June 1, 2012 10:22 AM
Local Government Has Obesity Problem
Public agencies need a crash diet, with unnecessary units of government eliminated and duplicative functions consolidated.
The latest proposal from John Gates, the Regional Transportation Authority’s chairman, to save $150 million every year by ending inefficient duplication of transit service and administration by CTA, Metra and Pace reminds us that — after reforming Medicaid, public pensions, and tax and budget policy — Illinois’ next fiscal challenge is to eliminate unnecessary units of government and consolidate duplicative ones.
The Land of Lincoln still has about 7,000 units of government, more than any other state. Cook County alone has 50 library districts, 38 fire prevention districts, 30 townships of dubious value and four mosquito abatement districts. If I’m a mosquito I’m flattered by so much attention, but if I’m a taxpayer I’m fuming at the wasteful overlap.
Illinois also has more than 300 boards and commissions, including the Human Rights Commission, which lavishes a dozen politically-connected members with generous pensions, low-cost health care and salaries of nearly $50,000 a year for — hold on to your wallets — 12 hours of work each month!
The state also has nearly 900 public school districts but nearly a third of them have — you guessed it — only one school. Gov. Pat Quinn and a few reform-minded lawmakers have been promising a major downsizing but so far it’s been mostly talk. Like most diet plans. So maybe it’s time for a 12-step program that works.
The Biggest Losers?
Technically, all 177 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs this fall. The reality’s a different story.
Roughly 40 Democrats ran unopposed in the March primary and don’t have Republican opponents in the Nov. 6 general election, the BGA found.
Several dozen Republicans had the same luck.
And, collectively, nearly 40 Republicans and Democrats had primary opponents but now have no general election foes.
That means more than 60 percent of the seats in the Legislature are basically already won — so long as nothing changes.
For instance, there is a window in early June for the two parties to file a candidate in uncontested races and third-party candidates can file later in June. Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he plans to file roughly 18 candidates in uncontested races while Democrats wouldn’t say what their plans are.
Either way, it appears many legislators still will have no competition. And that poses a problem.
"The more competition you have . . . the more you engage voters," said Kent Redfield, a retired professor of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield.
And an apolitical redistricting process would increase the competition, which is why incumbent politicians oppose it.
Last call for DuPage pol
Until recently, DuPage County Board member Michael McMahon was paid roughly $32,000 a year as a part-time Illinois Liquor Control commissioner.
If McMahon’s name rings a bell it might be because the Sun-Times and the BGA recently wrote about his politically connected family’s companies and the more than $162 million they’ve been paid by the city of Chicago and other local governmental agencies. Some of the contracts were allegedly obtained fraudulently.
Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed McMahon, a Republican, to the commission in 2008. His term ended Feb. 1. Gov. Pat Quinn didn’t reappoint him. We wanted to know why, but Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson wasn’t saying.
"I cannot confirm that the Governor has read the [news] reports, nor can I confirm that they played a role in his decision," she says in an email.
"It’s the governor’s prerogative to appoint individuals who share his beliefs and commitment to public service," she adds.
McMahon didn’t return messages. He is not running for reelection in DuPage, where he has held a board seat since 2000. That part-time post pays about $50,000 a year.
This column, a weekly feature in the Chicago Sun-Times called "Public Eye," was written and reported by the BGA’s Andy Shaw, Patrick Rehkamp and Andrew Schroedter. To reach them, email email@example.com or call (312) 386-9201.