RICH JAMES: Referendum for Illiana would be bad idea

2013-11-17T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Referendum for Illiana would be bad ideaBy Rich James
November 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, owns one of the 52 votes that will decide whether there will be an Illiana Expressway.

As of last week, she didn’t know what she was going to do.

And she really was hoping she could pass the buck.

“I wish the state would put questions like the Illiana or South Shore (commuter rail) expansion on a referendum so the people could voice their opinion,” Cid said at a County Council meeting.

Bad idea.

A referendum does two things, neither of which is particularly good.

It protects the elected official from having to vote on a burning issue.

And the result of a referendum often comes down to who can raise the most money.

We elected folks like Cid to become informed and make decisions for us on things like the Illiana and the South Shore Railroad. We didn’t elect them to vote just on the easy issues.

I suspect the proposed Illiana would survive a referendum in Lake County.

While the opponents are vocal, they are a minority. And there are too many folks in the county who would find it difficult to vote against job creation, a better transportation system and added tax base.

Additionally, anyone who has been a victim of gridlock on the Borman Expressway (I-80/94), surely would vote for an alternate route.

While I have a disdain for referendums in general, I particularly dislike the use of a referendum when it comes to allowing school districts to raise additional money for either the general fund or construction.

Schools in communities where residents have higher median incomes generally see referendums approved.

Schools in rural, agricultural areas generally see referendums defeated.

And schools in communities with lower median incomes generally see referendums defeated.

The same can be said of a community with an aging population. Too often those without children in school don’t relish the idea of financing the schools even though they once had kids in the school district.

While money doesn’t necessarily make a school system great, it doesn’t hurt.

And while a lack of money doesn’t necessarily make a school system bad, it clearly can have a negative impact.

In general, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Just as we elected people like Cid to make tough decisions, we elected school board members to do the same in terms of raising more education dollars.

A referendum on the Illiana? No. That’s what we elected the 52 representatives to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to do.

But I do favor a referendum when it comes to changing the state Constitution. It is too precious a document to allow a political party that has run amok to change. Yeah, like the proposed same-sex marriage ban.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.

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