SPRINGFIELD – Powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Thursday resurrected a proposed ballot measure to impose a tax surcharge on millionaires that had earlier failed to win broad support, in a move Republicans criticized as abdicating to voters the job of dealing with tough issues such as tax increases.
Madigan proposed a nonbinding ballot question asking voters whether the state should place a 3 percent surcharge on annual personal income over $1 million, which could join several other referendums that Democrats and Republicans want on the November ballot to drive voter turnout in a nationally-watched governor’s race.
Madigan told a panel which approved the proposal by a 6-4 vote that he would have preferred to advance it another way.
But his effort earlier this year to get a binding measure on the ballot to increase taxes on millionaires failed to get the three-fifths majority necessary in the Legislature.
Madigan said the tax would raise $1 billion annually for elementary and secondary education. The money would be distributed to schools based on the number of students they serve.
Republicans on the panel questioned the strategy of lawmakers shunting tough decisions directly to the voters.
“Isn’t there a genuine concern that the tough issues that legislators should deal with ... are being handled by voters?” state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights asked, referring to the host of measures which could be on the November ballot.
Unlike some states such as California, Illinois does not have a history of voters deciding issues by ballot initiative.
But Madigan dismissed questions about political motivations, noting “cynics and critics will be cynics and critics.”
Having voters’ support would help next year to pass the millionaires tax in the Legislature, Madigan said.
The move comes on the heels of Madigan’s introduction last week of a different ballot question, asking if voters thought lawmakers should approve increasing the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, and joins other questions on voter protections and victim’s rights.
The slew of ballot questions is designed to drive voters inclined to vote Democratic to the polls and offset GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s own ballot initiative, which would ask voters whether the state constitution should be amended to limit the terms of lawmakers to eight years.
The effort came after lawmakers pulled back on a plan to extend the state’s temporary income tax increase beyond its scheduled rollback next January. Instead, they were meeting behind closed doors Thursday to craft a smaller budget that could mean billions of dollars in cuts to state spending.
Allowing the tax increases to expire could lose an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue next year, which Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn says would decimate schools and social service agencies.
Madigan said Thursday he’ll continue to press lawmakers to support making the tax increase permanent, and said it’s “a possibility” legislators will see the impact of the spending cuts and rethink their opposition to higher taxes.
Lawmakers face a May 31 adjournment deadline.