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One way to draw your voters to the polls: Ask a red-meat referendum question

The coming election looks like a blue Democratic wave favoring J.B. Pritzker for governor, writes Rich Miller, so Republicans are putting red-meat referendum questions on the ballot to draw more Bruce Rauner supporters to the polls. | Sun-Times file photos

I’ve told you about the non-binding referendums to be held in dozens of Downstate counties designed to entice pro-gun voters to the polls, but that’s not the end of the story.

“Shall the [local county board] pass a resolution that opposes any gun control legislation in the Illinois General Assembly?” most of the Downstate ballot questions will ask. The Illinois State Rifle Association, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign and several Republican legislators have all worked to get the question on ballots in Downstate counties.


But a ballot question like that in the suburbs would run the risk of backfiring by attracting voters who might not be voting for Republican candidates. So, a different tactic was required in that part of the state.

“Shall [the county] oppose the General Assembly instituting a property tax increase equivalent to 1 percent of your home’s value to help retire state debt?” is just one of the questions that will appear on ballots in Republican-controlled DuPage and Kane counties this fall.

The 1 percent tax surcharge was first broached by a few economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago back in May. The Illinois Policy Institute and its allies (including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jeanne Ives) whipped up some public furor against it, but the idea wasn’t ever going anywhere.

Property taxes are already way too high in this state and are not based on the ability to pay. So, tacking on a state tax surcharge that could add as much as 50 percent to a homeowner’s local property tax bill would bring out the torches and pitchforks — and maybe even tar and feathers.

The Republicans need to counteract what looks to be a coming Democratic wave election. They have to do whatever it takes to get “their” people to the polls. And property taxes are most definitely a huge issue in the suburbs.

DuPage County will also ask its voters about a proposal to tax vehicle mileage — another tax that has so far gone nowhere in Illinois. Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker has said he’d consider a study of the idea, but it has not gained much if any traction in the General Assembly. Senate President John Cullerton briefly flirted with the idea, but dropped it because the state still didn’t have a budget (among other reasons).

And several suburban Cook County townships will ask their voters a version of this question being asked in Schaumburg Township: “Should the Cook County Board of Commissioners reinstate the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance (also known as the Soda Tax) to fill an $82 million county budget deficit?”

Elk Grove, Palatine, Lemont and Maine townships will also ask the question, according to a report in the Daily Herald last week (I’m told Palos is also on that list), even though the pop tax has been thoroughly killed beyond dead after the county board imposed it and then backed off in the face of a public uproar.

A Rauner campaign official told me last week that voters in more than 60 counties and townships will have a chance to express their non-binding opinions on hot-button issues favorable to Republicans.

So, will this work? Well, it likely depends on your meaning of “work.” This is just one piece in a much larger puzzle. But, either way, it probably can’t hurt. And if they put some money and effort behind it, some folks who might not be planning to vote could be convinced by the ploy.

“The statewide Republican operation is going to use paid advertisement to target Republican voters with this referendum to turn them out and vote for all of us,” according to a text sent by Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, to one of his local county board members, according to published reports.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has admitted to using non-binding statewide referendums to get Democrats to the polls, including in 2014, when he added questions about increasing the minimum wage, taxing millionaires and requiring insurers to provide birth control coverage.

Rauner and the Republicans couldn’t possibly put questions favorable to them on the statewide ballot because that would require the General Assembly’s approval, so they’ve had to improvise locally. If nothing else, it at least shows some gumption on their part.

Now, to a bit of housecleaning. A couple of weeks ago I told you that Comptroller Susana Mendoza didn’t appeal a court ruling on legislator pay. That was wrong. She did appeal. I’m sorry.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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