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Bob Gilligan directs the Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state, and is an advocate for issues of importance to Catholic families, schools and social service agencies.

Monday, August 11, 2014

‘Advisory’ ballot questions seek voter input – sort of

Illinois residents can expect to spend extra time in the voting booth come Nov. 4, since the ballot will not only feature candidates for the governor’s office, the state legislature and Congress, but a trifecta of advisory referenda questions.

It’s turned into what some are calling a “kitchen sink” ballot.

Illinois lawmakers this past spring approved three advisory, nonbinding questions to appear on the ballot. Voters are being asked to give their opinion – sort of, since the legislature is under no requirement to act on the outcome of the questions.

The first question deals with a so-called “Robin Hood” tax, asking voters if the state constitution should be amended to require an additional 3 percent tax on income greater than $1 million. The estimated $1 billion in additional revenue would then be funneled to school districts, based on their number of students.

Education funding for the current fiscal year is essentially flat, meaning schools will receive the same state funding they did last year.

However, when lawmakers this spring were asked to vote on a millionaire’s tax amendment to help fund education, they voted it down.

The second advisory question deals with the state’s minimum wage, asking if it should be increased to $10 an hour for adults older than 18. Illinois’ current minimum wage stands at $8.25 an hour, a dollar more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and also higher than that found in surrounding states.

The Great Recession may have ended five years ago, but its lingering effects show up in Illinois’ unemployment rate of 7.1 percent – currently ranking it 43rd in the nation – and an increased number of family providers working at a minimum wage job.

However, legislation introduced this spring that gradually increases the state’s minimum wage to $10.65 an hour by 2016 remains stalled in a Senate committee.

The third and final advisory question deals with insurance coverage of contraceptives, asking if any health insurance plan in Illinois that provides prescription drug coverage should be required to include birth control.

However, state law already requires such coverage – except for self-insured plans, which include most Catholic institutions. And June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case against the federal Department of Health and Human Services insurance mandate dealt with this exact same issue. The high court ruled that closely held corporations with deeply held religious beliefs against contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs may exempt such items from their insurance coverage.

So, why are these questions on the ballot, especially when they pack no real punch because of their “advisory” nature?

Two words: voter turnout.

This “kitchen sink” ballot is designed to attract specific voters to the polls.

Perhaps we should call it a “turnout trifecta” instead – except it’s not a winning ticket for Illinois residents.

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