Illinois Statehouse News

Making tax hike permanent only plan for state's finances

2014-05-05T00:00:00Z Making tax hike permanent only plan for state's financesKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
May 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

An attempt to put a question before Illinois voters to change the state's income tax system went down in flames last week when the sponsor didn't call the measure for a vote.

At issue was a proposed constitutional amendment to replace the state's flat tax with a graduated income tax, which would presumably tax rich people at a higher rate than low- and middle-income residents.

Although the referendum had enough support in the Senate, it did not have enough votes to win approval in the House. And, with the clock ticking down on a Sunday deadline to get it all approved, supporters reluctantly pulled the plug.

One of the lobbying groups backing the proposal called the failure a “sad day for Illinois.”

“We are confident the days of forced poor choices between unfair, regressive taxation that disproportionately burdens the poor and middle class and continued draconian cuts to the vital investments Illinoisans expect and depend upon are numbered,” said A Better Illinois campaign director Kristen Crowell.

Among those joining in the disappointment were labor unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Opponents, funded by conservative sources like the vaunted Koch Brothers, cheered the death of what they called a “stealth income tax increase.”

Americans for Prosperty-Illinois was among those claiming victory.

“AFP-Illinois gave voice to thousands of Illinois residents who deeply distrust the leadership in Springfield and know that changing our state’s constitution to allow for a progressive tax would open the door to continued tax increases in the future,” said AFP-Illinois State Director David From.

The failure of the graduated income tax push means three main things:

-- Groups on both sides of the issue will have to figure out something else to do with their time and money.

-- Reporters will have more space in their email inboxes.

-- Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to make the temporary income tax increase permanent is now at center stage in the debate over how to deal with the state budget.

No. 3 is obviously the most important of these to remember. After months of winding our way through debates on the graduated income tax and House Speaker Michael Madigan's so-called “millionaire's tax,” the only real plan now on the table to combat a looming budgetary cliff is Quinn's plan to extend the tax hike he championed in 2011.

Republicans have expressed doubt that it needs to be made permanent, but their arguments that savings could be wrung out of further Medicaid reforms isn't going to get much support from the Democratic majority.

Complicating the discussion over the budget are Quinn's recent problems. The administration is now under investigation on multiple fronts for possible corruption in a 2010 anti-violence program. There undoubtedly will be many lawmakers who don't want to be in the same room with him until there is clarity on the probe.

Legislative leaders are likely going to have to move forward on extending the tax hike without Quinn. They've got until May 31 to round up the votes.

MORE QUINN TRAVAILS

Just as Quinn is facing potential fallout from the investigation of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, one of his top aides might be somewhat distracted in the coming weeks.

Quinn chief of staff Ryan Croke's wife is due to have a baby in mid-May, during the height of high-profile negotiations between the executive branch and lawmakers over issues like the budget and gambling expansion and municipal pension reform.

PETITIONS BY THE NUMBERS

Two groups filed petitions last week to put constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, chaired by Bruce Rauner, filed 591,092 signatures.

In order to meet the proper filing requirements, the signatures were filed in a 36-foot long, custom-made filing box. The signatures took up 67,976 pages and weighed 1,600 pounds.

A second group, this one pushing for changes in how Illinois draws its political borders, collected 532,264 signatures.

The filing box was 27-feet long and weighed 1,250 pounds.

Collecting and organizing all those signatures was expensive and hard work.

And, it might be rendered worthless.

Both ballot initiatives have been challenged in court. The lead attorney in the lawsuit is one of the state's most successful election lawyers, Michael Kasper, who formerly served as chief counsel and parliamentarian for House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Enterpises Springfield bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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