Assessing the Illinois Referendum as a Tool for Democracy
In Collaboration with the Chicago Center on Democracy
This paper examines data on Illinois referenda in the context of findings from prior research on tools of direct democracy. We review existing literature on referenda and initiatives to conclude that their use drives more democratically-aligned policy outcomes and a more engaged populace, and that factors including policy topic, wording, voter turnout, and campaign spending can all significantly affect referendum outcomes, possibly undermining the referendum’s efficacy as a policy tool. We analyze data on Illinois referenda since 1980 to assess the impact of policy topic, election type, and election turnout. We find that Presidential elections and higher voter turnout both significantly negatively impact pro-referendum vote share, and that passage rate varies significantly with policy topic area.
Win-Win: Housing for People with Criminal Records (abr.)
Report by the Heartland Alliance with contributing research from the Paul Douglas Institute
In Illinois, 50% of the population is estimated to have an arrest or conviction record. That’s nearly 5 million people who face barriers to finding stable housing, which has proven to be foundational for employment success, family stability, and overall well-being. This report recommends a number of policies and practices—ranging from small changes to the more robust—for housing providers to use to increase housing opportunities for people with criminal records. This brief and set of recommendations was produced out of a diverse partnership, with each partner sharing deep expertise, including Cabrini Green Legal Aid:, Heartland Housing, Inc., Interstate Realty Management, LUCHA, Mercy Housing Lakefront, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and The Paul Douglas Institute at University of Chicago. The work was generously supported and catalyzed by The Chicago Community Trust’s Housing + Criminal Records Initiative. See the Heartland Alliance announcement for more.
What Determines the Retention Outcomes of Trial Judges?
In Cook County, judges are elected through partisan primary and general elections and are subject to voters’ scrutiny in retention elections at the end of their terms. This paper examines three different attributes of judges – length of tenure, gender, and quality of bar evaluations – and their relationships with the judges’ affirmative percentage votes received in retention elections. We find statistically significant relationships between each attribute and a judge’s retention vote percentage, but only the effects of bar evaluations are substantial: judges who are typically rated “qualified” earn on average 10.6% more of the vote than those who are typically rated “unqualified”.
Racially Disparate Patterns in Eviction Filing Outcomes
Recent research has highlighted the long-term consequences to tenants of receiving an eviction filing — even a filing that does not lead to an eviction. We examine census block group-level data to (a) determine which populations in Illinois are most affected by eviction filings that do not result in evictions, and (b) study the relationship between a census block group’s racial makeup and that its evictions per filing (EPF) rate — a measure of the likelihood that a given filing will result in a legal eviction. We estimate that while African Americans in Illinois from 2000 to 2016 are overall more likely to experience eviction filings and eviction judgments, they also experience the lowest EPF rate of any racial group, suggesting that they are the population most likely to have an unjustly marred eviction record. Specifically, we find that controlling for income and other factors, a 10 point increase in a census block group’s percentage of African-American residents is associated with a 4.4 percent decrease in that block group’s EPF rate.
Simulating a supplementary UBI’s effects on the labor market, income distribution, and quality of life
We simulate the effects of a $500 per month Universal Basic Income (UBI) on the income distribution of Chicago. We generate a representative distribution of 10,000 Chicago incomes, then simulate the UBI transfer, a progressive income tax scheme to fund it, and the resulting decreases in labor supply. We find that our proposal leaves the poorest 78.8% of Chicago wealthier than before, and the poorest third will each see their incomes increase by at least 15%. We compare the UBI to three popularly-proposed alternative welfare policies. Finally, we combine observations about social conditions in Chicago with existing evidence from past UBI experiments to make qualitative predictions about the possible effects of UBI on quality-of-life outcomes such as mental health, nutrition, gender equality, hospitalization, and education.
An Economic Impact Report Assessing Renewable Energy in the City of Chicago
This report assesses the potential impacts of a 100% renewable energy transition for the City of Chicago. We examine Chicago’s current electrical demand and supply, project Chicago’s electricity demand through 2035, and then test scenarios for a full transition to renewable electricity. We then model aggregate job creation, economic output, and emissions reduction potential. In addition to explaining the methodology behind “A 100% Renewable Chicago: By the Numbers” infographic, this paper provides background and context on the mechanisms through which Chicago sources energy to serve as a resource for local advocates, community stakeholders, and policymakers.
