OPINION: Don’t look to Springfield for reform this year; look to McHenry County

By BRETT ROWLAND

Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly have shown little resolve in addressing some of the state’s most critical issues in the past six months.

Lawmakers threw some minor reform measures into the state budget they passed in May. The big stuff — pension reform, high taxes — didn’t get touched.

With longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan firmly in control — and Rauner seemingly powerless in the governor’s mansion — don’t look to Springfield for reform.

Amid the standstill at the state level, some local leaders are moving ahead with changes.

The DuPage County Board has taken a serious look at cutting out duplicitous layers of government through consolidation. And the McHenry County Board is going to vote this month on giving voters the opportunity to set term limits for elected officials through a binding referendum.

Another proposed ordinance in McHenry County would put a check on incumbent spending in the months for an election. In September, the county board is expected to vote on a proposal to reduce the number of seats on the county board by 25 percent.

These new measures come on the heels of the county board’s decision in 2017 to cut the county’s property tax levy by 11 percent. And county board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, has been pushing other local governments to do the same, including school boards, which rely heavily on property tax revenue.

“Here in McHenry County, we don’t do reform piecemeal, or only in reaction to scandal. Here, reform is steady,” Franks said. “We aren’t dragged kicking and screaming into making positive changes to make government leaner and more responsive. We seek out reform and best practices. And we just presented the public we serve with a torrent of them. They deserve nothing less, and I challenge other county boards across Illinois and our General Assembly to follow our example.”

One binding referendum would limit the McHenry County Board chairman to no more than two consecutive four-year terms starting in 2020. Another binding referendum would limit county board members to no more than 12 years in office, starting in the 2022 election. Board members will vote on the proposals at a special meeting Aug. 16. If the board approves the questions, residents would get to vote on them in the November midterm election.

I’m guessing the General Assembly won’t follow suit on term limits. Madigan holds both the legislative reins in the House as that chamber’s speaker and the political purse strings as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Madigan has been speaker since 1983, with the exception of two years of in the 1990s when Republicans overtook the chamber. He was first elected to the House in 1971. Term limits aren’t really his thing.

The efforts underway in McHenry County are a step in the right direction. But much more needs to be done to get Illinois on the right track. Similar reforms are needed from local school boards on up.