Jim Tobin, President of Taxpayers United for America, was quoted in an article from the News Tribune on LaSalle County’s considered use of home rule.
OTTAWA — La Salle County Board members will begin discussion on reorganizing under “home rule” to give it broad taxation powers over the local sand mining industry.
The idea, which is only being whispered among some board members, involves a simple equation: several million tons of sand multiplied by a fee would presumably equal enough revenue to put the county in pristine financial shape.
But no county other than Cook County has passed a home rule referendum. In fact, it hasn’t been tried since 1976. And convincing the La Salle County electorate of giving its county board the taxing powers involved with home rule won’t be easy.
“At some point this year we will talk about it but I don’t think we have time to get it on the ballot (in April),” said county board chairman Jerry Hicks (D-Marseilles). “I need to look into what it’s all about. Our intent is not to increase the sin taxes or fuel taxes or anything of that nature. It’s to be specific in bringing in an income on frac sand mining unless the state legislature can do something to give us that authority.”
Constitutionally, home rule gives units of government freedom from state laws that bind or limit taxation authority.
For example, state law places a cap on how much a county can tax for particular line items such as the general fund. With home rule in place, those caps would not exist and the county could raise its levy at will without referendum. The same is true of sales taxes, selling bonds, and a multitude of other taxation and regulatory restrictions would be lifted as well.
Information on other counties opting for home rule status is limited because it hasn’t been attempted in decades, says Kelly Murray of Illinois Association of County Board Members and Commissioners.
“It’s always been a municipal issue,” Murray said. “Counties just haven’t sought home rule status in a long time so La Salle County might become a trendsetter.”
Twice in the past decade researchers from Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University published studies that examined municipalities that had home rule status implemented.
The studies concluded that claims made by home rule opponents over the years that home rule would lead to the abuse of local taxing authority appear not to have been borne out in actual practice.
“There is no empirical evidence, from either the 2002 survey or from other studies made over the years, that suggests that home rule communities — even home rule communities which have levied property tax increases in excess of tax cap limitations — have experienced higher rates of property tax increases than have non-home rule communities,” the study stated.
“Instead, the evidence strongly suggests that, where home rule communities have used their broader taxing powers, they have done so to create a system of taxation more acceptable to local residents than a system based heavily on the use of property tax revenues.”
However, the potential of misuse of power through excessive taxation or overbearing regulatory authority as a result of home rule status will likely be a contentious issue among La Salle County voters.
Ironically, a county in Illinois may only have home rule status if it has a chief executive officer elected at large and passes a home rule referendum.
La Salle County began electing its chairman at-large after a local activist group called La Salle County Landowners Association in 2006 led the ballot initiative to make the change. Back then, the effort was attempted to bust the stranglehold the local Democratic Party had on county politics and up the chances of reversing building codes and zoning ordinances.
Members of the Landowners have yet to make a statement publicly about how, or if, they will respond to the county’s home rule ballot drive.
Jim Tobin, President and founder of Taxpayers United of America, said several counties such as Peoria and De Kalb tried to pass home rule in the 1970s but each effort was soundly defeated by voters.
“It’s only been passed in Cook County and they’ve used it to batter their citizens with higher taxes,” Tobin said. “Home rule is home ruin. It is unlimited taxing powers. They can raise property taxes without limit or referendum. Issue bonds without limit — banks love home rule.”
Should La Salle County place on file a referendum to go for home rule, Tobin said Taxpayers United would get involved regardless of whether any local lobbying organizations get involved.
“We’ve successfully fought home rule efforts in many municipalities and we will get involved in La Salle County if they try to go for it,” he said.