If the roof in your house sprung a leak, would you fix the roof or burn down the house and start over? That is essentially the choice Illinois voters will make this year when we decide whether or not to have a constitutional convention (con-con) to write a new state constitution.
Proponents of a con-con argue there are things that should be fixed in our state government. Some of these are legitimate issues, but they can be fixed without rewriting our entire constitution. Other things they bring up sound like good issues in the midst of our current political mess in Springfield, but they are red herrings.
I believe we need to fix certain things: Voters need the ability to recall elected officials, and Illinois should be allowed to have a progressive income tax. Those two items can be addressed by individual amendments without rewriting the entire constitution.
Proponents also claim that we need to change the constitution because too much power is concentrated in the hands of four legislative leaders. But guess what? Those powers are not in the constitution, they are in the rules of the House and Senate. If you want to change how the legislature works, change the rules not the constitution. You can read and compare these documents for yourself at www.ilga.gov, where the Illinois Constitution and both the House and Senate Rules are posted.
I have two other big concerns about a con-con. First, it is anticipated that it will cost Illinois taxpayers around $80 million. Especially in our current economic environment I would rather see that $80 million spent on health care, education, the environment and paying the state's overdue bills rather than on a playground for lobbyists and special interests.
The $80 million cost to the public will only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to money thrown around at a con-con. Every lobbyist and special interest group in Illinois will spend millions and millions more to make "improvements" to our constitution that benefit their particular point of view.
Instead of dealing with issues of governance, we could end up in a battle over whether a woman's right to choose should be eliminated, whether equal rights for gays and lesbians should be restricted and other social tinkering.
Is opposition to a con-con mainstream thinking? Yes it is! A diverse collection of groups oppose the con-con, including many who rarely find themselves on the same side of most issues.
Citizen Action Illinois and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce oppose con-con, along with the Chicago Urban League, the AFL-CIO, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the League of Women Voters, the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, among many many others.
When you go to your polling place, give this issue a lot of thought as it will affect your life and livelihood for decades to come. Let's just fix the leaks rather than burning down the house.
I urge you to vote "No" on the constitutional convention.