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The Tuesday Count: Nonpartisan coalition seeks to reform Illinois redistricting laws

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July 23, 2013

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Edited by Brittany Clingen

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20 measures for 2013

Redistricting (News)
Medicaid (Quick Hits)
Pensions (Spotlight)

Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment (2014)
According to the 2012 Simon Poll, 77 percent of Illinois voters believe corruption in their state's government is "widespread." Fed up with the partisan, untransparent and potentially corrupt actions of Illinois' government, multiple citizen groups have coalesced and initiated the Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment for the November 4, 2014 ballot, which seeks to give control back to voters. The coalition, known as the "Yes for Independent Maps" campaign, is a grassroots movement attempting to take the responsibility of drawing district lines away from politicians and transfer it to an independent, nonpartisan and transparent 11-person commission composed of ordinary Illinois citizens.[1]

Currently, per the Illinois Constitution, the General Assembly is tasked with drawing state Senate and House districts following every census. However, if the General Assembly is unable to complete this process, a legislatively-appointed commission takes on the job and determines the district lines.[1]

In 2011, backed by a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the highly-contentious Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, which required that legislative districts be redrawn to ensure people of "racial and language minorities" were given the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Stipulations detailed in the act were dense and somewhat convoluted, defining unconventional terms such as "crossover district," "coalition district," and "influence district."[2]

For example, the act defined a coalition district as:[2]

One in which a racial or language minority constitutes less than a majority of the voting-age population but where this minority, at least potentially, is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from voters who are members of the majority and who cross over to support the minority's preferred candidate.[3]

Republicans cried foul over the new districts, saying they had been drawn to bolster Democratic candidates in the 2012 elections. Some argued the new districts were unconstitutional, as the state constitution requires that districts be "compact," as opposed to sprawling and oblique, like some of the newly-drawn ones. Sen. Matt Murphy (R-27) said, "This congressional map is a national embarrassment. This doesn’t really reflect the type of product that I think the people of this state would be proud of. This is a power grab. You have a majority. You have the power to do it." State Senate President John Cullerton (D-6), disagreed, saying, "It’s politically fair and you’ll see that bear out in the next 10 years."[4]

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2014 Count
Number: 36 measures
States: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Montana Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming

Partisan bickering aside, some believe politicians drawing district lines engenders a conflict of interest that is detrimental to the public. "The risk is just too high that line-drawing legislators will prioritize their own interests over the good of the public," wrote Nicholas Stephanopoulos in an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune.[5]

"Yes for Independent Maps" markets itself as "a ballot initiative committee composed of a diverse, nonpartisan statewide coalition of everyday people, business and civic leaders and nonprofit organizations." The amendment was compiled with the help of legal and policy experts after the drafters consulted voters across the state. The amendment was modeled after successful redistricting reform laws enacted in California in 2008 and Florida in 2010. In order to land their initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot, supporters must collect 298,399 valid signatures by May 4, 2014.[1][6]

To read a draft of the proposed amendment, see here.

Quick hits

Transportation funding receives approval from Texas House: On Thursday, July 18, the Texas House of Representatives voted 108 to 25 in approval of the Transportation Funding Amendment, also known as House Joint Resolution 2. The measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Joe Pickett (D-79), would divert $800 million in gasoline taxes, which are currently used for education, towards transportation funding. The Available School Fund would then receive $800 million annually in oil taxes paid by drilling companies from the Rainy Day Fund. Supporters say that shuffling existing revenues is a better way to pay for growing infrastructure needs than raising taxes. Opponents fear that the amendment does not anticipate a possible drop in oil revenues. This proposal is separate from the Senate Joint Resolution 1, which seeks to use money from the Rainy Day Fund to finance the state water plan.[7]

Ballot committee formed in Montana to push for Medicaid expansion: Citing worries over potential long-term costs, the Montana State Legislature rejected a plan to expand Medicaid access with federal funds made available by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In response, advocates of the expansion have formed a ballot committee aimed at bringing the question to voters. The group that will run the initiative's campaign is called Healthy Montana Initiative, but reports indicate that the group is still in the process of finalizing the measure's ballot language. Supporters, which include AARP of Montana, the Montana Human Rights Network, the Montana Nurses Association, the Association of Montana Public Health Officials, say that the public will support the initiative because it provides health care access to those who struggle to afford it. Sen. Fred Thomas, an opponent of Medicaid expansion, said, "Long term, the initiative backers do not have a way to pay for this. Worst of all, we could spend all that money to achieve nothing." The earliest voters could see the measure on the ballot is 2014.[8]



