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Monday, July 21, 2008

Fixing Springfield

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If the powers that be in Illinois are so all-fired determined to prevent the electorate from calling a convention to reform the state's constitution, then maybe the special interests should come up with a better way to flush the corrupt, wasteful and incompetent politics out of state government.

But they haven't. Instead, business and labor, the self-righteous and greedy, along with some pure of heart folks are spending a ton of money to get you to vote "no" when you are asked in the November election whether you want to call a state Constitutional Convention.

The response of these folks, calling themselves the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution, is to throw a big wad of money, which the rest of us don't have, to the usual suspects for a public relations campaign to preserve the status quo, which we all know is, oh, so fine. To those who might suggest that some things in the constitution might be changed for the better, the alliance says: "The best way to fix Springfield is to pick new elected officials." Swell, and how? The same wonderful constitution has endowed the rat pack that runs the state with the power to hold onto its power. Personally, I'm not all that hot to open up the entire constitution to revision by whoever clutches the reins of a Con Con, as the convention is informally known. The question is: Is it worth the risk of losing what's good in the constitution to address what's wrong with the state? Well, it's beginning to look like it. Here are just a few items:

Ethics: The ethics "rules" are so laughable that they deserve to be taken out of the hands of the governor and legislature. Even the latest "reform" is so minimal that it is, at best, a cynical charade. The constitution needs a strong ethics article.

Recall: Let voters remove state, local and county officials from office.

Legislative tyranny: One reason the state is in such bad shape is the undemocratic power that Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan have to block votes on bills. End that power.

Public servant reform: Don't just free public employees from doing political work to keep their jobs, bar them from it. It wouldn't exactly be a shot between the eyes of the corrupt Chicago Democratic machine, but it would be more than a flesh wound.

Secession: Allow Cook County taxpayers to throw off the yoke of Board President Todd Stroger by making it easier for them to remove their communities from the county.

Townships: Their duties can be handled elsewhere. Get rid of them.

We're just getting started: In the area of fiscal reform, the constitution badly needs to be amended to cure the staggering sickness of the state's pension funds. The budgeting process stinks, allowing the governor and the legislature to get away with approving huge deficits. How that would be done, I don't know, but finding a way is imperative to limit the deficits and indebtedness that are creating one of the state's worse crises.

Taxes: My brother-in-law, a small businessman recently visiting from Florida, was so astonished to hear that corporations are taxed at a higher rate than individuals that I had to go back and look it up to make sure I was right. Here's what the constitution says: "[For an income] tax imposed upon corporations the rate shall not exceed the rate imposed on individuals by more than a ratio of 8 to 5." This clearly isn't a way to keep the state's economy competitive; the rates should be equal.

And more: Why do we elect comptrollers and treasurers and clerks and the secretary of state; why not professionalize the offices? How about merit selection of judges? How about cleaning up the language of the education article ("The state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education") to mean that the state has the primary financial responsibility for education, if that's what the people want? How about term limits? How refreshing would it be to put up no longer with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his arrogant, anti-democratic ally, Emil Jones?

There's a lot more, but here's the challenge to the alliance: Your cooperation with the rat pack has nurtured the stink. If you are so convinced that the only way to improve Illinois government is a new cast of characters, then form an alliance to throw the bums out.


David L. said...

I liked your commentary in today's Tribune. I would add a few:

1) Combining offices-Do we really need a State Treasurer and a Comptroller? Why do the Commerce Commission & Secretary of State have their own police forces when we already have the Illinois State Police?

2) Going to a unicameral state legislature.

3) Giving third parties unlimited access to the ballot in our state.

These reforms would go a long way towards cleaning up the mess on the Sangamon!

Anonymous said...

How are we going to prevent the existing "powers that be" from controlling a constitutional convention and making things worse than they are now?