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The Illinois Constitution turns 45

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015

* Charlie Wheeler in Illinois Issues

Forty-five years ago this month, Illinois voters ratified a new Constitution to replace the state’s century-old predecessor. The framers of the new document saw it as a step into the 20th century for the state from the horse-and-buggy era of the 1870 Constitution.

As Illinois staggers into an unprecedented sixth month without an enacted budget and faces massive bill backlogs and pension debt, now might be an appropriate time to ask how well the 1970 charter has withstood the test of time. Has its promises of streamlined government operations, clear delineations of responsibility and greater ethical behavior been achieved? In retrospect, what obvious mistakes did its authors make? What problems did they overlook or fail to foresee?

As one who covered the Sixth Constitutional Convention as his first major assignment for the Chicago Sun-Times, your columnist admits to a certain bias in favor of the delegates’ handiwork. But on balance, I’d submit the 1970 charter has served Illinoisans well in most regards.

Consider these 1970 updates to the 1870 Constitution.

Go read the whole thing and tell us what you think.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:04 pm:

    Interesting. Ironically, the one big voter initiated reform, the Cutback amendment, has been a disaster IMHO.


  2. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:06 pm:

    The Constitution is not broken.

    Our leaders are.

    How much more warning can you give Springfield on pensions than the 45-year-warning enshrined in our Constitution during the last convention? The convention delegates and the Constitution have done well by Illinois, while our government’s failures have accumulated for decades and led to this ==crisis==.


  3. - ZC - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:15 pm:

    Good article and review, two caveats: 1) No discussion whatsoever of the pension clause and the ban on a progressive income tax? 2) The 2008 con-con vote was tarred by some pretty biased language in the ballot resolution itself (included below, for a trip down memory lane). “Oh we just wanted you to know, this was a really unpopular idea the last time people voted on this … nudge, nudge.”

    “NOTICE The failure to vote on this question is the equivalent of a negative vote. (This is not to be construed as a direction that your vote is required to be cast either in favor of or in opposition to the proposition herein contained.) Explanation of Proposed Call This proposal deals with a call for a state constitutional convention. The last such convention was held in 1969-70, and a new Constitution was adopted in 1970. The 1970 Illinois Constitution requires that the question of calling a convention be placed before the voters every 20 years. ** In 1988 the electors rejected the call for a constitutional convention, with 75% voting against calling a convention and 25% voting in favor of calling a convention. ** If you believe the 1970 Illinois Constitution needs to be revised through the convention process, vote “YES” on the question of calling a constitutional convention. If you believe that a constitutional convention is not necessary, or that changes can be accomplished through other means, vote “NO” on the calling of a constitutional convention.” For the calling of a Constitutional Convention.


  4. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:19 pm:

    Dear Illinois Constitution,

    Happy birthday! From experience, here are some things you can expect now that you’ve reached middle age.

    45 is about the time when your vision starts to go and it’s hard to read the menu in a dark restaurant. Not that you go out that often anymore, since at this age you can’t stay awake as long as you used to, and God forbid you have coffee with dessert, then you’ll never fall asleep.

    Speaking of dessert, you should go easy on the sweets because at this age it gets harder to lose the love handles and that extra padding around the midsection, Articles IV and V.

    If you still have hair, it’s gotten noticeably grey. If you’re losing your hair, 45 is about the time to decide if the comb-over is still working (it isn’t) or if you need a better plan. Remember, bald is not only beautiful, it’s dignified. Ask Fritchey.

    If you have to get up at night to go to the bathroom, see your doctor right away. In fact, for a Constitution of your age, I’d recommend a full health check up, including a stress test and a colonoscopy, just to be on the safe side. From what I’ve seen, the Illinois Constitution has had a pretty stressful life recently and your diet leaves a lot to be desired. All that pork…

    On the plus side, most men in their mid-forties have reached their prime earning years, so you should be making some decent cash finally, after all those years paying your dues and climbing the ladder. Be sure to put some aside too, for a rainy day, or if another Constitutional Convention is called. Remember, the last time you got amended, now we no longer have independent legislators, they are all beholden to their leaders (thank you very much Pat Quinn). Next time they put you down on the table for a rewrite, I’d expect your pension clause to be amputated. It’s been sick for a long time now.

    So save up and remember, retirement is just 20 years away and then it’ll all be sunshine and lollipops.

    Best wishes,

    47th Ward


  5. - Ghost - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:20 pm:

    they saw the pension problem and tried to protect it… they should have added provisions requiring the annual contribution payments be made. skipping those payments was at the heart of the crisis when they added in the protection language.


  6. - Michelle Flaherty - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:28 pm:

    Just another misunderstood Gen Xer having a midlife crisis.


  7. - Dome Gnome - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:28 pm:

    ZC ===The 2008 con-con vote was tarred by some pretty biased language in the ballot resolution itself ===

    I remember that so well. I was an election judge in 2008 and the language confused many-a-voter. We weren’t allowed to explain or interpret the language, but it was awkwardly stated and hard for the average person to decipher. I’m not even sure that “biased” is the right word to describe it. I’m going with “convoluted.”


  8. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:36 pm:

    Informative, as always from CW

    Now, let’s pay attention to judicial re districting.


