Reeder: Grammar error mars ballot question

A bit of hay is being made over a grammar error that will appear on the ballot this November.

It seems no one caught the improper use of the word “their” in the text of the proposed ballot question.

The measure asks, “Should the Illinois Constitution be amended to require that each school district receive additional revenue, based on their number of students, from an additional 3 percent tax on income greater than one million dollars?”

Of course, to be grammatically correct, the word “its” should be used instead of “their” because “each school district” is singular.

I can see 100 copy editors I’ve known clucking their tongues in unison and shaking their heads.

My old high school English teacher, Miss Finch, probably will enter the voting booth red pen in hand ready to correct the ballot and hand it back to the election judge marked “F.”

Illinois is a place where legislators talk about raising literacy standards – but don’t practice them. Of course, the problem with this ballot question goes far beyond grammar.

First of all, the question doesn’t specify what sort of income should be taxed.

Are we talking about gross income? Or are we talking net income? Are they talking about corporate income or personal income?

The measure doesn’t specify.

And, of course, those things are important.

Lots of businesses might take in more than $1 million in annual income, but still be losing money.

For example, a farmer might sell more than $1 million in corn, but after he pays his landlord his rent, spends money on seed, fertilizer, herbicides, machinery and interest on loans he may well end up in the red.

Lots of other small business people find themselves in the same predicament.

But would this proposal add another cost to doing business for already struggling firms? We don’t know, because it doesn’t specify whether it is a tax on gross income or net income, but one thing we do know is that the more we tax folks who create jobs, the fewer jobs there will be.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at

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