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Our view: Countywide referendums on ballot

In addition to the county executive referendum, voters countywide will see two additional referendums on their Nov. 6 ballot.

The first is a binding referendum that seeks to amend Illinois’ Constitution to make it more difficult for elected bodies to enhance public employee pensions. The second is an advisory referendum that asks voters whether politicians should be able to hold more than one elected office at the same time.

The Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board has decided against making a recommendation on the constitutional amendment, though we’ll explain it to voters here.

The constitutional amendment is a Mike Madigan-supported measure that would do nothing to fix the state’s public pension crisis. In short, if approved, it would require the General Assembly, school boards and municipal boards and councils to approve any increases in pension benefits with a three-fifths majority vote, rather than a simple majority.

Theoretically, it would make such pension benefit enhancements more difficult to pass and require bipartisan support.

No state or local governments in their right minds are looking to increase public pension benefits, not when the state’s systems are underfunded by more than $80 billion and many local pension systems also are struggling financially. The proposed amendment does nothing to bridge the financial gap.

Most such bills typically either pass or are defeated by the General Assembly with huge majorities anyway, and at the local level, we’d be talking about one additional vote.

If approved, it allows Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House, and his cohorts to pat themselves on the back and take credit for doing something about the pension crisis when that something really is nothing.

Government watchdog Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake got the advisory referendum on the ballot by petitioning the McHenry County Board to put it there. Because it is an advisory referendum, no action will result if it passes.

But we generally support the notion that citizens should hold only one elected office at a time. For whatever reason – because it’s Illinois, we suppose – state law allows the practice as long as there is not a conflict of interest in holding the two offices. But, as we said in this space before, holding more than one office can limit the amount of time an officeholder spends performing the duties of each office. It’s also a way for someone to double-dip on public salaries, pensions and other benefits.

Even though no action will be taken if it passes, we recommend a “no” vote on this measure. At the least it will send a message to state lawmakers.

Note to readers: This "Our view" editorial has been edited since its initial publication to correct the Editorial Board's intended recommendation on an advisory referendum that asks voters whether politicians should be able to hold more than one elected office at the same time. The Editorial Board recommends that voters vote "no," politicians should not be able to hold more than one elected office at a time.

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