Voting on Local

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A petition for pension reform begins in Cincinnati in face of a credit ranking downgrade and $862 million in unfunded liabilities for city employees alone:

The city of Cincinnati currently has $862 million in unfunded pension liabilities. During the week of July 22, the Cincinnati for Pension Reform Committee began collecting signatures for a pension reform charter amendment that proponents say is intended to "ensure a fair and sustainable retirement system while preserving essential city services and protecting residents from payment of excessive taxes." This effort follows on the heels of an announcement by Moody's Investor Services that it has downgraded the credit rating of Cincinnati's debt and revised the outlook to negative. This downgrade happened in part because of the unfunded pension liabilities currently looming over the city's finances.[9][10] In order to qualify this charter amendment for the November 5, 2013, election ballot, petitioners must collect just under 7,500 signatures before a September 6 deadline.[11][12]

This initiative seeks to change the city's public pension plan for new hires from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. If it appears on the ballot and is approved by voters, the amendment would also implement contribution caps for the city and make cost of living adjustments compatible with actual increases in the consumer price index, with a cap at 3% annually. Several other rules could potentially be established by the amendment, such as a stipulation that no city employee can simultaneously earn income from a city or government job and receive retirement benefits.[11][12]

Supporters of this amendment argue that the current retirement benefit plan is unsustainable and is causing debt and dangerous financial problems for the city. They propose that this charter amendment will provide sustainable retirement benefits for new city employees without requiring tax increases or the cutting of city services. Burr Robinson, a Hyde Park resident and a member of the Committee behind the amendment, expressed hope that the petition would be successful and that both Republican and Democratic voters would support the proposed pension reform. He then went on to say, "This is a common-sense approach. We can’t meet our pension obligations, and the problem only gets worse the longer we stick with this current structure."[9] Paul Jacob, president of the Liberty Initiative Fund, said that the city "can't wave a magic wand to solve all of its problems, but this reform stops digging the hole deeper."[12]

The Ohio Alliance of Retired Americans has come out in opposition to the amendment. Director of the Ohio Alliance of Retired Americans Bentley Davis had this to say about the proposed reform: “This proposed amendment is nothing short of an attempted destruction of the retirement security for our city’s workers, those who spend their years working to make our city a great place to live and work."[9]

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Ballot Law Update

Oregon Court of Appeals upholds law banning being both a paid and unpaid petition circulator: On Wednesday, July 10, a panel comprised of three judges from the state court of appeals ruled against Marquis Couey in a case over Oregon's 2009 law that bans anyone who is a paid circulator from also volunteering to circulate petitions for other ballot measures. Though Couey did not actually violate the law, he filed the lawsuit because he wanted to volunteer to gather signatures for an initiative amending the Oregon Forest Practices Act, despite the fact that he was already a paid circulator for both Measure 74 and Measure 76, both from 2010. Interestingly, the court did not actually rule on the constitutionality of the law, but instead ruled that Couey's challenge was moot as soon as he ceased to be a registered paid petition circulator, which in this case, was the 2010 signature filing deadline. In its ruling the court noted that Couey could have requested an expedited hearing for his case but did not.[13]

Lawsuit filed over SeaTac minimum wage initiative: A lawsuit has been filed with the King County Superior Court by Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association that seeks to prevent the SeaTac City Council from allowing voters to weigh in on an initiative raising airport workers' minimum wage. The city council is set to vote in late July on whether or not to place the initiative on the fall ballot, unless the court grants the lawsuit's request for an injunction. According to reports, the measure would raise the minimum wage of workers employed in the transportation, tourism and hospitality industries in and around the airport in SeaTac to fifteen dollars per hour. The measure would also require paid sick leave, full-time work and some job security for the workers.[14]

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See also

2013 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2013 Scorecard