Westel Woodbury Willoughby.

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tricts and incorporated cities, towns and villages in their coun-
ties." In the task of extending taxes, the so-called Juul law,
first enacted in 1901 but frequently amended, provides for a
scaling down of taxes so that they shall not exceed a certain
aggregate rate for any portion of the county. Under the Juul
law, as originally contemplated, all taxes would, as it were, be
placed in a compress, an equal pressure reducing all taxes for a
given area in the same proportion. Soon, however, interests
which were strong enough began to secure statutory amend-
ments which took certain taxes entirely out of this compress.

* Session Laws, 1919, p. 713.

•Kurd's Revised Statutes, ch. 120, sees. 123-127

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Other interests obtained legislation which places their taxes in
the compress but provides that such taxes shall not be reduced,
and still other interests have obtained legislation providing that
their taxes shall not be scaled below a certain figure. The result
is that a group of local taxes (but not all imposed .within a partic-
ular local area) are placed in a compress; some of the taxes may,
as a result of the operation of the compress, not be reduced at
all, others may only be reduced to a certain amount, and a third
group may be reduced as far as necessary to bring the aggregate
down to a definite figure. The Juul law is not, and never was, a
distinct element of unity in the operation of the different types
of local government. It was merely a make-shift for the pur-
pose of keeping the aggregate of local taxes within limits, and
this purpose is now defeated by the large nimiber of exceptions
made in the terms of the law itself. At the present time the
law serves primarily as a pitfall for imwary tax officers. Not
even in the extension and levy of taxes is there anjrthing of an
eflfective unity.

With respect to the collection of delinquent taxes, the consti-
tution by article 9, section 4, provides with respect to real estate
that ''a, return of such unpaid taxes or assessments shall be
made to some general oflScer of the county having authority to
receive state and coimty taxes, and there shall be no sale of said
property for any of said taxes or assessments but by said officer,
upon order or judgment of some court of record." The actual
result of this constitutional provision, however, is that a com-
munity having authority to levy special assessments makes col-
lections so far as they can be made, and then the books must go
to a county oflSicer for further collection, with a duplication of
tax books and of records with respect to the matter. The result
of the constitutional provision regarding delinquent taxes, in so
far as it has been carried out by legislation, is, therefore, to
create a greater degree of confusion rather than to better the
situation with respect to local areas.

Not only is there no unity of action among the numerous
local governing bodies, but the fiscal years of such bodies begin
at different times, so that if under the legislation of 1919, finan-

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cial reports for each body were published, such reports would
not be comparable, even if it be assumed that the average citizen
could take the time to discover all of the local governing bodies
which have jurisdiction over him and to find the statements of
disbursements for each such body. For the board of coimty
supervisors imder the township sjrstem the fiscal year begins
September 1, while other county officers begin their fiscal year
on December 1. Most cities begin their fiscal year on May 1;
but Chicago and some others begin on January 1. School
accounts and records are based on the school year beginning
July 1.

Since the introduction of the township system there has been
a distinct tendency for the township to become less important.
The township system was rapidly adopted by counties in Illinois,
but in recent years there has been little tendency to extend this
system, although the alternative is the rigid commissioner S3rs-
tem specified in the constitution. Two coimties have adopted
township organization since 1890. The smaller coimties of the
central and southern part of the state which have not adopted
this system seem content with the alternative now provided by
the constitution.

In the coimties which have adopted the township system the
township has become relatively less important, although this
statement should not be interpreted into an assumption that the
township has ever been an area of distinct importance. Little
attention is paid to the town meeting. Town taxes, other than
those with respect to roads, are relatively slight. In 1917 the
township collector was abolished except for counties of a popu-
lation of over 100,000. A single township highway commis-
sioner was, in 1917, substituted for a group of three highway
commissioners. By legislation of 1877 an effort was made to
simplify government in cities by providing that a city may be
separately organized as a town, the city government taking over
the ordinary functions of the town government.' By an optional
act of 1901 (adopted by Chicago and Springfield) the powers of
townships and town officers in townships lying wholly within

Ubid., ch. 139, sec ISa.

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any city of more than 50,000 inhabitants may be exercised by
county officers.*

The main diflferences between comities mider the township
system and comities not mider the township system are in the
offices of supervisor and assessor and in coimty boards. The
abolition of town assessors has been strongly m-ged for many
years. If this were done and a small comity board established
in place of the board of supervisors there would be almost noth-
ing left of town government. As has already been suggested,
in some counties under the township system the coimty board
of supervisors has become a cumbersome and ineflfective govern-
ing body.

