois House last week. The next stop is the Illinois Senate, and it’s important that it ultimately becomes law. McSweeney’s bill concerns one of those low-profile issues of which many people are not aware – township government. In a state overwhelmed with expensive and expansive local units of governments, townships are the worst offenders.

They represent a form of government best suited to the agrarian lifestyle of 100-plus years ago. But while times have changed, township government lives on. Township governments exist in virtually all of Illinois’ 102 counties. Champaign County has 30 townships, which are funded through property taxes.

They need either to be eliminated and/or consolidated for two reasons – more efficiency in government and less expense. Township government officials, however, are resistant to change, and why not? They’ve got a good thing going. So it’s going to take incremental change to get the job done.

McSweeney’s legislation is limited to a couple of counties in northern Illinois – McHenry and Lake. It would allow voters in McHenry County to dissolve their 17 townships through a referendum process and requires townships in Lake and McHenry to dissolve any road districts with fewer than 15 – yes, 15 – miles.

If modifications are approved by voters, proponents anticipate a reduction in property taxes levied to support the townships. McSweeney has indicated that, if his measure becomes law, he’ll use it as a template to push for similar modifications in other counties.

The legislation would have become law earlier this year, but outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it because he said the process in McHenry County should be applied “across the state,” not limited to a couple of counties. Rauner was correct in the policy sense, but mistaken in the political sense.

The General Assembly wasn’t going to pass legislation applying to the whole state. That’s why McSweeney took what he could get and promised to come back for more later. Incremental change may be too slow for some people’s tastes, but democracy can be – and usually is – a cumbersome process.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Gurnee, is the chief supporter of McSweeney’s bill in the Senate. So it has bipartisan support, and chances of passage appear favorable. If the legislation does eventually pass the House and Senate, Gov. J.B. Pritzker should avoid committing the same mistake former Gov. Rauner did. Illinois must address the size and cost of government in this state. McSweeney’s township legislation represents a small, but necessary, move in that direction.

– The (Champaign) News-Gazette

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