Phony issues on the ballot

Phony issues on the ballot

Proposed constitutional amendments and advisory questions on the fall ballot exemplify this state's shallow and utterly cynical politics.

Voters face a long ballot this year when they exercise their franchise — state, local and county races, local tax referendums and five ballot questions put in place by state legislators.

There are two constitutional amendments and three advisory referendums. None of them are worth the paper they're printed on. At the same time, no one will be any worse for the wear if they all pass overwhelmingly, a distinct possibility given the mom-and-apple-pie nature of the issues.

However, they are not completely benign because they reflect a malignant political mindset involving the manipulation of voters for political gain by legislative leaders, particularly Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution purport to expand the crime victims' bill of rights and protect voting rights.

The proposed Crime Victims' Bill of Rights pretends to give victims of violent crimes or members of their families legal protections, most particularly the right to be heard, in the criminal justice process. There are, however, problems with the amendment. It offers no privilege that already is not available and offers no legal remedy if those so-called rights are breached. Rights without remedies to vindicate them are not rights at all — just a sham.

This is not some newspaper's wild interpretation of the amendment's language, although the amendment clearly states that it provides no legal cause of action to would-be litigants. Both Presiding Champaign County Judge Thomas Difanis, a Republican, and Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz, a Democrat, have said this proposed amendment won't change a thing.

Its only benefit is to give cynical legislators a chance to demonstrate their concern for victims of violent crimes.

It's impossible to recommend passage of such a proposal. Its only redeeming quality is that a lack of substance makes it harmless.

The proposed Voting Rights Amendment is another cynical ploy that aims to protect a citizen's right to cast a ballot. Since that individual right already is secured by the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois Constitution and state law, it's hard to see the point as anything other than political.

This amendment, which would prohibit any law that "disproportionately" affects the right of groups of citizens to register and vote, was proposed by Speaker Madigan in the hope that it would draw opposition from Republicans. If it had, Madigan and the Democrats could have told members of minority groups that Republicans oppose their right to vote and perhaps gin up turnout.

But nothing in the amendment is either objectionable or new, and legislative Republicans supported it. Doubtless, a significant majority of Illinois voters will do the same.

Constitutional amendments ought to be serious. Because this one isn't, it's impossible to recommend a yes vote.

The three proposed advisory referendums also are political in nature, intended to boost turnout from Democratic constituencies including single women and members of low-income groups.

Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine the opportunity to vote in a purely advisory fashion will serve as a great stimulus to participate in an election in which one is not otherwise interested. Speaker Madigan, however, hopes that they will, and he may well be proved correct.

The purely advisory questions ask whether:

— The Legislature should raise Illinois' minimum wage to $10 per hour by Jan. 1.

— Health insurance plans in Illinois should be required to include coverage for birth control.

— A special 3 percent tax should be imposed on individuals who have incomes greater than $1 million a year.

Once again, these questions are being asked purely for the political purpose of driving turnout by Democratic constituencies.

Health insurance policies that cover birth control already are widely available in Illinois and mandatory under the Affordable Care Act.

A special tax on millionaires would require a constitutional amendment authorizing a progressive income tax, a measure the Democratic-controlled General Assembly already has rejected.

Legislation raising the minimum wage to $10 could be passed at any time by the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. It's our concern that such an increase would make it harder for unskilled minority youths, who already are disproportionately unemployed, to find jobs while at the same time making Illinois even more economically uncompetitive with neighboring states. That's the last thing a state in Illinois' degraded economic condition needs.

Taken as a whole, these proposed amendments and advisory questions represent Illinois government at its worst, and that's saying something. They are devoid of substantive content, offering the illusion of addressing important issues and intended as a cynical motivation to keep the unworthy powers-that-be in control of state government.

That's both a travesty and business as usual in our sorry state.

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