The Illinois Secretary of State is required to send out pamphlets giving the pros and cons whenever voters are asked to consider an amendment to the state constitution. Usually, that is a fairly straightforward task. Not so much with Constitutional Amendment 49. This measure on next month’s ballot would require that any pension sweetener or enhancement approved by any unit of government, including the general assembly, pass by at least a three-fifths vote of the governing body. Organizations across the political spectrum in Illinois are united in their contempt for the measure. But you wouldn’t know it by reading the pamphlet. The mailer contained no hint of the underlying passions, outright derision or the sometimes irrational fear the measure is generating. How can this be? A committee of lawyers from the four caucuses wrote it, said Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt. Well, that explains it. Here is one of the explanations given in the pamphlet for why there is opposition to the measure:
“There may also be disagreement amongst the governing body on whether a bill, resolution, or other action constitutes a ‘benefit increase,’ ‘emolument increase,’ or ‘beneficial determination.’”
The state sends these pamphlets so voters can cast an informed vote – at least that’s how this process got started. But I have trouble seeing a busy working mom with three screaming kids spending much time wading through that language. Nor can I see it meaning much to other working stiffs who just want to understand what they are voting on. How about writing it like this:
Public employee unions hate this bill because they think it could curtail their power.
The Illinois Policy Institute and other groups say it is a useless, diversionary measure designed to draw attention away from more meaningful, needed pension reform.
The League of Women Voters says it undermines majority rule.
A few law professors think it is a diabolical plot to undermine state constitution pension protections.
Although the proposed amendment passed the House unanimously and the Senate with just two dissenting votes, it has rapidly become a thorn in the side of many Illinois interest groups. Clear, straightforward information is what voters need – not vague, unhelpful jargon.