November 3, 2008

Illinois citizens need not fear a Constitutional Convention (Bruno Behrend, 11/03/08, Illinois Citizens Coalition)

On November 4th, Illinois citizens will have the opportunity to vote on the most important issue facing the state. It is the referendum on the Constitutional Convention question. If Illinois citizens are interested in fixing their state, they should vote “Yes.”

The constitutional convention process is 100% citizen-driven, and therefore promises to change the dynamics of Illinois politics. Citizens call the convention. Citizens elect 2 delegates from each Senate district, and while the delegates will write up any proposed changes, it is the citizens who have the final say through the ratification vote. That’s right, it is the citizens who ratify, not the politicians!

Once citizens understand this important feature of the convention process, they will be far less likely to fall for the opponents’ weak and misleading arguments against a “Yes” vote.

What are those weak and misleading arguments? Let’s start with the biggest whopper – that public employees might lose their pensions. One of the most serious flaws in the Illinois Constitution (and it has a lot of them) is that it guarantees the payment of pensions without guaranteeing the funding of pensions. This has lead to a political class that has provided government workers with unfunded benefits that will be left to future taxpayers to shoulder. This is the reason Illinois has $106 billion in unfunded liabilities and unpaid bills.

While a convention will almost certainly fix that flaw, Illinois citizens need to know that no one’s benefits can be cut one thin dime. Anyone who tells you different is lying. To be sure, mandating the funding of pension benefits as well as the payment will end the abuses engaged in by our political class.

Ironically, public employees should know that the most serious threat to their benefits comes from governments using bankruptcy laws to shed pension obligations. This is already happening in some municipalities in California. While it is unlikely that a state would declare bankruptcy, recent events in the financial markets should give one pause to reflect. The fact is that a “no” vote more risky for public employees than a “yes” vote.

Another weak argument used by the opponents of a convention is that “extremists” will derail the process. This is an outright silly argument, as the delegates are elected from all 59 senate districts. Even if citizens from one district or another elect a “single issue” delegate, that person is one of 118 people. There is no way to “derail” a convention. Many issues will be debated, but again, the voters must approve changes.

Some opponents argue that, “Springfield already has too much its plate.” This argument exposes their weakest attribute – that it is all about them! A convention isn’t about what “Springfield has on its “plate.” A convention is on the citizen’s “plate.” Springfield, special interests, the two parties have all shown us that they are not up to the task of governing Illinois. It is the citizens’ turn to change the way this state works, and a convention offers a nearly risk-free opportunity to do just that. Vote “Yes” in November.

Bruno Behrend is the Co-founder of the Illinois Citizens Coalition and Co-author of Illinois Deserves Better, the ironclad case for an Illinois Constitutional Convention

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 3, 2008 12:08 PM
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