As this year’s primary elections approach, Rockford-area voters are being asked to make a big commitment to the region’s future. What is home rule, and how can it open opportunities for prosperity?
These are exciting times in Rockford. As I write this, it’s been 10 months since I took office and every day I’m motivated to tackle our challenges and take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.
One of the most important opportunities comes before our community on March 20 when voters can go to the polls and restore home rule authority to our city. In 1983, voters eliminated home rule as a tool of local government, hamstringing our ability to govern ourselves and ceding our decision-making to a dysfunctional Illinois Legislature in Springfield.
What has happened since then? Property taxes in the city have risen 79 percent, putting an unfair obligation on property owners to shoulder the burden of city services. Our peer communities that compare to Rockford – Aurora, Naperville, Peoria, Elgin – have visitors and tourists help pay for programs and services – including police, fire and public works – that benefit residents. We must do the same and ease the financial pressure on our property owners.
While Rockford faces challenges, we have opportunities in front of us poised to help provide a better future for all our residents. We’ve made investments in and developed new strategies for public safety that are yielding results. We’ve diversified our economy to take advantage of our advanced manufacturing and aerospace technology employment base.
We’re creating public-private partnerships to improve the quality of our workforce. We’ve developed new world-class sports tourism facilities that have recaptured our status as a national leader in youth sports. We’re furthering our status as a regional health care destination, with area health systems investing millions in new facilities and programs.
I was not elected in 2017 to maintain the status quo and I don’t go to work each day intent on doing what’s been done before and hoping it all will work out. My vision for Rockford is to build a stronger, safer and more welcoming community. To build that community, we need the right tools and one of them is home rule.
The benefits of home rule are many and include:
• Reducing property taxes
• Establishing Community Land Banks to address blighted properties
• Adopting a local-preference ordinance for city projects, allowing local companies to meet or beat the low bid, keeping our dollars local and helping employ local residents
• Ending our reliance on a dysfunctional Illinois Legislature
• Diversifying revenue streams to avoid increasing taxes and fees on those who live in Rockford
• Increased revenue from gaming machines
• Enhanced funding from hotel/motel taxes
• Avoiding establishment of a utility tax, which negatively impacts local residents
Understandably, there are citizens who are concerned about home rule. I’ve listened to them and I worked with our City Council to enact four self-limiting ordinances that are the toughest of any city in Illinois with home rule.
If you disagree with what your mayor and City Council are doing, you have the power to hold us accountable on Election Day; we don’t have that power when it comes to the Illinois Legislature. In short, we need more Rockford, less Springfield.
Our community deserves better than what we’ve had over the past 35 years and better than what we’re getting from Springfield. You deserve better. My children, who my wife and I intend to raise here, deserve better, as do yours.
Simply put, home rule is a tool that allows local people to develop local solutions to local challenges. And, home rule also represents trust. Trust in our neighbors. Trust in our elected leaders. Trust in ourselves. It’s not often we have an election where we can literally change our future. This is one of those elections.
I hope you’ll join me in voting YES for home rule on March 20.
Thomas P. McNamara took office as Rockford’s 41st mayor on May 1, 2017.