Editorial: Can we trust a 'Fair Tax' if there are no Fair Maps?

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 3/29/2020 1:38 PM
This editorial has been updated to correct the name of Illinois Senate President Don Harmon.

A primary argument of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative supporters of a graduated income tax is that we can trust them. We can trust them to use additional money it would generate to shore up the state's finances. We can trust them not to use it to come up with new ways to spend money. We can trust them not to use the new system to regularly increase income taxes.

By May 3, we will have a good idea of just how seriously we should regard their word.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

May 3 is the deadline for the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing a referendum on creation of a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative boundaries, replacing the highly politicized process now in place. If they miss that deadline, the state will not have a chance to address the issue until the next U.S. Census in 10 years.

Repeated surveys have shown the measure is immensely popular. The most recent, a study conducted by Fako Strategies & Research of Darien for the nonpartisan organization CHANGE Illinois, found that 80% of likely Illinois voters consider the present means of creating legislative districts to be unfair and 75% support creation of an independent commission to rectify that.

A Senate bill sponsored by Grayslake Democrat Melinda Bush that would put the measure on the November ballot comes into the picture with 31 co-sponsors. The House version, led by Glen Ellyn Democrat Terra Costa Howard, has 16 co-sponsors.

Support for change from the public and within the legislature is clearly strong. Only three people stand in the way of action. Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan decides what legislation gets voted on in the House. Democratic Senate President Don Harmon has that role in the Senate. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has repeatedly claimed to support a new redistricting process, has the prestige and influence of his office to move legislative leaders of his own party.

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We cannot help but wonder how these three individuals -- or the dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers they lead in both chambers -- can expect voters to trust them to handle a new income tax system that many Illinoisans view skeptically if the politicians won't even allow people to vote on a measure the public long has clamored to adopt.

Legislative redistricting, even when identified by the more familiar pejorative term "gerrymandering," is not a topic with immediate emotional appeal. It sounds wonky and process-oriented. Yet, gerrymandering is the foundation supporting many of the issues that do stir voters' passions -- corruption, lack of accountability and the tyranny of one-party rule.

The current system encourages these embarrassments. A pivotal question for voters this fall will be whether to put the powers of income taxation into the hands of people who cynically obstruct changes that would control them.

Lawmakers and legislative leaders should understand the links to that question will follow them if they cannot act on a Fair Maps Amendment referendum by May 3.

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