More needless referendums to crowd Chicago ballot in 2018

More needless referendums to crowd Chicago ballot in 2018

Chicago City Council continues its tradition of putting popular but toothless measures on the ballot to protect incumbent power and block real reform.

When election time rolls around, the Chicago City Council does all it can to crowd the ballot with “feel good” referendums meant to increase voter turnout, protect elected officials or block substantive issues from appearing on the ballot. And this year is no different.

Unfortunately, because Illinois law allows only three referendum questions on each city’s ballot in an election, the proliferation of “feel good” propositions with no power to affect actual policy blocks real reform efforts. The lead-up to the 2018 election is no different.

In November, aldermen filled all three referendum spots on the ballot with questions that touch on hot-button issues in the news but are nonbinding:

  • Should the State of Illinois develop a comprehensive strategy to address the recent rise in opioid-related and heroin-related deaths including committing additional state resources for addiction treatment and requiring health insurers to cover opioid alternatives and limitations on prescription length?”
  • Should Governor Rauner support Illinois legislation to ban firearm bump stocks and strengthen penalties on illegal gun traffickers?”
  • Should Governor Rauner act to protect the 650,000 Illinois residents who obtained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act by supporting legislation amending the Illinois Insurance Code to preserve important benefits like pediatric services and maternity care, and by investing in outreach campaigns to encourage residents to sign up for health insurance?”

In 2016, the City Council pulled a similar stunt.

After two ballot spots had been filled, aldermen loyal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel were left scrambling to fill the third spot to prevent a real referendum from appearing before the electorate. Options from Alderman Danny Solis, 25th Ward, and Alderman Joe Moore, 49th Ward, were tabled after interest groups pulled their support. The mayor worked with Alderman Walter Burnett, 27th Ward, to develop a substitute for the committee’s consideration. Ultimately, the measure approved read, “Should the City of Chicago work with the federal government and the state to prioritize significant new investments in important infrastructure like roads, bridges, public transportation, river and lakefront redevelopment and additional green space?”

The mayor, with the help of City Council, went through all of this effort to prevent a legitimate referendum regarding the implementation of an independent airport authority to oversee O’Hare and Midway airports – similar to those in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.

In fact, either an elected authority or a board appointed by both the mayor and governor run every other major airport in the United States, according to proponents of the 2016 measure. They noted Chicago is one of the few cities to retain all of the power for the mayor. Given the numerous scandals involving Chicago’s airports, such as Tony Rezko’s ill-obtained minority-run designation for his food service concession and United Maintenance’s alleged mob connections, it’s clear why some aldermen had sought to put the matter before the public. Still, they’d be hard-pressed to find success, as the mayor has opposed plans to take power out of his hands.

By conveniently crowding out legitimate legislation-related measures with feel-good referendums, the mayor and City Council continue to play fast and loose with the rules to retain their power over the electorate. Ironically, Alderman Michelle Harris has said these referendums are put on the ballot “so the public has some kind of input into the process.”

Chicagoans concerned about the lack of real choice on their ballots can contact their alderman, and voice their support for legitimate referendums.

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