Illinois Policy Institute’s strategy with Workers’ Rights Amendment mirrors what House Dems have done in the past

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Illinois AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Pat Devaney speaks at a press conference about the workers rights amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot at the Chicago Federation of Labor on Oct. 24.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

I’m writing this a few days before Election Day, but, from where I sit, if the so-called Workers’ Rights Amendment fails to pass muster with voters, a campaign fueled by the Illinois Policy Institute could take a big share of the credit.

The proposed constitutional amendment is backed to the hilt by organized labor. They’ve raised $16 million to support their cause.

Their proposal would amend the Bill of Rights section of the state’s Constitution to guarantee workers the rights already in state law to organize and collectively bargain and prohibit statutory interference with their negotiated contracts.

The anti-union Illinois Policy Institute’s Vote No on Amendment 1 committee has reported raising $3 million so far, with $2 million of that coming from billionaire Richard Uihlein and $1 million coming from Government Accountability Alliance, which has the same mailing address as the Policy Institute.

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But all they have to do is prevent the proposal from receiving 60% of the vote, or to prevent more than half of all voters who participate in the election from supporting it. By design, it’s easier to kill a state constitutional amendment than pass one.

The Illinois Policy Institute and its political committee have been claiming for weeks and months the proposal would increase property taxes by $2,100 per family because unions and members would have so many rights (which they already have under state statute) that local governments would be forced to raise taxes.

Actually, the group’s own data clearly shows there would be no projected change at all in property tax increases if the amendment is adopted. They admit their projection is based on what they claim are property tax trends over the past few years.

But the group skipped over the available 2020 property tax numbers when devising their projection and instead based their entire estimates on property tax data up to 2019. Using the 2020 numbers could have lowered their projected increases because the average property tax rate statewide has fallen from 8.88% in 2016 to 8.39% in 2020. Meanwhile, the assessed valuation has risen by 14%, which is helping drive property tax bills. If your house is worth more, your taxes will rise regardless of a smallish rate reduction.

Anyway, the Illinois Policy Institute and its Vote No committee have put lots of money online and elsewhere behind that tax messaging.

The group has also added a new line of attack. Their recent blast phone text messages reflecting their previous online advertising claimed: “More than 1,100 children have died under the care of DCFS since 2010. A constitutional amendment on your ballot on Tuesday will make the crisis worse. … Mandatory background checks and bans on DCFS hiring adults deemed ‘sexually dangerous’ by the state could be eliminated.”

If you go to the Illinois Policy Institute’s website, you’ll see their argument is based on some wild and ugly speculation.

State law, the group notes, requires Department of Children and Family Services hires to undergo background checks to make sure they are not classified as “sexually dangerous” persons.

But then Illinois Policy Institute leaps to the bizarre conclusion that a state employee union would demand their union contract forbid any such background checks and, if the state refuses to comply, could go out on strike to force the issue.

This ridiculously grotesque assumption assumes DCFS workers would willingly vote to strike and give up their pay and benefits, putting their families’ economic security in danger, in order to protect pedophiles and rapists.

Long before QAnon cult followers started proclaiming that Democrats were blood-drinking pedophiles, the Illinois House Democrats would routinely label any Republican candidate who opposed state mandates on schools as someone who would allow pedophiles into the classrooms — as if local school boards would actually want that or be willing to allow such a thing.

I’ve repeatedly called out the House Democrats for this rhetoric over the years. It relies on the assumption that the opposition is evil and monstrous. The Democrats are still using this line of attack. They’ve sent campaign mailers this fall warning voters that Republicans who oppose state school mandates would allow predators to work with children.

And now the same sort of argument is being used against an issue the Democrats’ own party overwhelmingly supports. I don’t blame the House Democrats for opening the historical door to this Illinois Policy Institute line of attack, mind you. It’s not without precedent.

But this sort of thing has to stop, although I doubt it will until voters start punishing those who use it.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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November 4, 2022 at 06:03PM

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