Opinion: Illinois State Motto Should Be Changed To ‘More’
Illinois’ state motto is “State Sovereignty, National Union.”
It was adopted nearly 200 years ago – in 1819, shortly after Illinois joined the United States.
It’s on the state seal, but I’m betting 99 percent of residents here couldn’t recite Illinois’ motto if asked.
After nearly two centuries, I think it might be time for a change. I propose something simple. How about: “More.”
That’s it. Simply, “More.”
As in… more government.
More people fleeing the state for greener pastures.
More, more, more.
Less than four months ago, the Illinois General Assembly told workers across the state that they needed to open their wallets and provide more of their hard-earned wages to a state government that’s become so bloated it has to borrow money to pay its bills. The 32 percent income tax increase would provide, in part, more money for schools across the state.
But that just isn’t good enough.
The Illinois State Board of Education held its first budget hearing last week, looking ahead to next year.
Guess what: Despite the $5 billion tax increase and education funding reform that will provide more money to schools, ISBE says it still needs more.
It needs more for bloated pensions. It needs more for salaries. It needs more for arts programming and alternative education and agriculture programs and more and more.
Never mind that Illinois has the third-most school districts in the country at more than 850. Or that almost 25 percent of those districts serve a single school, and more than one-third have fewer than 600 students.
There was no discussion of consolidating school districts to save on bloated administrative costs, or holding the line on salaries and pension benefits.
ISBE simply needs more from taxpayers.
And it’s not only the state school board that needs more. Local school boards want more, too.
Case in point: It’s tax-levy season in Illinois, which means local governing bodies will be deciding whether they want to increase, decrease, or hold steady the amount of property taxes they collect from their home and business owners next year.
And my local high school district – yes, like many Illinoisans, I pay property taxes to two separate school districts – is a prime example of the “more” mentality.
Enrollment has been shrinking at Crystal Lake-based School District 155’s four primary high schools since 2009, by nearly 500 students in total, or 7 percent. A consultant hired by the district is predicting accelerated enrollment decline for the next 10 years, or a 30 percent reduction overall. It recommends consolidating the district’s four high schools into three, which would save the district $4 million in annual operating costs.
The consultant also said D-155 has more administrators in all four schools and its central office than other districts.
And according to ISBE, D-155 has enough money in reserve to fund operations for about a full calendar year if it didn’t receive another dime of tax revenue.
Despite all of this, a majority of District 155 school board members say the district still needs more money from taxpayers. Board members in support and the district’s administration say the tax increase is needed to fund about $50 million in maintenance projects that have been put off in recent years.
It’s, well, outrageous.
In front of a crowded room of taxpayers who said they can’t possibly give more, the board ignored them last week and tentatively approved a 4.45 percent levy increase that would raise property taxes on beleaguered homeowners by $3.2 million across the district. The district’s governing body will make its final decision next month.
Like me, many of the district’s other taxpayers aren’t buying it.
Crystal Lake resident and business owner John Pletz questions the need for a levy increase. Pletz, who ran for a seat on the school board in the spring and lost, said the district does a good job educating students, but noted its expenses have increased significantly over the past several years despite enrollment declines and a handful of teacher reductions.
“Nine years ago, it cost about $9,000 a year to teach a student” in D-155, Pletz said. “Now, it’s $16,000. We get a great product. The problem is, why does it cost 60 percent more?”
The school district is in McHenry County, in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago. Last November, longtime former state Rep. Jack Franks easily won the race to be the first popularly elected McHenry County Board chairman.
Franks ran on a promise of reducing the county’s property tax levy by 10 percent, a target he and county board members are going to exceed.
“The General Assembly just voted to give these school districts more money. By getting more money from the state, they should be taking less from their taxpayers,” Franks said. “They have a lot of explaining to do.”
Franks, seemingly one of the few Illinois politicians who understands that less is actually more, challenged the school board to do what’s best for taxpayers in the district.
“If we [the county] can do 11, I guarantee they can do it,” he said. “Even though the county is cutting 11 percent, if you live in that area, you’re going to see a property tax increase. … Let me look at their budget. I bet I can find a few million dollars.”
Pay attention to what your local units of government are doing with their tax levies in the next several weeks.
Chances are, at least some are increasing them so they can have more.
Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.