Associated Press - Nov. 29, 2015 | Original article via Chicago Sun-Times

By Sara Burnett

On the campaign trail and in his first weeks in office, Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged to save taxpayers money by eliminating some of Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of government — a piece of his legislative agenda with rare bipartisan support.

Now a task force the Republican governor named to put that idea in motion is preparing to present its final recommendations. Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, the commission’s chairwoman, says its suggestions could make government more efficient and effective if the Legislature and Rauner choose to implement them.

“At the end of the day the savings are going to be huge,” she said.

But some task force members say the year-long process is being tainted by a push to include anti-union provisions that are among Rauner’s top priorities, and that politics could prevent progress on yet another issue before Illinois lawmakers.

Here’s a closer look at the task force and what’s coming next:


From townships to park districts to counties, Illinois has more units of government than any other state. The state with the second-highest number — Texas — has about 1,800 fewer units.

Rauner said Illinois’ “unnecessary layers of government” led to waste, high taxes and the opportunity for corruption. In February, he issued an executive order creating the task force, whose roughly two dozen members include legislators and local government officials, and tasked them with finding ways to consolidate.

Rauner also asked the group to look at the unfunded mandates the state has imposed on local governments and recommend which ones should be repealed to reduce costs.

Since then the group has held about a dozen meetings statewide, inviting local leaders to speak about changes they think could streamline government.

The task force has voted on dozens of proposals that will likely be part of their final report, which is due Dec. 31.


GOP state Rep. Mark Batinick, a member of the task force, says some of the proposals they’re considering may seem small, but “the small things add up to big things.”

Take a state mandate regarding oil changes for government-owned vehicles. State rules require the oil to be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, Batinick said. That’s true even if the vehicle or the oil being used has a recommended range of 7,500 miles — meaning that over several years, government could be spending thousands of dollars on oil changes that aren’t needed.

Batinick would like to see that rule eliminated.

The task force also is recommending eliminating a requirement that governments pay to put public notices in local newspapers if those same notices are available online, among others.


To reduce layers of government, the group wants to impose a four-year moratorium on new governments and give Illinois voters the ability to dissolve or consolidate governments through a referendum. Passing such a ballot measure would require a three-fifths vote — the same as amending the Illinois Constitution.

It also wants to expand a 2013 law that allowed DuPage County to consolidate units within its borders, giving the same authority to all 102 counties. Since the law passed, DuPage County has dissolved a fire protection and a sanitary district.

Rep. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, says the key is letting local areas decide rather than using a “blanket approach.”

“What might work in Aurora may not be the same thing that works in Decatur,” she said.

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2015 11 18 Holmes Latino1State Reps. Stephanie Kifowit and Linda Chapa LaVia joined me this week to speak with Latinos in my Aurora office about everything from access to social services to the challenges facing prospective Latino-owned small business.
In a wide-ranging talk, we touched on affordable housing-shelters, assistance to the elderly, programs that support small business owners and we discussed lack of Latino management leadership in local non-profit organizations and how to build a Latino business community.
Some of our participants included representatives of the Aurora-based Foundation for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, Waubonsee Community College, the Hispanic Advisory Board of Aurora and Rush Copley Hospital.
I’m always interested in matters that concern the Latino community in the district I represent. We'll hold another meeting in January. If you have questions or concerns or want to be a part of the January meeting, contact my office!


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Aurora Beacon-News - Oct. 20, 2015 | Original article

By David Sharos

Transitioning to adulthood for people with disabilities was the focus of a panel discussion held in Aurora Monday night at Waubonsie Valley High School.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) hosted the panel discussion, which offered information for parents as well as caregivers of people with disabilities who are in the transitioning phase from childhood to adulthood. Foster was joined by state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora), as well as representatives from a number of agencies including the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services, Great Lakes ADA Center, the Ray Graham Association and PACT, Inc.

"I don't have children with disabilities but I know as a parent, I worry about them all the time," Foster told a crowd of more than 70 people. "Parents want to know how to take care of their children in all phases of their life, and in terms of those who have disabilities – not all parents are aware of the contacts that are out there."

Foster also praised the Aurora area, saying that "historically, it has had good support and services" and also spoke about the advantages of employing those with disabilities.

"This happens to be National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and I feel employing those with disabilities is a good economic opportunity," he said. "We have found these individuals to be good, dedicated employees. We also need to focus on issues like transportation and vocational training and providing more affordable housing."

Foster added he continues to support legislation that would increase voter registration among those with disabilities as well as backing new technology that would make the voting process easier.

Holmes said her interest in those with disabilities "started close to home."

"I'm the only state legislator I know who has multiple sclerosis, and while I don't have any signs of a disability we need to make reasonable accommodations for those that do," Holmes said. "We have made some legislative progress is this area, and we need to continue to offer gainful employment for all citizens."

Holmes said her biggest concern is for those with autism whose numbers, she said, continue to rise.

"The question is what will happen to these children when they reach adult age and still need services and their parents are no longer able to care for them," she said. "I don't feel those problems have as yet been addressed adequately."

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Aurora Beacon-News - Oct. 17, 2015 - Original article

By Steve Lord

The east and west bridges on Indian Trail in Aurora are open to traffic after two years.

It took that long to finish the $9.5 million project, funded 80 percent by federal funds administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation, and 20 percent by Aurora motor fuel tax funds.

Officials and construction workers on the project gathered Friday for a dedication and ribbon cutting that included cookies, coffee and even cheeseburgers from White Castle – a business that put up with the construction on its doorstep.

"Indian Trail is an artery in our community," Mayor Tom Weisner said. "It is a critical, critical street."

Weisner pointed out that one in nine bridges across the country is considered structurally deficient. With Aurora replacing 10 bridges in the last 10 years – and two more planned by 2017 – they are trying to buck the national trend.

"Maybe one in nine bridges is structurally deficient, but it's not going to happen in Aurora, not on our watch, together," he said.

And working together is what officials gathered Friday said made the bridge project work. That included State Reps. Linda Chapa-Lavia and Stephanie Kifowit, both Democrats from Aurora; State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora; and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Aurora.

They all spoke of cooperation between local, state and federal officials to get the 826 feet of bridgeway, which handles 21,000 vehicles a day, finished.The work included the east and west sides of what is actually two bridges over the river.

"Look at what happens when all of us work together and we get along," Holmes said.

Officials said the bridges not only are wider and stronger, they incorporate Aurora's history. The bridges have a traditional design, but they include four plaques recognizing some of Aurora's history.

The bridges decks are wider, as are the sidewalks on both sides, to accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists.

Ken Schroth, Aurora's public works director, said there were 40,000 man hours of work on the bridges, and 10,000 hours of design. He added that the contractor, D Construction, was able to reuse many of the piers and beams of the old bridges, saving millions of dollars.

Chapa LaVia pointed out that the taxpayers should be thanked for ultimately funding the project.

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