Two developments of recent years may be noted as impor-
tant. One is the tendency to make the county the more impor-
tant area for local administration in such matters as poor relief,
highways, and the assessment and collection of taxes. The
concentration of greater powers into the hands of the county as
to taxation came in 1898, and as to highways in 1913. With
respect to poor relief and charities there has been a steady
development toward the use of the county, and by legislation of
1917 counties were iauthorized to unite in the administration of
poor farms. This union was made necessary because of the
fact that small counties were often imable to handle poor relief
satisfactorily. The chief purpose aimed at in the transfer of
functions from the township to the county has been to use a
larger unit with more work to be done, and generally the result
of consolidating work into the larger unit has been more efficient
governmental work.

The other tendency has been that toward a very decided in-
crease in the importance of cities, villages and incorporated
towns. Before 1870, cities, villages and incorporated towns
were in the main organized by special laws, and such special
laws were enacted in great numbers, although many of the com-
munities incorporated had small populations. With the con-
stitution of 1870 special legislation of the old type became
impossible, and cities and villages to a large extent reincorpo-

•Ibid., ch. 24, sec. 643.

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rated under the general cities and villages act, in order to obtain
wider powers conferred by that act. In addition, between 1870
and 1917 there were 763 new cities and villages incorporated,
making in that year a total of 1098 incorporated cities and vil-
lages. To these must be added the small group of 24 cities,
villages and incorporated towns still operating under special
charters enacted before 1870. Not only has there been a great
increase in the number of incorporated communities, but there
has been an equally great increase in the importance of the
activities they have undertaken, so that although there are
usually a number of other local governmental areas covering
the territory of each incorporated community, the incorporated
city or village is now the most important local governmental
area within the territory which it occupies.

Another tendency in recent years which should be noted is that
toward the multiplication of special districts for the performance
of specific new functions of local government, with the creation
of a new area for each new function of local government.


To what extent is the present complex system of governmental
areas in Illinois required by the constitution of the state? So
far as the legislative department is concerned, attention has
already been called to the fact that areas for state representation
are simple, there being but one set of districts for both senators
and representatives; and it is possible to keep a single set of
districts even though the cumulative system is abolished. How- i '
ever, if it is intended to adopt a different basis of representation
in the two houses for different parts of the state, and to give ii
representation to areas rather than to population upon a dif-
ferent basis in the two houses, or to represent areas in one house
and population in the other, a single set of representative areas
becomes substantially impossible. As has already been sug-
gested, even though two sets of areas should be adopted, it is
still possible to prevent smaller areas from cutting across the
boimdaries of the larger areas. It is, of course, impossible under

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the present constitution of Illinois to utilize for state legislative
representation the same areas as those employed for representa-
tion in the national house of representatives.

So far as state judicial areas are concerned it should be re-
peated that the county is the primary judicial unit; and that the
counties serve as units to make up the circuits, and the dis-
tricts for the election of justices of the supreme court. So far
as the appeUate courts are concerned there are no constitutional
requirements, but political expediency has caused previously
existing judicial areas to be employed, and the coimties also
form the units of these areas. By the terms of the constitution,
county boundaries must be respected in the rearrangement of
circuits and of supreme court election districts, and supreme
court election districts are so hedged about as to the time they
may be changed that this has discouraged much eflfort to re-
adjust them in proportion to changing population; although the
failure to readjust the supreme court election districts has been
primarily due to political considerations. It may also be sug-
gested that the constitutional provision that county boundaries
shaD be respected in the readjustment of supreme court election
districts may be interpreted to make it Impossible under the
present constitution to give Cook County two out of the seven
justices, although Cook Coimty had, by the census of 1910,
three-sevenths of the population of the state. As has been
noted, appellate court districts now cut across the lines of judi-
cial circuits, but a readjustment of this matter is, by the terms
of the constitution, entirely within the control of the general
assembly. The constitution itself permits one specific departure
from the general policy of making the county the primary unit
in judicial areas, by permitting the consolidation of coimties in
the establishment of county courts, but such an alternative is
hardly likely to be taken advantage of, for there is a distinct
political desire to have the office of county judge within each

So far as local governmental areas are concerned, the terms
of the Illinois constitution of 1870 have a decisive influence.
When the constitution of 1870 was framed, the state had already

