Friday, April 15, 2016

Transparency and Honest Government Demands Tax Referendums in November

I was sitting in a meeting the other day with a bunch of fine well meaning folks that work hard for our community. We agreed about the lack of transparency in County government by not having committee meetings recorded and the ability of anyone to view the on goings and discussions that occur.

Over the years in local government I have championed transparency. I have always promoted the citizens voices to be part of the conversation. That not only includes us opening avenues for them to travel on a transparent system but also to market and promote that system so it is used. The objective is to have our citizens not only educated about the process, but also to be part of the process where their voice is a constant integration that produces a well discussed result.

In our last election that included Presidential candidates we had a pretty good representation and voter turn out. A 112 school referendum which I opposed was turned down by a 2 to 1 margin. People are angry about taxes and the constant large money demands of governmental agencies in the name of quality services. It has become offensive to many. Politicians and governmental staff just don't seem to realize how oppressive these large tax bills are on the citizens.

As we look into elections currently with massive statistical analysis driving our words and strategies, we must also not lose sight of our values of true democracy as we passionately drive the nail home.

In Illinois we have 3 types of elections: General (in November), Primary (in March), and the Consolidated (in April). The amount of participation ranges from about 20% of registered voters in the Consolidated to over 70% in some Generals. The trick in elections is to get YOUR VOTERS to the polls on election day. Only 10% of citizens need to support your referendum or candidate if you can get them to the polls during an election where 19% show up to vote. And there lies the problem where issues and candidates can be successful against the will of the community at large.

During the last consolidated election there was virtually no opposition to many offices up for election and voter turn out was low. Governmental organizations like school districts have the ability to market their plan in the terms of "Education" to those voters and can drive them to the polls in a small turn out election. If in fact the community really felt a referendum is truly needed it would not matter when it would be held on the election calendar. The bottom line is that if they know the majority of citizens in Highland Park will not support a huge referendum the only way to pass it is by disenfranchising a great majority of voters. This is a purposeful act that has been successfully driven by politicians and school districts for years. If you don't have kids or grand kids in schools, not up on community chatter, or not being driven by national political ads that scare the crap out of you, one might not focus and prioritize the need to go and vote in a consolidated election in April. Statistics don't lie! A quarter or less of our registered voters do not go vote in these Consolidated elections and that is what politicians that want big tax increases depend on.

The idea that these are very complex issues and leaders have been elected to make these decisions does not justify disenfranchising folks that don't go to the polls in April elections. Shame on them if they believe they have a better chance to pass a tax referendum at a low vote turnout but will lose in a large general.

I am suggesting that referendums that increase our tax levy over the tax cap be required to only be on the ballot in the General Election. If one would need to be passed in a consolidated election for an emergency I would propose that it only be successful if a 2/3rds vote is achieved. People talk about transparency and getting citizen involvement in the decision making process. Lets be real and not try to circumvent the majority of citizens by holding tax referendums in elections when they don't vote. November General Elections should be the only times that tax referendums can be passed with a simple majority.