Two Illinois lawmakers want to require local governments — school districts, cities, counties, townships, water districts, fire protection districts and the like — to be more open with taxpayers about government debt.
But local governments say anyone in Springfield preaching debt management and transparency has, well, a lot of hutzpah.
"That's hilarious," said Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady. "They want to distract from their problems by shifting focus to us? Fine. But make sure to put my bond rating next to the state's."
McCrady said Decatur has a far better bond rating than the state, which just saw a credit downgrade because of inaction on its massive pension debt.
Dave McDermott, chief financial office for Moline schools, said it is difficult to find a more open unit of government than a local school district.
"I would say we are one of the most transparent," McDermott said. "We're posting information many times, in many ways and in many different venues."
And McDermott is quick to say local taxpayers almost always know when and if a school is spending money.
"When you look at your tax bill, and 60 percent goes to a school district, you are going to make sure that 60 percent is spent wisely,' McDermott said.
The proposed legislation would add local government debt information to the state's online information portal, force all new legislation to report debt impact and create a local debt review board.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross said he wants to "educate" voters.
"People have a right to know and should know what debt is out there," Cross said Wednesday. "How's their money spent? Is that tax working? How much are they raising from that tax, and how is it being spent?"
The Illinois Comptroller's office already collects much of that data.McCrady said local voters can get that information by going to any meeting of the city council.
"We have to vote on every expense, and those meetings are all on TV," McCrady said. "I talk with local taxpayers every day. They know what is going on in their city."
Jerry Crabtree is associate director of Township Officials of Illinois, which represents the state's 1,432 townships in Springfield. He said even tiny local governments stay in touch with taxpayers.
"Townships operate in the community," Crabtree said. "And elected officials will hear from taxpayers almost 24 hours a day."
Crabtree said townships, for the most part, are financially secure.
"I find it ironic that the state is picking on a unit of government that pays its bills and does plan for the future," Crabtree said, noting Illinois' unpaid bills and massive pension debt.
Since 2008, which marked the advent of tougher lending laws, few local governments have been able to spend wildly on borrowed money.McCrady said the new lending requirements are the "financial equivalent of a proctology exam."
Ron Sandack, the former Republican mayor of Downers Grove and the city's current state representative, said there may be some local governments with good finances and little debt. But there are hundreds of school districts, more than a thousand townships and countless park districts, fire districts and mosquito abatement districts, he said.
"If you ask your neighbor, I think they distinguish less who levied the tax," Sandack said. "They just look at the bottom line and say I'm paying more than I was the year before."
The transparency proposals are, for now, ideas only; lawmakers have not held a hearing on any of the plans.
Today is Wednesday, March 12, the 71st day of 2014. There are 294 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Soldiers from the barracks on the Arsenal manage to elude the vigilance of the guard nearly every day and come to town armed. In the hands of excited and perhaps intoxicated men, these weapons are dangerous. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Manufacturing's merchants and professional men of Moline were petitioning the Western Union Telegraph company to establish a telegraph office in the business area of the city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Three Rock Island students, the Misses Eleanor Cleaveland, Dorothy McCabe and Ruth West, escaped injury when fire destroyed College Hall at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War gave a party for William H. Stremmel, the only survivor of John Buford Post 243, GAR. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The East Moline Grade School Board of Education last night granted salary increases totaling about $47,000 to teachers and staff members. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Five champion spellers from the Rock Island/Milan School district were selected after competition this week at Modern Woodmen of America. Winners are Sarah Cottay, Christopher Gilbrich, Jared Vogele, Kedric Roper and Kenny Stevenson.