Rockford-Area Senators Differ On Home Rule Issue

Jan 26, 2018

Illinois lawmakers who represent Rockford have different opinions on whether it is in the best interest of residents for the city to return to home rule status. Voters will weigh in on the issue on the spring primary ballot. 

Home rule expands local control over taxing and borrowing beyond the laws passed in Springfield.

Rockford is one of just a few of the state’s larger municipalities that does not have that authority.  Voters stripped the city of home rule authority in 1983.

Mayor Tom McNamara wants the city to return to that status and recently proposed a handful of ordinances to limit the reach of home rule. That includes measures to recall local officials and retain property tax caps.

Still, it’s not enough to quiet some concerns.

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, says he thinks the intent behind the efforts are sincere.

“It’s not necessarily against this administration," he said. “You can put any restrictions that you want on yourself, but it only takes a simple majority to change that in the future.”

Syverson says leaders in other home rule communities have abused their power when it comes to finding extra money.

“With borrowing, they are able to spend a lot of money today and it doesn’t cost much,” Syverson said, "but it costs a lot down the road."

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, says there are pros and cons that voters need to consider with the issue, but he says having to rely on Springfield to make tough decisions has been difficult for the city.

"When I have proposed legislation on behalf of the city of Rockford, some of the feedback I often hear in Springfield is, 'If Rockford wants something, the city should get home rule so it doesn't have to come to the Capitol and ask for it,'" Stadelman said. "So there's something to be said about controlling your own fate."

The Mayor's plan also would put limits on taking on city debt. Aldermen could take up the limiting proposals in coming weeks.

Proposed Self-Limiting Ordinances if the Home Rule Referendum is Approved

  1. Property taxes shall not exceed the non-home rule limit established under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) currently in place for non-home rule municipalities.
  2. Any home rule sales tax or any property tax increase shall require a super majority vote by City Council.
  3. Public Notice, Public Hearing, and automatic layover required prior to adopting an ordinance that creates a new tax or increases an existing one not authorized under the municipal code for non-Home Rule units.
  4. City shall not exceed the debt limitation equal to 20% less of what is allowed by non-home rule communities (consistent with current policy).
  5. Recall Ordinance for Mayor and Alderman

Chamber of Commerce Throws Support Behind Home Rule Effort

At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Board of Directors, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce voted to endorse supporting the upcoming March 20 referendum to restore home rule powers to the City of Rockford. The Board authorized the support via a resolution that included recommended policies to limit or provide a governor on the use of home rule powers.