Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Support for con-con 2008 begins to grow with school board members

Illinois voters will decide November, 2008, whether to convene a constitutional convention to consider improving the Illinois Constitution. This question appears on the state ballot every 20 years.

The first organization to endorse a constitutional convention is the Illinois Association of School Boards, according to this article in the Daily Southtown, reprinted on the Students First Illinois site here.

School board members understand that Illinois dramatically underinvests in children from poor areas, because schools rely on a local tax, not a state tax. That means poor areas have poor schools while wealthy areas have wealthy schools. Our 3% income tax, the lowest among the 41 states with an income tax, is the main reason why the state doesn't generate enough money to buy better teachers or build adequate facilities.

As the Southtown article puts it:

The current language on education funding was a result of the 1970 constitutional convention.

Delegates met in Springfield to find a way to get the state to pick up more of the schools' tab.

People were concerned that the state was providing just 31 percent of the money for schools, compared with 64.5 percent from local property taxes.

Districts with corporate headquarters and expensive homes were funding winners. Rural districts and industry-poor suburbs were losers.

Efforts to set a particular percentage for the state to contribute failed, but a line written by delegate Dawn Clark Netsch made it into the document.

The state has the "primary responsibility" for financing the system of public education, it reads.

"It was a club held over the heads of legislators," said Clark Netsch, a former senator and gubernatorial candidate. "The problem is, it hasn't hit hard enough."

I think there is something pathetic about opposition to a constitutional convention -- pathetic in the sense that the opposition to a constitutional convention is really opposition to a public debate about changes to our constitution that must be ratified by the electorate. That's it. It's fear of democracy, ultimately.

We should have a constitutional debate about the state shouldering the primary responsibility for funding schools -- and what efficiency measures the school districts and teachers unions should have to trade as part of better public policy. It's a good debate to have in the General Assembly and a good debate to have at a constitutional convention.

There's actually a yahoogroup for advocates of a constitutional convention here that anyone can join.

I hope Illinois voters (and the powers that be) support a constitutional convention in 2008. There are always improvements that we can make, and a debate on the issues followed by a public vote (and constrained by the protections of the federal Constitution) would be a very healthy thing.

Issues that I'd like addressed would include the constitutional mandate for a flate rate income tax, the odd, mandated 5/8 ratio of individual income tax to corporate income tax and perhaps a strengthened protection of speech rights. And for the tax-cutters, I think we should revisit the issue of whether all public pensions should be constitutionally enshrined where it is unconstitutional to lower any pension payments at all -- even those clear mistakes where some people are getting ridiculously generous pensions that the state, county or city can not afford. Pensions are our biggest fiscal problem, and the constitutional prohibition against fixing any of the worst mistakes in pension increases that the General Assembly has made over the years is a problem. (Yes, I know that pensions are underfunded, but I think it's fair to say that at least sometime over the last ten years the General Assembly has increased some pension payments unreasonably, and it would be best if some of those unreasonable increases could be reversed).


Anonymous,  9:56 AM  

"I think there is something pathetic about opposition to a constitutional convention -- pathetic in the sense that the opposition to a constitutional convention is really opposition to a public debate about changes to our constitution that must be ratified by the electorate. That's it. It's fear of democracy, ultimately."

And I think it's reckless to throw the entire constitution on the tale when you have gripes about one small part of it. Con Cons are a huge risk; before anybody advocates on, they'd better have tried every other option. I see constitional amendment proposals to ban gay marriage, raise the bar for tax hikes, and cap non-economic damages for injury victims. Which of those are you willing accept to get your con con, Dan? What are you willing to roll the dice on?

Dan Johnson-Weinberger 12:49 PM  

"Roll the dice" is another way of saying "put it before the electorate" and that's something I'm almost always willing to do. I think on all three of those issues the progressive point of view can and should win a statewide election -- and I also think progressives sometimes prefer (to their detriment) not to take their arguments before the electorate. If the cultural conservatives have a beef they want to express, that's fine by me.

Extreme Wisdom 1:38 PM  

I'm with Dan on ConCon because I hope to do EXACTLY what Anon 9:56 says.

I'm less interested in Marriage issues, but conservatives will get many delegates elected to the convention on that issue. They will assist in getting some of what is below.

1. Defined Benefit pensions need to be abolished. They are engines of corruption (in "rent-seeking" AND management issues).

2. Education should be 100% State Government funded, but never "government produced" at any level. The "school district" needs to be abolished. It does nothing for the child and is basically a money laundering scheme for apparatchiks.

3. Every school needs to coverted to a "Charter School" and made independent of the corrupt industry/bureaucracy that controls teachers and principals and professional educators.

4. Illinois has more governmental units/capita than any state in the nation. Hence it's "pay to play" culture (in both parties) and unnecessarily complex (the therefore intentionally "game-able") property tax system.

That is just for starters. When the voters of Illinois are informed of the compensation packages of protected insider industries, they will be more than happy to look into Constitutional provisions like limiting ALL governmental entity budget growth to an "inflation + population growth" cap.

When reminded of Blago's $10 million stem cell trick, they will be more than happy to support opening up the Budget process to the light of day.

Let's see Dan's delegates run against "blue sky budgeting" and a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights".

and oh yeah...Binding Initiatives and/or Ballot Propositions. Woo Hoo!

Though Dan and I are on totally different sides of the spectrum, we both want a shot at changing Illinois ossifeid Constitution.

Limiting government used to be a "liberal" idea. Why shouldn't it be again?

Anonymous,  3:43 PM  

Maybe Dan can get his HDO thug buddies to become Con Con delegates.

respectful 10:17 PM  

Fearmongering is the tactic of Con-Con opponents (ie. people comfortable with the status quo and the powers that be). Other states have con-cons more regularly than Illinois and the sky doesn't fall. Extreme proposals from left or right are unlikely to gain support from either the majority of delegates or from the majority of voters.

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