If the General Assembly can’t break the deadlock on education funding reform, ethics and property tax relief, then the Illinois voters should be encouraged to support the call for a constitutional convention, possibly changing the state document and making that reform happen. That’s what 48 representatives approved Thursday morning before the House and Senate finished their first, three-day week of overtime session. The House won’t be back in the Capitol until the June 12, the Senate June 14, much to the dismay of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His administration repeated its belief that lawmakers should work all week every week until they agree on a state budget before the next fiscal year starts July 1.
The stalemate over the FY08 budget is just one example of the General Assembly’s inability to resolve some major policy issues.
In 2008, voters will be asked on the ballot whether Illinois should call another constitutional convention, last held in 1970. The existing state constitution requires the question to be on the ballot every 20 years. The last time was in 1988, when the call for a “con con” was soundly defeated by more than 1.8 million votes, said Cris Cray, legislative liaison with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Rep. John Fritchey hopes voters are frustrated enough to reconsider this time around.
His measure approved Thursday encourages Illinois voters to support the 2008 question and lists education funding, ethics and property taxes as issues unable to be resolved the General Assembly. The Chicago Democrat said during debate that a convention would allow the opportunity to reconsider whether the constitution should be changed to address those and other stubborn policy issues. “It’s about putting a room full of people in here that are going to put policy and intellect over election cycles, over politics, over campaign funding,” he said.
He gained support from Republicans, including his co-sponsor Rep. Bill Black of Danville, who said it’s time for the public to finally have a say in education funding reform. Because, he said, the other way to establish a major policy change, through legislation seeking a constitutional amendment, typically gets stuck in the legislative process.
Such opponents as House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago and Assistant Majority Leader Lou Lang of Skokie don’t like the idea of opening up the entire state document to change. “I think there’s a big risk in saying, ‘Let’s throw the whole thing open. Let’s start from scratch,’” Currie said. “We don’t need to start from scratch” because the General Assembly has a “good, sound” document to guide its operations. Lang added that a convention would invite all types of groups with specific agendas to cause “mischief” in altering the framework of the constitution.
Forty-seven House members rejected Fritchey’s measure, but it had enough votes to be adopted.
Shortly after lawmakers left town for the weekend, the governor led the third overtime meeting with the four legislative leaders. But his “speechmaking” and “nebulous talking” isn’t getting them closer to a budget agreement, according to Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson per his spokeswoman, Patty Schuh.
Blagojevich sent out Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix to address reporters again after the meeting. She said he wants property tax relief, that he’s willing to consider different approaches and that he plans to bring in Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan into next week’s leaders’ meeting.