With reformers arguing for and against an upcoming referendum calling for a constitutional convention, Voices For Illinois Children  has taken no position, instead producing a guide to the ballot question analyzing arguments on both sides (pdf ).
The group spent months looking at the issue and hearing from experts on both sides, said Sean Noble, Voices’ director of government relations and author of the briefing paper. “There are good arguments pro and con,” Noble said.
On one side — for proponents of a constitutional convention — there is frustration with political gridlock in Springfield blocking efforts to reform school funding, as well as with a constitutional provision requiring a flat rate for the state’s income tax. On the other side is fear that a convention could be derailed by the same elected officials who have tied up Springfield, since they’d be the ones deciding how a convention would be organized.
The briefing paper lays out the strongest arguments for and against a convention, and explains the mechanics of the referendum and a possible convention, some of the history of consitution-making in Illinois, and the “hot-button issues” informing interest in a constitutional convention.
Voices has been among many groups arguing that the state’s tax structure is outdated, unfairly burdening lower-income households and inadequate to fund basic education and human service needs — or even to keep up with inflation.
In the face of the existing constitutional requirement that a state income tax “shall be at a non-graduated rate,” they’ve called for an income tax hike with provisions to increase its progressivity — higher personal exemptions and earned income credits along with a new child tax credit — as well as increased state funding for schools in order to reduce reliance on property taxes.
Would a new constitution allowing a progressive income tax be preferable to such a complex fix? In theory, perhaps, Noble says — but in practice it would depend entirely on the actual numbers, how rates are set, and what exemptions and credits are included.
“What’s absolutely certain is that the state is not taking care of kids, and of their (and our) collective future, with the respect and investment they deserve,” he said.
This year, as Voices For Children marked its 20th anniversary, the group’s annual Kids Count  survey of issues affecting children and families in Illinois gave an overview of the past 20 years.
“We’ve certainly seen improvements in early education, health care, measures promoting economic security for families — we’ve seen improvements just about across the board,” said Noble. “Yet we are still very far from where we should be” — particularly with a mushrooming budget crisis and one of the most inequitable school funding systems in the nation.