Dem ballot questions a waste of voters’ time

Written By By Mark Brown Posted: 07/29/2014, 08:19pm

I’d like to think I have always taken seriously the responsibility and opportunity of having an election ballot in front of me, making sure to cast a vote on each and every office and referendum.

That even goes for the painful judicial retention ballot, where, by the way, “NO” is an underused and always valid choice, contrary to what the judges and precinct captains would tell you.

This year, however, I’ve decided to cut short my work in the voting booth. I’ve got better things to do than to waste time answering all the useless ballot questions Illinois Democrats have decided should clutter up the November voting.

The final straw came Tuesday when Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation to hold a non-binding referendum on whether millionaires should be taxed at a higher rate.

The referendum asks voters if the state constitution should be amended to require millionaires to pay an additional 3 percent in state income taxes. The question is advisory only and will have absolutely no effect on the constitution.

That brings to at least 10 the number of ballot questions that voters in the city of Chicago will face in November, only two of which will have the force of law.

It’s a sucker game, and I recommend you refuse to play.

It might be different if legislators actually wanted to learn what you thought about these matters. But for the most part, they already know what you think.

In the case of the millionaire tax, they’ve taken polls that have confirmed the idea is very popular, albeit in a knee-jerk sort of way.

That’s the main reason they put these questions on the ballot: to use them as a rallying point for their political organizing efforts, not to gauge public opinion for the purpose of informing future legislative action.

Democrats who may not be enthusiastic about showing up at the polls on Election Day to vote for any of the party’s nominees might be more amenable to the chance to stick it to millionaires or to increase the minimum wage to $10 or to make their employer pay for birth-control coverage.

Voters throughout the state will be asked to vote on all three of those advisory questions, along with two real state constitutional amendments: a feel-good crime victims’ bill of rights and a ban on discrimination against voters that I also doubt is necessary (despite the shenanigans in Florida).

In addition, there are two advisory Cook County referendums: one to require universal background checks for gun sales and another on whether the state should spend more money on mental health care.

Then there are three advisory referendums to be held only in Chicago, where the City Council wants to ask voters about who should control the locations of medical marijuana facilities, whether the FAA should change how it determines who gets airport noise relief and whether the state school funding formula should take into account the concentration of impoverished students in a school district.

The dynamic is slightly different for referendums in the city, where the Council picks benign topics that won’t cause problems in order to crowd out any serious questions that could backfire, such as whether the city should have an elected school board.

As you can see, each referendum is in some way a manipulation to lure more liberal voters to the polls, which probably should make me happy, except I’ve grown tired of the gamesmanship.

If you want to send a loud and clear message about income inequality in this country, forget about the millionaire tax and vote against the billionaire candidate for governor as I intend.

We had an opportunity this year in this state for a serious discussion about switching from our flat income tax rate to a progressive tax rate like the federal government uses. Instead we got sidetracked with this silly, symbolic fight over a millionaire tax.

I’m all for a higher tax rate for people who make a million bucks a year, but why not a graduated rate with more than two brackets?

I don’t know exactly where to set the rates, but it can certainly be done in a way that doesn’t increase taxes on low- and middle-income residents and puts an end to the scare -mongering we heard earlier this year.

The only proposed referendum I wouldn’t ignore in 2014 — the term-limits amendment for state legislators — hasn’t made it to the ballot yet and may not. It was ruled unconstitutional by a Cook County Circuit judge and is now on appeal.

That referendum is a manipulation, too, but at least it’s a serious one with real consequences.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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