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When it comes to fall ballot questions, the more the merrier

SPRINGFIELD – Another vote, another advisory referendum.

The Nov. 4 ballot seems to be getting bulkier and bulkier for every day the General Assembly remains in session this spring.

On Thursday, the Senate ignored GOP charges of election-year “gimmickry” and approved two ballot questions, sending one to Gov. Pat Quinn for final approval and the other back to the Illinois House.

By a 33-17 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would put a non-binding referendum on the fall ballot that would ask whether voters favor imposing an additional 3-percent tax on millionaires with money raised going toward public schools.

“I’m not a biblical scholar, but I remember from my childhood and Sunday school: ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’” said Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, the millionaire-tax bill’s chief Senate sponsor.

The measure now bound for the governor originally was conceived by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, as a constitutional amendment, but he could not muster a supermajority to pass it through the house. So, Madigan settled for the advisory referendum that passed the Senate after having already passed the House.

“This is a game,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, who voted against Noland’s bill. “And unfortunately, you’re really messing with the wrong people here. In the name of helping the kids, you are attacking job creators in this state. Now, if we continue this, they might not even be there for you to tax by the time this gets into law.”

The other advisory referendum the Senate passed Thursday would ask voters whether they favor forcing health insurers to cover the costs of contraceptions.

Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, characterized the legislation as a pre-emptive strike against the possibility that the nation’s courts could strike down the Affordable Care Act and its contraception mandate.

“We want to be ready here in Illinois just to show our voices are very strong on this legislation, to reinforce our stand on this bill,” she said.

The oddity of Martinez’s ballot question is that it will ask voters to weigh in on something that has been established state law since 2003, when she spearheaded legislation requiring just that and that was signed into law by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, who voted against her legislation Thursday, called it an election-year gimmick by Democrats meant to “gin up” their voting base this fall, particularly women.

“This is a gimmick. It’s a stunt. It’s a game, and everybody down here knows it,” Murphy said. “You’re talking about something that’s been settled law for 10 years. But you just want to gin people up over issues that really don’t exist.

“What all this stuff is this year is nothing less than the desperation your side of the aisle has because people of this state might actually pay attention this year and fire some of you for the despicable record you have,” Murphy said.

Martinez’ bill goes back to the House.

If the House approves it and Quinn signs it and the other ballot questions before him, voters would have two constitutional amendments put forth by the General Assembly and three advisory referenda to decide along with, potentially, two voter initiatives still being evaluated by the State Board of Elections: constitutional amendments that would impose term limits on state lawmakers, among other things, and that would take decennial legislative mapmaking away from legislators.

The constitutional amendments put on the ballot by lawmakers deal with voter-suppression tactics and crime victims’ rights. The other advisory referendum deals with raising the minimum wage.