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been divided into 102 counties with their present areas. The
constitution lays down definite restrictions upon county re-
adjustments, prescribing that no county shall be formed of less
than 400 square miles, nor reduced below 400 square miles, and
that no coimty line shall pass within less than ten miles of any
coimty seat of the county or counties proposed to be divided.
No territory may be stricken from any coimty unless a majority
of the voters living in such territory petition for such division;
and no territory may be stricken from or added to any coimty
without the consent of the majority of the voters of the county
from which the territory is to be stricken and to which the
territory is to be added. These constitutional provisions make
it fairly certain that the counties will remain as they have re-
mained since 1870 without change in the boimdaries established
before the adoption of the present constitution; and there is
probably little possibiUty of changing the p;resent constitutional
provisions unless, perhaps, with respect to issues of consolidation
presented by Cook Coimty and the city of Chicago.

Not only are the areas of coimties substantially fixed by the
state constitution but the types of government are definitely
prescribed. As has already been noted three systems of coimty
government are prescribed by the constitution of 1870, one for
Cook County and two others, coimties having an option asto which
of the latter two — ^the township system and a rigid system of
coimty commissioner form of government — they shall adopt.
The Cook County system is definitely prescribed, and for all of
the counties there is a definite constitutional enumeration of
county officers. The number of officers as enumerated is too
large for small coimties, but there is no flexibility with respect to
this matter. The work to be done by each county officer in a
small county is not great, and his salary must be correspondingly
small or the financial burden becomes too great. As to the gen-
eral system of county government, the only element of flexibiUty
is the option of counties between the township system and the
county commissioner system, and the further general power of
the legislative bodies to determine the form of the township
system. There are no constitutional restrictions upon the
general assembly as to the character of township organization.

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The financial provisions of the constitution were probably not
intended, in 1870, to have a definite influence upon the develop-
ment of new areas of local government, but these provisions
have had such an influence. With respect to taxation several
matters present themselves as influential in leading to a multi-
plication of areas and an intense complexity of local government.
Article 9, section 9 of the constitution requires that municipal
taxes "shall be uniform in respect to persons and property
within the jurisdiction of the body imposing the same." This
makes it necessary that a new district be created if a new fimc-
tion is to be exercised within certain limits of area not already
established as the limits of some other governing body. It is
out of the question imder any safeguards for a local governing
area to levy a tax within merely a part of its territory, unless
such tax be a special assessment or a special tax upon contiguous
property in payment for local improvements.

Another difficulty presents itself in that the coimty tax rate is
definitely limited by the constitution, and if this rate is insuffi-
cient to cover certain expenditures for which the coimty might
otherwise be a proper area, the only alternative, if the function
is to be performed, is that of vesting such functions in other
existing local areas whose taxing rates are not constitutionally
limited, or the creation of new local areas for the performance
of the functions. This limitation now prevents the use of the
coimty as the local area for road taxes.

To some extent political considerations also present them-
selves with respect to the multiplication of local areas with dis-
tinct taxing rates. If all areas of local government wer united
into one with a single large tax rate, it might be more difficult
politically to justify such a rate, or an increase in the rate once
estabUshed, than it now is to obtain increases in numerous
separate and independent rates. With the separate and inde-
pendent rates the increase of each will oftentimes not be detected
by the taxpayer until all the rates come to be combined for pur-
poses of collection, and then protest or opposition comes too
late. A number of separate taxing areas is sometimes of impor-
tance for the purpose of diyiding up expenditures for a partic-

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iilar purpose so that the total of such expenditures cannot easily
be ascertained. Of course, where the same purpose is to be
accomplished, as that with respect to taxation in overlapping
areas with slightly diflferent powers or with substantially the
same powers, the existence of such overlapping and duplicating
areas may sometimes serve as a means of obtaining without
additional legislation new revenue for the general purposes to be
accomplished when new or additional expenditures become

The powers of special assessment and special taxation are
limited by the constitution to certain specific areas of local
government. Section 9 of article 9 of the constitution author-
izes the general assembly to "vest the corporate authorities of
cities, towns and villages with power to make local improve-
ments by special assessment or by special taxation of contiguous
property, or otherwise." This provision was held by the su-
preme court to prevent the levy of special assessments by other
corporate bodies than cities, towns and villages, and a consti-
tutional amendment was adopted in 1878 expressly authorizing
drainage districts to employ special assessments for the con-
struction and maintenance of levees, drains and ditches. There
is now some doubt as to the constitutional power of drainage
districts to levy general taxes. The supreme court has by inter-
pretation extended the power to levy special assessments to
park districts. It may be that special districts are necessary
for drainage purposes, and that other existing districts cannot
be eflfectively employed for this purpose. Drainage districts
are authorized to levy special assessments for the construction
and maintenance of improvements, whereas the special assess-
ment powers of other communities are by judicial construction
limited so as not to apply to the maintenance of improvements.
So long as powers of special assessment are not granted to all
local governing areas, and are granted in a more extended manner
to drainage districts, separate drainage districts will probably
be necessary.

