Saturday, January 14, 2006

Home Rule in Rockford

Rockford, my hometown, is a bit of a backwater, in spite of being a city of 150k people. Home Rule is an example of that. Home Rule is essentially a default status for cities over 25,000 people that allows those cities to fully govern themselves. If you get sick of graffitti, you pass a law that bans spray paint. You want to get tough on pollution, you pass stiff penalties against violators. It is possible for a city to have a population over 25k and not have Home Rule. Rockford is that city. In 1983 a group pushed a ballot initiative to give up the Home Rule status because it cost us too much in taxes. Here we are, 23 years later, with some of the lowest cost housing you can find in a city of any significant size, but with a huge tax burden. That tax burden came from years of the school district dealing with the consequences of being racist (yes, they plead guilty in court...finally). That tax burden does not come from City Hall. It can't. City Hall can't do much of anything.

Aldermen have wanted to ban spray paint in City limits. They can't. We don't have Home Rule. Since spray paint has not been banned state wide, we don't have the right to ban it here. I would guess that our speed limits are determined by the State, not by our local governing bodies. A lot of the things that govern our daily lives in Rockford are determined in Springfield. Finally a group has gotten sick and tired of having our lives governed by state legislators, most of whom live in Chicago or the Chicago suburbs, or south of I-80 (which runs east-west across the state about 45 minutes south of Rockford). We've got very little influence, but we've subjected ourselves to the State's decision-making process. Now, each year, we have to vote on whether or not we want to spend money on road repairs. At the ballot. All of the voting public. A City of 150,000 people can't fix roads without a ballot initiative?!? There is no word for that apart from "STUPID!!!"

The local group tried to get City Council to place a vote on Home Rule on the ballot for May. The City's Democrats (which is really quite shocking, when you think about it) voted against it. One Republican joined them. It lost. Now there will be a petition drive (which a bunch of Democratic aldermen said they'd help with...HUH?). Sign me up!!! It boggles my mind that a city of 150,000 has to be run like a village of 50. Does it mean higher taxes? Studies show that the higher taxes usually come in the form of sales taxes, not property taxes. That means that the people who use the services in Rockford actually have to pay for them, rather than laying the full cost on the shoulders of those who own property here alone. If someone comes to Rockford to shop for a car, do they manage to do that without driving on our streets? Highly unlikely, but they don't pay to maintain the streets that they're driving on. That burden is only on those of us who choose to live in City limits.

There are a number of people who are afraid of Home Rule (a link to the only other blog post I could find on the subject). They are afraid of it because one time in some other city, someone "abused" it (meaning a local government used eminent domain to take a property for the benefit of the region as a whole). If you think someone has abused it, vote them out. HELLO, we still live in America!!!

That's enough mid-night ranting, I'll add more at later.