Envisioning the Next Stage in Online Government Service
Under “e-governance,” governments take a holistic and integrative approach to providing online services that fosters transparency, efficiency, and collaboration for the public. We compile the online services offered by the Chicago and Cook County and classify them by end-service, orientation, and outcome to find that the City maintains a more balanced portfolio of services than the County. Through interviews with experts, we find that navigability and scale are the two leading challenges to efficient procurement policies in the City and the County. In accordance with our findings, we recommend (1) aligning long-term goals with the potential that technology offers, (2) improving procurement with emphasis on efficiency and communication, (3) upgrading technology infrastructure including an update to the STAR, and (4) reducing redundancies through restructuring individual governments and upgrading City-County collaboration.
Challenging the Current Policy Framework and Proposing a Way Forward to Address America’s Obesity Epidemic
We review the body of research on food deserts: how they form, what policies have been proposed to combat them, and how effective those policies have been. All major policy responses to food deserts have maintained an approach focused on the supply side as the root of the problem, most often subsidizing the establishment of new grocery stores. We seek to highlight the main emerging trend in the literature, which increasingly questions both the theory and success of the supply-side approach, and explores how considering the demand side and implementing locally specific policies can more holistically address nutritional inequalities.
Examining Past Case Studies to Propose an Improved S.B. 1424
Small donor matching programs are an increasingly popular campaign finance reform policy tool that aims to increase diversity and elevate underrepresented voices among donors, voters, and candidates. We compare the characteristics of long-standing donor matching laws with those of five new programs introduced since 2015. We also review the existing literature on small donor matching programs in New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA to argue that they generally achieve their goals of fostering diversity and representation. We draw from our research to offer recommendations for Illinois’s small donor matching bill, S.B. 1424.
Loopholes and Circumvention in Illinois Campaign Finance Law
This report analyzes the flow of donations from organizations with 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) status to state-level political committees in Illinois. We identify $13 million donated from these groups to political committees between 2011 and 2017 – a lower bound, as our dataset is non-exhaustive. Of that, $8 million came from unions and the majority of the rest came from trade associations. We also find over $875,000 from out-of-state organizations, most of it from Washington, D.C. In response to these substantial cash flows, we recommend that 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations be subject to donor disclosure requirements, and that Illinois’s “self-funding” provision be abolished.
While neighborhoods are classically assumed to face a tradeoff between economic development and decreased affordability, there may be room for innovative policy solutions to encourage development without displacing current residents. This brief provides initial insights on how a property tax cap may serve as one tool to mitigate gentrification. We outline potential benefits, consequences, and specifications of a property tax cap, and present an "assessment cap" as a possibly optimal instrument. While further research is required to assess the impact of a tax cap, this brief can guide initial conversations for local policymakers.
Out of School Time Programs in Montgomery County, MD
A Comparative Study on the Excel Beyond the Bell After-School Programs
In order to address a dearth of after-school options available to low-income students and provide support to at-risk students, Montgomery County has piloted the Excel Beyond the Bell (EBB) out of school time initiative. When asked to recommend an expansion strategy for EBB, we (1) evaluated EBB program design and practices in the context of County needs and goals and with respect to findings in national Out of School Time (OOST) literature and (2) compared EBB to OOST programs in various jurisdictions around the country. We recommend that EBB focus on expanding its elementary school program over its middle school program, while preserving (a) the zero cost to participating families, (b) the at-risk student referral system, (c) the parent engagement component , and (d) the English language learning component.
Tax Design, Messaging, Implementation, and Advocacy
In November 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in a razor-thin 9-to-8 vote. In October 2017, after two months in effect, the tax was repealed in an overwhelming 15-to-2 vote. In this paper we use interviews with politicians, advocates, and opponents to construct a detailed narrative of the events that transpired and track the discourse around the tax by analyzing public comments and news coverage. We then contrast these findings with established best practices for passing SSB taxes to identify a set of factors that reduced the tax’s political viability. Keeping in mind Cook County’s hostile tax climate and the influence and resources of the beverage industry, we focus our analysis on the following government actions that diminished public support for the tax: (a) the near-failure to implement an unnecessarily complex tax design within legal and technical constraints, (b) the failure to dedicate sufficient time and resources to a health education campaign before the tax was introduced, and (c) the public presentation of the tax as an effort to balance the budget, instead of as a measure to improve the health of the county. We conclude with a series of considerations for policymakers attempting to introduce soda taxes in other jurisdictions.
Rent control policies have been illegal in Illinois since 1997, when they were banned at the state level by ALEC-sponsored legislation. With the rise of grassroots efforts such as the Lift the Ban Coalition, coupled with support by top 2018 gubernatorial candidates, some form of rent control in Illinois is likely in the future, whether this might be at the local or at the state level. What exactly these controls will look like—who they will affect, how they should be implemented—are the subject of this paper. It will also consider alternative solutions to affordability issues, including zoning practices. We hope that an objective and thoughtful examination of the options will foster a constructive debate, ultimately leading to the best possible policy for Illinois.