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Editorial: In Illinois, so much government, so little oversight

Editorial: In Illinois, so much government, so little oversight

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | By the Editorial Board

The state of Illinois has more than 320 boards and commissions within its executive branch. The Post-Dispatch's Kevin McDermott reported Sunday that some people — though a lot fewer than you'd imagine — think this might be overdoing it.

The boards and commissions oversee everything from A to Y, from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Advisory Board to the Youth Development Council. Some are very ambitious — the Illinois Commission to End Hunger. Others are more narrowly focused — say, the Havana Regional Port District Board.

There's a commission on torture. Another on terrorism. There's a commission on recess in schools. There's one for entrepreneurship education. There are two on the slave trade. There's one for the holocaust and genocide. There's a commission to study low-level radioactive waste, though, curiously, not one for high-level radioactive waste.

There's the Illinois Task Force for Inventorying Employment Restrictions. The name is confusing, but it studies job opportunities for people with criminal records. Luckily, there's also a Task Force on Plain Language. Maybe it can do something about the name.

There's also a Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, which was in charge of commemorating the Gipper's 100th birthday. That was in February. For the sake of the man who believed "government is the problem," we trust it soon will be dissolved.

Some of these boards — the ones that oversee professional qualifications, for example — clearly serve a useful public purpose. A few actually entail full-time work — for example, the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities and motor carriers.

Others largely are useless, created by the Legislature to appease various special interests. Most of the commissions fall somewhere between "useful" and "wasteful." All of them at least pay the expenses that several thousand board members rack up. Others pay a daily stipend.

The ones that are particularly troublesome are those where politically connected board members are paid five- and six-figure salaries (plus pensions) for doing a couple of days' work each month.

"They make five or six figures for meeting once a month," state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Barrington, told Mr. McDermott. "Common people wouldn't even know how to apply for a job like that. It's just another way for the politically connected to make money from the taxpayers."

Alas, Mr. Duffy was treated like a pariah when he complained that Gov. Pat Quinn had re-appointed Lynne Sered to the $104,300-a-year chairman's job on the state Educational Labor Relations Board and Carrie Zalewski to a $117,043 spot on the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

Both women are lawyers with extensive backgrounds for the jobs. By sheer coincidence, both are married to Democratic lawmakers.

In February, Mr. Duffy introduced a bill to prohibit relatives of state officials from being appointed to boards and commissions. It went nowhere; even his fellow Republicans told him to chill out. It's Illinois, for crying out loud.

This is a state with more units of government — more than 7,000 at last count — than any other state in the union. And that's just counting elective or appointive bodies with taxing authority. The boards and commissions come on top of them. That's a lot of jobs for a lot of people.

In Illinois, it's not unusual to live within the borders of, and pay property taxes to, 10 or more governmental units — state, county, township, municipal, school, junior college, library, sewer, airport, etc, etc. Just keeping track of your elected officials is a full-time job.

The Legislature — though its members weren't interested in keeping their relatives from being appointed to six-figure jobs — did pass a bill in April that would set up a Local Government Consolidation Commission. This new unit of government will consider how to eliminate other units of government.

Don't hold your breath.