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NIU professor: Home rule decision hinges on benefits, trust

Michael Peddle started his home rule presentation on Feb. 25 by declaring that he intentionally had violated his usual policy and had not done his homework on the specifics of the issue before Homewood voters March 20.

“I want to be able to speak to you on home rule as a concept, the pros and cons,” he said. “I have no idea whether I would vote for or against home rule in Homewood.”

Peddle, an associate professor of public information in the School of Public and Global Affairs at Northern Illinois University, was the presenter at an information session at St. Paul Community Church that was sponsored by the HF Area League of Women Voters. League member Peggy Boivin said the local chapter had not done a study on the home rule issue and was not taking a position on it.

Peddle conceded, though, that he is a proponent of home rule as a concept, and spent much of his time describing the benefits it can have for municipalities if the authority is used wisely.

He noted that home rule inverts the default status of municipalities, commonly referred to as Dillon’s Rule. Under Dillon’s Rule, non-home rule municipalities only have powers specifically granted by the state. Home rule municipalities have any powers not explicitly limited by the state.

Peddle said the main advantages to home rule for most communities are:

  • More local control and government accountability, noting that voters typically have more influence over local elected officials than they do over state lawmakers.
  • More stability in government finances through diversification. Local governments have more options for generating revenue and therefore are less dependent on property taxes.
  • Greater ability to spread the tax burden more broadly, getting more revenue from non-residents through tools like sales and gasoline taxes. 
“If you’re looking at home rule as a means of increasing revenue, I think that’s a mistake,” he said. “Home rule is about local control. Nobody likes paying taxes, and the greatest fear is this will just be a tax grab. The research suggests that is not a warranted view.”

He noted that renewed interest in home rule by a number of municipalities apears to be fueled by the dire financial condition of the state, which has cut back on revenue sharing with local governments, which can make the dependence on property taxes even more pronounced.

One resident in the audience said she was a bit confused by some of the financial policy matters Peddle was discussing. She asked him to clarify the potential impact home rule could have on property taxes.

“As a senior, I’m concerned about whether my property taxes are going to keep going up,” she said. “Am I going to be able to afford to stay in Homewood?”

Peddle said home rule generally does not result in higher property taxes, but even when municipal property taxes go up, the effect usually is not dramatic because the village portion of the property tax bill is small compared to other taxing bodies, especially school districts.

One resident asked whether Peddle had ever recommended a community not seek home rule. Peddle initially said no, then amended his reply, recalling a situation in which a community’s officials wanted home rule in order to exceed the municipality’s non-home rule borrowing limits beyond what it could reasonably expect to support. He said in that case, he thought home rule was being sought for the wrong reason.

The same resident observed that Peddle’s list of “pros” was longer than his list of “cons.” Peddle replied that the “con” side had significant weight if not as many items. Distrust in local officals, he said, was the main reason to oppose home rule.

“What it comes down to is do you trust your elected officials, and how willing are you to hold them responsible for the decisions that affect your lives?” he said. “There is no right or wrong answer. It’s what you feel as a community.”


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