  9. - Bogey Golfer - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 12:40 pm:

    And if I remember in 2008, Edgar was one of the stronger voices to oppose a ConCon. It would cost $80M, it would be lengthy…..and it would bring to light a number of issues that are neatly included in the Constitution fine print.


  10. - Keyrock - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 1:05 pm:

    Mayor Daley insisted on a separate vote on merit selection for judges in 1970. The separate proposition passed Cook County, but lost downstate and did not pass overall.

    The continued election of judges in Cook County is a glaring flaw with the Constitution. Despite the intervening Greylord and Gambat scandals, many judges remain subject to the blessing and influence of the remaining powers of the Regular Democratic Organization. (Burke, Madigan, etc.). The criminal bench is still too concerned about the views of the State’s Attorney’s Office and the FOP.

    Improving judicial selection is still one of the strongest arguments for a new convention.


  11. - thechampaignlife - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 1:41 pm:

    The 1970 rewrite was a vast improvement, no doubt about it. That said, a lot has changed in 45 years and we need not let this one limp along til 2070.

    Voter approval to exceed a specified debt limit might not be bad. Neither would a return to the federal model of Senate leadership. Merge the Treasurer and Comptroller offices. Create an independent maps process. Legislate spending and the proportion of revenue from each tax source but use actuaries to set the rates to ensure revenue matches spending. Merge the chambers. Ban shell bills. Relax candidate filing and amendment initiative requirements. Mandate pension contributions. Carry over the previous year’s appropriations when a new budget is not passed. Allow for a progressive income tax.


  12. - thechampaignlife - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 1:43 pm:

    Appointed appellate and S.C. justices as well.


  13. - Casual observer - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 2:17 pm:

    Thechampaignlife,
    I would add making fund sweeps unconstitutional.


  14. - RNUG - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 2:29 pm:

    Mostly, the 1970 Constitution is aging pretty well. The biggest problems are all associated with fiscal responsibility. The delegates thought they had that issue covered by requiring balanced budgets and protecting pension payments, but they left too much wiggle room. If I got to suggest any changes, I would tighten that up with real, personal penalties for failing to do their duties. I would also want to undo Quinn’s GA reform and go back to the structure specified in the 1970 Constitution.


  15. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 2:37 pm:

    ==I would also want to undo Quinn’s GA reform and go back to the structure specified in the 1970 Constitution.==

    Amen and hallelujah.


  16. - Facts are Stubborn Things - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 2:39 pm:

    We must defend this constitution! There is no end to the clever nature of man to change the truth and distort the facts.


  17. - Ghost - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 2:46 pm:

    CO fund sweeps shoild either just occur automatically or the specila fund eliminated….

    the specila interests created a mess with all those special funds…. put the fees and hidden taxes in grf and be done with it


  18. - Casual observer - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 3:09 pm:

    Ghost, I’m ok with that. I happily buy a fishing license every year and expect some of that Money to go towards maintenance of parks and lakes. Not to pay for high dollar frat boys.


  19. - TT - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 4:20 pm:

    The pension impairment cause was well intentioned but poorly worded. Should’ve mandated annual ARC payments. Changing it now might not matter much. The damage is already done.

    Something has to be done about the judiciary…especially in Cook County. A retention ballot containing the names of 60 or 70 judges is an absolute joke. No one can make an informed vote on all of them.


  20. - Facts are Stubborn Things - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 5:06 pm:

    I think it is the nature of the judiciary to try and not tell the other two branches of government how to do their job. The ISC made it clear, then and now, that benefits offered must be kept….it was reasonable for the court to leave the funding up to the legislature and for the convention to do the same.


  21. - nona - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 5:19 pm:

    One of the big weaknesses of the constitution is on school funding. The clause that says the State shall provide a preponderance of funding has been ruled a goal, not a requirement, by the State Supremes. Consequently, this State provides the lowest proportion of funding for K-12 public education of any state, and we have the biggest disparities in funding between rich and poor districts as well.

    A second weakness is the provision on redistricting, which even Dawn Clark Netsch admitted did not work as anticipated to bring about bipartisan compromise.

    As others have pointed out, electing judges doesn’t work well, at least not in the county of Cook. The electoral system neither ensures well qualified judges are selected, nor that lousy ones are removed. Voters haven’t non-retained anyone in more than two decades.

    As far as home rule goes, there is no question that it brings higher taxes compared to non-home rule towns. Not necessarily on property, but all kinds of hidden taxes, such as on utilities, phone service, hotels, sales, and so on.


  22. - RNUG - Tuesday, Dec 15, 15 @ 7:01 pm:

    Good point on the school funding. Just shows that the delegates were too trusting when it came to State finances.


  23. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 16, 15 @ 8:19 am:

    Lot of great stuff here by Charlie, but this jumped out at me regarding the current budget chaos:

    –What is often overlooked, though, is that the apparent constitutional mandate applies to all state funds, not just general funds, the state’s checkbook account, which have run in the red since FY 2002. Adding in the 700+ other accounts, the budget usually has shown a surplus, including some $4 billion in FY 14, the most recent year for which data is available from the comptroller.–

    Keep on eye on those as this limp-dog of a leveraging “strategy” comes to its inevitable end.

    More sweeps coming for GRF, more building in structural imbalance with one-time revenues, just like FY15 was “fixed.”


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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