By Tim Reid
(Reuters) - A new task force charged with cutting some of Illinois' nearly 7,000 local governments, the highest number of any U.S. state, will be unveiled this week, according to the state's lieutenant governor.
With a plethora of local governments that tax residents - from mosquito abatement districts to cemetery authorities - "everything is on the table," Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, a Republican, who is in charge of the task force, told Reuters.
The number of local government units is so great that nobody is sure exactly how many there are, and it depends on who is counting, Sanguinetti said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state has 6,963 local governments. But the Illinois Comptroller's Office says the number is far greater, with nearly 8,500 local government units registered in 2014, the latest figure available.
"We know the number is incredibly high and we are first place in the whole country when it comes to the numbers of local government we have in Illinois," Sanguinetti said. "Right now the focus is on the duplication of services. We want to take a look at streamlining that and to save taxpayer money."
According to the Census Bureau, Illinois eclipses all other states in the number of local governments. Texas, which ranks second, comes in at 5,147. Pennsylvania follows with 4,897. And Florida, with a population of nearly 20 million, compared to Illinois' 13 million, has just 1,650 local government units.
Illinois' new Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, a former private equity investor and billionaire who is a political neophyte, has made cutting local government a key part of his ambitious plan to improve the state's finances. Among its problems, Illinois has huge budget shortfalls and sickly credit ratings.
Rauner placed Sanguinetti, a former local council member and attorney, in charge of the local government consolidation task force last month. Sanguinetti said the task force membership will be announced this week and will include Republicans and Democrats. It will issue recommendations in December.
In highlighting the problem, she noted that Peoria County, for example, has 118 taxing districts, while some citizens are taxed by roughly 20 mosquito abatement districts, most of which were created early last century.
Unsuccessful attempts have been made to cut local government before.
"This is going to be completely different," she said. "We have the support of the governor."
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Leslie Adler)