SPRINGFIELD – 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’s latest effort comes as the House grapples with another tax issue – whether to make Illinois’ temporary income tax permanent or approve a 2015 budget that doesn’t rely on that revenue but could cut billions from programs such as social services and education.
Democratic Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, a House budget negotiator, said lawmakers could vote as early as Friday on a proposed spending plan that supporters of the income tax hike have dubbed the “doomsday” budget. Madigan instructed lawmakers to draft the budget after he said it became clear he didn’t have the support to extend the income tax increase, which is set to roll back in January. He’s said it’s possible the budget could serve as motivation for lawmakers reluctant to raise taxes in an election year to do so.
If the budget fails, lawmakers could try again to approve the tax increase.
Madigan’s Thursday proposal on the millionaire’s tax would put a nonbinding question on the November ballot asking voters whether the state should place a 3 percent surcharge on annual personal income over $1 million. It could join several other referendums that Democrats and Republicans hope will drive voter turnout in a nationally watched governor’s race.
Madigan told a panel that approved the proposal by a 6-4 vote 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, saying “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.
Madigan first proposed the millionaire’s tax after Rauner — himself a multimillionaire — won the GOP primary.
Rauner told reporters Thursday after a speech to Chicago’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce that such referenda are a failure of leadership and lawmakers should focus on cutting the spending burden on taxpayers.
Lawmakers face a May 31 adjournment deadline.
Associated Press reporters Sara Burnett and Sophia Tareen contributed. Tareen reported from Chicago.