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Illinois House leader halts millionaire tax plan

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:11 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – An effort to tax Illinois millionaires is on hold after the state’s powerful House speaker couldn’t get enough votes to push his plan through the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

House Speaker Michael Madigan blamed Republicans who “prefer and protect millionaires over school children,” his spokesman said Wednesday.

The proposal sought to tack a 3 percent surcharge onto income of over $1 million, which Madigan said would raise $1 billion annually for elementary and secondary education – or roughly $550 per student. The money would be distributed to schools based on the number of students they serve.

A House committee approved the plan in late March, but the proposal needed a three-fifths majority in both the state House and Senate to be placed on the ballot for voter approval. With Republicans steadfast against the idea, Democrats couldn’t afford to lose any votes.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, said he told Madigan last week he wouldn’t support the plan, but the speaker asked him to initially stay quiet so he could try to win support from some Republicans.

“Outsiders think that as a Democratic majority we’re monolithic,” Franks said Wednesday. He called the move the “wrong public policy.”

Democratic Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, whose district includes several wealthy communities along Chicago’s North Shore, released a statement Wednesday saying “the problem with these stand-alone proposals is that no one knows what the final product looks like. We cannot rebuild Illinois’ fiscal house without a comprehensive plan, yet that is what we are being asked to do.”

Madigan was unable to find any GOP support to make up for the loss of Franks and Drury, not even among lame-duck Republicans who lost primary elections or who are leaving the chamber to make bids for other office.

“I find the announcement by the Speaker’s office a bit confusing,” said House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs. “Speaker Madigan holds the 71 votes required to pass his constitutional amendment, apparently support from his own members fell short. There is clearly a bipartisan coalition that knows we can’t tax our way to prosperity and job creation.”

Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, told The Associated Press the Chicago Democrat blames Republicans who wouldn’t support the proposal, bringing an end to consideration of the millionaires amendment for the remainder of the session.

Madigan, who doubles as the Illinois Democratic Party chairman, has said previously Illinois’ wealthiest residents were “better equipped than others to support education.” Republicans said the tax would hurt small businesses and farmers.

Madigan’s plan was announced two days after multimillionaire Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for governor in the March 18 primary election. Rauner, a Winnetka Republican, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn present starkly contrasting visions of how to fix the lagging economy and improve state finances.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, had said the legislation should be considered by the Legislature, but stopped short of endorsing it. Rauner declined to comment Wednesday.

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