The Power and Limits of Home Rule (Part 3 of 6)
Home Rule in Northfield: An in-depth look in six parts into the history and effects of putting more power into Northfield leaders' hands.
This article is the third part of a six-piece series on the issue of home rule in Northfield, which will appear as a referendum on the ballot Nov. 2. To read the first part of this series, click here. To read the second part of this series, click here. Watch the video next to this article for more information on home rule.
The following information was culled primarily from a 30-year assessment of Illinois home rule, published by the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies in 2001 and a case study on Illinois home rule and fiscal responsibility conducted by Dr. James M. Banovetz, director emeritus of the Division of Public Administration at Northern Illinois University, who has studied Illinois' local government for more than 40 years.
The Illinois Constitution, Article VII, Section 6 states: "Powers and function of home rule units shall be construed liberally."
In the same document where they gave local governments liberally defined powers, the constitutional framers established safeguards to prevent abuse. These include: electoral recision, legislative preemption and judicial review. State courts have the power to strike down local ordinances and tax increases deemed "excessive," as in the cases of a Des Plaines noise-pollution ordinance against a railroad in 1976 (Des Plaines v. Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co.), a Cook County ordinance imposing a local filing fee on civil courts in 1975 (Ampersand, Inc., v. Morgan M. Finley, et al.), and a Waukegan utility tax levied on the Waukegan Community Unit School District in 1983 (Waukegan Community Unit School District v. Waukegan). The Illinois General Assembly can also prohibit home rule power, but only by a vote of a three-fifths majority of both houses.
Home-ruled communities can:
- Raise property taxes.
- Levy an additional retail sales tax to the state' s tax base, in amounts of 0.25 percent, up to a total additional levy of 2.5 percent. Non-home rule communities are restricted to a 1 percent local share. (According to Dr. James M. Banovetz, there is no evidence that differences in sales tax rates across Illinois have produced a " detectable impact" on consumers' shopping patterns.)
- Levy a real-estate-transfer tax, but only by referendum.
Home-ruled communities cannot:
- Define and provide for the punishment of a felony.
- Levy taxes on income, earnings or occupations without legislative authority.
- Incur debts on property-tax receipts that have matured more than 40 years.
- Also, if a home rule county ordinance conflicts with a municipal ordinance (Cook County is currently the only home-ruled county in Illinois), the municipal ordinance will prevail.
Checks on Home Rule
In 1971, the year home rule went into effect, a Home Rule Attorneys Committee was formed. Sponsored by the Illinois Municipal League, this group meets monthly, usually in Chicago or in Bolingbrook, and monitors home rule and discourages uses that would be disapproved in court tests. The Illinois Supreme Court has heard 20 cases challenging home rule tax powers; it supported home rule in 85 percent of these cases. As an example, the 81st General Assembly denied home rule governments the power to regulate minimum drinking ages, finding that lower drinking ages in certain communities led to more traffic accidents among young people, and the constitution was amended in 1979 to include a law preventing home rule cities to set their own drinking ages.
The Home Rule Attorneys Committee meets next on Friday, Oct. 22, at Johnson & Bell in Chicago.