Tuesday, January 26, 2010

OTR: Fixing Illinois Government

No, I'm not running for office, nor do I intend to run for office, short of winning this week's Mega Millions... This is waaaay off topic...

There are some fundamental problems with government in this state that lead to incredible inefficiencies and outright waste. I listened to a state senator on the radio this morning and he exemplifies what is wrong with the governing class. The man kept saying, "I'm no actuarial." Well, he's no rocket scientist or English major, either. He claims to be a man of the people, getting his job in the state senate from humble beginnings as a barber. Uh huh. The guy is a career politician and sups at multiple public troughs. Besides being a state senator, he also is a township supervisor and the chairman of the public health district for his township. That is far from being a citizen representative and it probably yields him several pensions, besides the multiple public paychecks. Those jobs right now yield him over $150,000 a year -- for what amounts to two part time jobs. That's one example. So here's my list of opportunities to reduce waste and inefficiencies:

1) Eliminate double dipping for public employees, particularly with regard to public pensions. There are all too many public officials who maintain jobs with, and / or are elected to serve, multiple units of government. This inevitably means that these people are entitled to multiple public pensions, often with grossly inflated payouts, simply by being named to a do nothing job immediately prior to retirement.

2) Eliminate layers of local governments. In most parts of Illinois, Township government adds no value. The structure is archaic and simply exists to create nepotism. County government can provide the same services -- and often already does -- in most parts of the state.

3) Combine municipalities. Cook County has more than 120 municipalities, including the City of Chicago. Some of these municipalities have fewer than 1000 residents. Many are struggling, and all create huge inefficiency in delivering services. Municipalities should look to combine whenever the population served is less than 50,000 in urban areas. In rural areas, municipal government and county government should combine.

4) Combine municipal services wherever possible. In some area, fire departments and libraries serve multiple municipalities. This practice should be expanded, creating larger and more efficient agencies for these services. The practice of joint services for emergency dispatch should also be expanded.

5) Special purpose taxing bodies should be combined. For example, in Cook County, there are several Mosquito Abatement Districts. These need to be combined. There are special sewer districts, in addition to the Metropolitan Sanitary District. The list goes on.

6) Standardize and combine public pension funds and reduce the ability for the pension funds to be abused by public employees. While some jobs in public service are hazardous and difficult (particularly public safety), many public pension plans allow employees to retire at a significantly early age and collect a pension for an unreasonable period of time -- and at rates which are simply not sustainable from an actuarial (that's how you use the word) standpoint.

7) Require term limits at all levels of government. Eliminate career politicians.

8) Create K-12 unit school districts. Many K-8 districts serve only one or two schools and there is seldom proper coordination between those districts and the receiving high school district.

9) Eliminate the ability of a politician to be succeeded in office by a family member. Eliminate nepotism and patronage.

10) Ensure that violations of the public trust are dealt with swiftly and harshly. Right now, the risk / reward calculation for a corrupt politician provides little incentive to avoid corrupting influences. While Illinois is something of a leader in sending politicians to jail, that is not something to be proud of. The fact that people get caught and go to jail seems to have little influence on behavior. That means that we aren't catching enough crooks or putting enough pain in sentencing.

I'm sure that if I sat around for a while, I'd find many more to add to the list. I'm tired of sitting and seeing government and government employees feel entitled to take more and more every year while doing next to nothing to increase productivity. I guess I need to stop thinking like government can actually be run honestly and efficiently...