Like wearing 3 sweaters

November 17, 2013 

Last week brought Guinness World Records Day, and on that day we learned that Illinois set another record: We have more local government than any other state, and at 6,963 local government bodies we smash the competition by a margin of 1,800.

Woo-hoo? How about, uh-oh.

Most of us live under three layers of general purpose local government with municipal, township and county governments duplicating services, according to a study by the Illinois Policy Institute. In 40 other states residents have no more than two layers.

Florida has 50 percent more population and one-fourth the number of local government units. Slice those stats another way, and every 100,000 Illinoisans is ruled by more than 54 units of government while every 100,000 Floridians has fewer than nine.

Redundancy is expensive. Illinois homeowners pay the second-highest property tax rates in the nation.

And it leads to corruption, which is also expensive. Corruption is estimated to cost taxpayers $500 million a year in Illinois, with federal prosecutors in northern Illinois leading the nation in public corruption convictions with 1,531 between 1976 and 2010. The rest of the state had 297, with 63 in Southern Illinois during the last decade of that period.

But back to those property taxes and another recent study: The U.S. Census Bureau last week revealed estimates that showed the recession took away $27,400 from the median value of an Illinois home. That's the nation's 11th biggest loss, although Southwest Illinois fared better.

So in a state that lost 13 percent of its housing value, what are the chances that those property taxes are dropping 13 percent? What are the chances we will improve those odds by consolidating schools and eliminating townships?

This is where those good people at Guinness should offer us a calming pint.

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