Jim Dey: Amendment game gums up the works in Springfield

Jim Dey: Amendment game gums up the works in Springfield

Amending the Constitution — either state or federal — is supposed to be a big deal.

It requires deep thought, much debate, considerable attention to detail and enough time for a long and thorough debate of the pros and cons that surround any proposed revisions to the documents that establish the parameters for federal or state government.

Excluding the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10), the U.S. Constitution has been amended only 17 times since it was adopted in 1789. That's nearly 230 years ago, a time span that speaks to the infrequent need to change the broad governmental framework within which the U.S. government operates and the difficulty built into the amendment process.

In other words, it's serious business that requires a delicate touch, which explains why elected officials in Illinois approach the process in their usual cavalier, sloppy fashion.

Since mid-April, legislative leaders in Springfield led by House Speaker Michael Madigan have proposed seven amendments to the state Constitution, all of which require action by a May 6 deadline if any of them are to make it on the fall ballot.

More than half of them are purely for show, since Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution permits the Legislature to put "no more than three" amendments on any single ballot.

None of them may actually be for real, since the constitution also allows the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot by a three-fifths vote and then take the issue off the ballot "by a vote of a majority of the members elected to each house."

So it's purely a matter of speculation as to which of these proposals should be taken at face value. People will know when the politics plays itself out.

The seven amendments pending in the General Assembly ought not be confused with the Independent Maps voter initiative aimed at putting the redistricting issue on the ballot. The group's goal is to strip state legislators of their legal authority to draw their own House and Senate maps and transfer that power to a bipartisan group charged with creating non-political maps — meaning neither party is given a distinct advantage — and giving voters more choices than they have now.

Madigan, whose map-drawing authority has given him a permanent Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, hates that idea. He's expected to take legal steps to force the citizen initiative off the ballot, just as he did in 2014.

What's on the constitutional amendment laundry list?

Here's the scorecard:

— Madigan's millionaire's tax. Sensing the political popularity of sticking it to the rich, Madigan proposed a 3 percent surcharge on those whose incomes equal or exceed $1 million, the extra revenue to go to education.

Despite promoting the measure, Madigan did little to actually pass it, raising the question of whether he wants the amendment or the issue. The issue fell three votes short in the House, but Madigan didn't appear bothered.

"So what's going on here. The fall campaign season is what's going on here," reports Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek. She noted that after the vote Madigan identified roughly 12 Republican lawmakers who voted against the measure and suggested they'd be hearing about it in the fall campaign.

"The people of your district have spoken," Madigan warned.

— Progressive income tax. Here's another potential political Trojan horse. House Democrats need all 71 members of their caucus to vote yes to pass the measure in their chamber, but Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock has already indicated he'll vote no. Unless he flips, the effort to replace the constitutional commandment of a flat tax with one for a progressive tax is dead from the get-go.

So the question — again — is whether Madigan is serious or just looking for mailer material in the fall elections

— Two redistricting amendments, one in the House and one in the Senate.

Heads will spin in an effort to divine what's up here. Democratic legislators have been asking for a change to vote on a redistricting question so they can tell their constituents they favor the good-government measure. Will one pass? Both? Neither?

Madigan has said he favors the House version, but no one should take that claim at face value.

— Education amendment. This Madigan-sponsored amendment would rewrite the constitution to say that the state has the "preponderant responsibility" for school funding, replacing the current wording of "primary responsibility."

What it's aimed at doing is providing the courts legal authority to order K-12 funding at a certain level, a move that would take legislators off the hook about funding specifics. At the same time, however, it would require huge educational funding issues that would put even greater financial pressure on the state's limited resources and spending priorities.

A similar measure was defeated by the voters in 1994.

Does Madigan want his own amendment? Or he is trying to put Republicans at a political disadvantage by forcing them to vote on a measure that is viewed favorably by many people but would have disastrous financial consequences?

— Eliminating the useless office of lieutenant governor. This is more political flim-flam, a government consolidation measure that's already been defeated. Politicians hate the idea of eliminating offices they may one day want to run for.

— Lockbox amendment that bars legislators from raiding the state's transportation fund for general revenue spending. The amendment would require all funds raised from the operation of vehicles to be spent on road operations and maintenance.

The amendment is unnecessary. All legislators have to do to stop raids on the transportation fund is to stop raiding the transportation fund.

But this is Illinois, the state where proposed constitutional amendments are just part of a shell game in which the government official's hand is quicker than the taxpayer's eye.

Jim Dey, a member of the The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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Rocky7 wrote on May 01, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Anything to distract from the real issue: PASS A BUDGT.