Photo by Dermot Connolly
As President Barbara Pasquinelli looks on, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti addresses the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland Area potluck breakfast on Saturday morning at Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.
Local government consolidation and unfunded mandates were on the menu, along with doughnuts and homemade pastries, when Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti came to the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland Area potluck breakfast on Saturday morning at Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.
Before addressing those topics with the group of about 50 people, Sanguinetti went to all the tables in the room, introducing herself and chatting for a few minutes.
“With this being Hispanic Heritage Month, I am happy to be here as the first elected Latina lieutenant governor, not just in Illinois, but in the country,” said the Wheaton resident.
She explained that soon after taking office with Gov. Bruce Rauner in January, 2015, she took on the role of chairman of the newly established Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Taskforce, aimed at streamlining local government through consolidation and eliminating unnecessary state mandates
“In Wheaton, where I was on the City Council, there were 16 units of government,” she said. “That is too many, especially when you consider that most of them are taxing bodies,” she said.
Sanguinetti said Illinois currently has the most units of local government in the country — nearly 7,000, which is 1,800 more than any other state.
She said the duplication of services contributes to why Illinois residents pay some of the highest local government taxes in the nation, where Illinois ranks 10th in sales tax and second-highest property taxes.
She said another key to saving money is eliminating unnecessary unfunded mandates, those statutes or regulations requiring local governments to do something without providing funding.
“I have a problem when big government tells little government what to do, but does not provide any money to do it,” she said, explaining her opposition to them.
She said she traveled the state with the taskforce, gathering opinions from people at numerous meetings before 27 recommendations were issued last December.
“It was a bipartisan group of elected officials and local leaders from throughout the state. We needed to dispel the concern that the taskforce would just be promoting the governor’s agenda,” she said. State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th) was one of the local representatives on it.
“We had a lot of thoughtful conversations,” said Sanguinetti, acknowledging that eliminating the requirement for government bodies to pay the prevailing wage was one suggestion that did not win widespread approval.
Absorbing townships into county government and consolidating school districts was also considered. But she said decisions like that would be decided on a local level. She said many communities, especially in rural areas, feel their identity will be lost if school districts are combined.
“As they say, the hardest animal to kill is the school mascot,” said Sanguinetti.
“Getting rid of my position as lieutenant governor was being considered as a cost-saving measure, and I wasn’t offended by it.” She said she did close one of her offices and now shares staff with the governor to save money.
One woman said that at least some township governments should be retained.
“I live in Orland Township,. Every township may not work well, but I think ours is a good system. They are very transparent,” she said.
“Consolidation is very personal decision,” agreed Sanguinetti, reiterating that the no statewide mandates would be issued.
One woman said that while not every township government is good, the Orland Township works well.
“I live in Orland Township. While not everyone works well, I think it is a good system. They are very transparent,” she said.
“Can this extra money we save be used for things like mental health care and other social services?” another woman asked.
“That would be certainly be possible if money becomes available. I am a product of the social service safety net, so I understand the need,” she said, explaining that her mother was 15 years old when she was born, and her family needed food stamps and other programs.
Jim Byrne, of Palos Heights, one of the few men at the gathering, asked Sanguinetti what could be done to reduce the length of political campaigns.
“This presidential campaign has been going on for 20 months now. I think it is becoming corrosive to the country,” he said. “In most countries, campaigns are limited to three months.”
Sanguinetti said she agreed in principle with Byrne, but suggested she take it up with Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) because it is a national issue.
“Well, it was a great turnout and I think we learned more about the lieutenant governor’s job than any of us knew before. That is the point of having these events,” said Barbara Pasquinelli, president of the Palos-Orland chapter of the League of Women Voters.