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Good government a taxpayer right

State Journal Register

Sunday, March 19, 2017  |  Article  |  Andy Shaw

Legislature (56)

"Throw the bums out!" is an old baseball cliché that also expresses, poignantly and succinctly, a growing voter antipathy toward career politicians who seem to care more about their pay, benefits, perks and longevity than our need for sound decisions that benefit us, the public.

 

I've been watching the anger and disillusionment of Illinois residents deepen and intensify for the past 45 years — most of them as a Chicago broadcaster and now as a watchdog with Better Government Association, which is based in Chicago but has a Springfield team and advisory board.

 

So I know firsthand that people all around the state are sick and tired of public officials and the government offices they run unabashedly collecting our tax dollars while failing to give us our money's worth.

 

One presumptive remedy is the wildly popular "hot button" issue of term limits for state lawmakers, which would effectively "throw the bums out" of Springfield after two or three terms.

 

It's part of Gov. Bruce Rauner's reform agenda, and polls indicate most Illinois voters favor the idea, which is no surprise when you consider the deleterious impact of craven governance in the state Capitol, where it feels like the same legislative leaders have run amok forever.

 

Our state government is a basket case — without a real budget for nearly two years, as deficits mount, unpaid bills pile up and pension obligations approach the stratosphere.

 

On top of that, corruption still rears its pernicious head periodically.

 

Are legislative term limits the answer? Recently the BGA looked at the issue nationally and our findings are interesting:

 

* Less than a third of the states have imposed legislative term limits, none recently.

 

* Several that did are still facing serious fiscal and governmental problems.

 

* Several that didn't are models of good government anyway.

 

* A few states have repealed them, and a few others had them overturned in the courts.

 

* In at least two states legislative leaders gamed the system by zigzagging between the House and Senate when term limits kicked in.

 

The data suggests term limits are at best a mixed bag — hardly a panacea — but reaction to our story on Facebook reflects the desperation of Illinois voters. Here's a sample:

 

MORE VIDEO: SPRINGFIELD ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE

"At this point there is really nothing to lose and everything to gain with term limits."

 

"I think we do need term limits to shake things up a bit."

 

"Stop the life-long corruption and the life-long dictatorships!"

 

"LET'S JUST DO IT AND FIND OUT — I BELIEVE IT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD."

 

Strong stuff, and my takeaway is that Illinois voters deserve an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" in a referendum, so let's have one after weighing the pros and cons.

 

Better government also requires additional election reforms that make it easier to register, vote, get and stay on the ballot, and finance runs for office, so let's enact them.

 

And it's imperative to adopt a computer-driven, apolitical approach to redistricting that ends the gerrymandering the party in power uses to stay in power.

 

Let's adopt a remap plan that passes constitutional muster.

 

Those are the ingredients of a fairer election system that, along with more transparency, accountability and tougher ethics laws, can eventually give us the healthy democracy we're entitled to, so let's keep fighting for it.

 

As I've said before, we have to keep shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable because good government is our right — it's what we deserve in exchange for our hard-earned tax dollars.

 

But we'll never get it if we don't demand it.

 

— Andy Shaw is president & CEO of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan Chicago-based watchdog organization. He can be reached at ashaw@bettergov.org or Twitter@andyshawbga