With respect to special assessments, attention should be called
to the fact that by construction the supreme court of Illinois

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limits the term "local improvements" to improvements imder-
taken by one municipal corporation, so that two adjacent munic-
ipal corporations may not by special assessment imdertake a
single plan of improvement.

The constitutional lunitation upon municipal debts has prob-
ably had the most influence in the multiplication of areas of
local government. This constitutional provision says that:
"No county, city, township, school district or other municipal
corporation shall be allowed to become indebted in any maimer
or for any purpose to an amount including existing indebtedness
in the aggregate exceeding five per centum of the value of the
taxable property therein, to be ascertained by the last assess-
ment for state and coimty taxes previous to the incurring of such
indebtedness." The supreme court of Illinois has definitely
said that this constitutional prohibition in no way prevents the
creation of new local areas with new functions, although the
territory of such new areas may lie entirely within the territory
of existing governmental bodies which have already incurred an
indebtedness in excess of five per cent of the value of the tax-
able property therein. In the language of the court: "The
constitutional limitation upon the extent of corporate indebted-
ness applies to each municipal corporation singly, and where
one corporation embraces, in part, the same territory as others,
each may contract corporate indebtedness up to the constitu-
tional limitation without reference to the indebtedness of any
other corporation embraced wholly or in part within its terri-
tory."' If existing local governing bodies have incurred indebt-
edness up to the constitutional limit, all that need be done in
order to obtain money for a new function is to obtain authority
from the general assembly to establish a new tjrpe of local area,
and to start such local area upon its career with an entirely new
debt limit. However, the supreme court has seen fit to draw a
line when an effort was made to divide into two groups the
powers of an existing local area, and to set up a new debt limit
for precisely the same territory.

•People y. Honeywell, 268 111. 319 (1913).

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South Carolina has sought to prevent the type of difficulty
which has presented itself in Illinois by prescribing a limit upon
the debt of each municipaUty, and by making the further pro-
vision that where there are two or more municipal corporations
covering the same territory "the aggregate indebtedness over
and upon any territory of this state shaD not exceed fifteen per
cent of all taxable property in such territory."

What has been said above is sufficient to indicate that a large
part of the difficulty with respect to existing local areas in Illi-
nois is directly traceable to constitutional provisions, although
the situation is in large part due to a haphazard development
of legislation. A good part of the present situation cannot be
remedied without constitutional change, but much of it can be
altered merely by legislation.


The problem here under discussion is a distinctly political
one, with close relationship to problems of party organization,
and cannot be solved satisfactorily without consideration of
political motives.

The present situation in Illinois is a bad one. There is no
relation between senatorial and congressional districts, though
with respect to state representative areas, Illinois has less com-
plexity than most other states. There is no relation between
the circuit and appellate districts, or between these districts and
the supreme court election districts, and no relation between
judicial and representative areas. There is a whole series of
areas for local governmental purposes with substantially no
relationship among them, and there is little or no relation be-
tween the areas for local government and areas for legislative
and judicial purposes. It should be borne in mind, however,
that the county is a unit which runs through all of the areas,
whether such areas relate to local government or to judicial and
legislative purposes. The coimty has come to be the principal
imit of local government also, although within cities and villages
the city or village government is frequently much more impor-
tant than the coimty government. The coimty may properly

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bp said to be the one area which gives an element of unity to the
political geography of the state.

The present county areas were established fairly early in the
history of the state, and there has been no change in counties
since 1859. Present county areas are practically guaranteed
by the constitution and changes are not apt to take place. In
the early history of the state, coimties of small population were
established in the southern territory, which was first settled,
and in the southern area and also in other parts of the states
there are many counties which cannot be expected to have a
large population. Counties vary greatly in area and in popula-
tion, and a rigid system of coimty government (with a detailed

Online LibraryWestel Woodbury WilloughbyThe American political science review → online text (page 26 of 77)