Some Madison County taxpayers are trying to get the county's planned $18 million bond issue for jail renovations on the ballot. Best of luck to them, but we're not optimistic about their chance of success.
They are attempting a feat that state lawmakers intentionally designed to be nearly impossible.
They have just 30 days to collect 17,100 signatures. For perspective, that's roughly the populations of Maryville and Troy combined, or almost five times the number of ballots cast in the recent Belleville mayoral election.
When County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan ran for re-election last year, he had to collect 305 signatures to get his name on the ballot.
Actually, referendum supporters will need to collect a lot more than 17,100 signatures because the powers that be in the county will challenge as many names as possible to prevent a vote of the people.
In Missouri, the voters automatically weigh in when a government entity wants to incur long-term indebtedness. But in Illinois, getting a bond issue on the ballot requires the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters. Some Illinois lawmakers have attempted to lengthen the time for collecting signatures, or reduce the number of signatures needed, to no avail.
We hope people will support this petition drive. Voters, not politicians, should decide whether borrowing $18 million is reasonable for a jail renovation that won't add any capacity.
The county could use its cash reserves -- money already collected from the taxpayers -- to pay for at least part of this work. But even people who approve of the borrowing should be grateful for the opportunity to have a say in the decision.
The fact that Illinois makes it so difficult to get a bond issue on the ballot is reason enough to want this grassroots effort to succeed.
There's a Facebook page called "Bonds on ballot." People who want to circulate a petition or sign one can call (618) 623-2796 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.