[Topic] Municipal Law
The concept of home rule for cities, villages and counties first became a reality in Illinois on July 1, 1971. Article VII, Section 6, of the 1970 Illinois Constitution provides in pertinent part as follows:
“(a) A county which has a chief executive officer elected by the electors of the county and any municipality which has a population of more than 25,000 are home rule units. Other municipalities [those with a population of 25,000 or less] may elect by referendum to become home rule units. Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.”
On the other side of this issue, a home rule unit by referendum may elect not to be a home rule unit. (Art. VII, Sec. 6 (b)) Through the year 2002, only 4 out of 25 communities that have held such referenda have opted out of home rule. In addition, a retention election is required if a municipality which is a home rule unit by reason of having the requisite population of more than 25,000, falls to a population of 25,000 or less. Any such city or village experiencing such a fall in its population continues to have the powers of a home rule unit until it elects by referendum not to be a home rule unit. (65 ILCS 5/1-1-9) In that same period of time, of the 6 communities holding such referenda, all 6 retained home rule.
A home rule unit may only exercise those powers and perform those functions “pertaining to its government and affairs.” In other words, a home rule unit’s powers only relate to their own local problems and not to those of the state or the nation. However, a home rule unit’s powers and functions are to be liberally construed. (Art. VII, Sec. 6 (m)) Finally, the General Assembly may not deny or even limit the power of a home rule unit (1) to make local improvements by special assessment, or (2) to levy or impose additional taxes upon areas within their boundaries in the manner provided by law for the provision of special services.
In order to restore the will of the people of the State of Illinois as expressed in the referendum of December 15, 1970, we need the General Assembly to use their pre-emptive powers (Art. 7, Sec. 6 (g) (h) and (i)) more judiciously and sparingly and then only when the facts show that a particular power or function is being abused by a home rule unit(s). Home rule was and is a laudable and practical concept meant to assist local officials in governing their communities for the betterment of their constituents.