A host of problematic provisions in Illinois Constitution are as off limits to voters as Abe Lincoln’s hat.

Illinois voters deserve a greater say in all changes to the constitution, not just the proposed graduated income tax

SHARE A host of problematic provisions in Illinois Constitution are as off limits to voters as Abe Lincoln’s hat.

The Illinois State Capitol Building

AP Photos

I’m 71 years old and I’ve lived in Illinois most of my life. Nov. 3 will mark the first time I’ll be able to have a say on how my income is taxed in Illinois. I’ll be voting no on the graduated income tax.

The tax amendment being presented is the wrong path forward to solve Illinois’ problems. But more important, I’d like to vote to reject the profoundly flawed 1970 Illinois Constitution that established an income tax. Until lawmakers get serious about changing other provisions of constitution, they don’t deserve a vote on its ill-considered tax provision.

Opinion bug


What’s wrong with the state constitution?

The most egregious error is the amendment provision.

Politicians can vote to put an amendment to the constitution on the ballot whenever they like, but it’s virtually impossible for regular people to get any reform measure on the ballot. They can petition only for a change in the Legislature and only for structural and procedural changes. That’s why every attempt to change our state’s corrupt redistricting process has been rebuffed, though fair maps are wildly popular among the people.

Only once has such a change succeeded: When the voters, led by former Gov. Pat Quinn in his reform days, cut the size of the state Legislature. While we applaud that effort, did it really change the quality of government in Illinois? 

Let’s say 100% of the registered voters in Illinois signed a petition for a constitutional amendment that makes it a crime to chew gum in public. Placing such a change on a ballot would not be allowed. But, if just three-fifths of both houses of the General Assembly wanted it, they could.

There are many provisions of the state Constitution that are killing the state and need addressing but the General Assembly won’t let the voters touch them. These are matters much more serious than chewing gum, such as:

  • Rewriting the balanced budget provision to get real about state financial management 
  • Addressing the debt provision that puts limits on state borrowing — but somehow excludes our crushing pension debt
  • Revising the local government section to do away with the tax limit that has led to a proliferation of units of local government
  • Allowing for cities small and large to adopt a voter-approved city constitution
  • The pension clause, which has been interpreted to bar the General Assembly from modifying plans like almost all other states can

These are just some of the provisions of the 1970 state constitution that got us and keep us in the trouble we find ourselves. And they are as untouchable as Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. Maybe you could find other provisions that infuriate you.

Instead of even trying to address our core problems, the political elite offer us a tax increase clothed in the false wrapper of fairness. There is nothing funny or fair about the fiscal and political mess that Illinois is in.

Some fear that opening up the petition provision would turn Illinois into California, with “bedsheet ballots” filled with voter-initiated constitutional amendments. That’s a false choice. There are governance schemes that are halfway between the two states. Based on what we’ve seen in Illinois in the past 50 years, how could we be worse off with more citizen choice?

But the political elite of Illinois don’t trust voters with choice. They won’t make the hard decisions and they hide behind the amendment provision that denies Illinoisans the choice to vote on what is important to us, not them.

Wasn’t it a man from Illinois who talked about government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Every fourth grader has heard the cry “No taxation without representation.”

My “no” vote on the graduated income tax is my message to government: Don’t try to sneak through one change to our constitution until you have fixed so many other flaws.

Ed Bachrach is founder of the Center for Pension Integrity and co-author of “The New Chicago Way: Lessons from Other Big Cities.”

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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