Local Government

State Rep. Jack Franks takes last stab at ending Illinois lame-duck tax votes

Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com
County Board Chairman candidate Jack Franks greets supporters at Offsides in Woodstock while he waits for election results Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com County Board Chairman candidate Jack Franks greets supporters at Offsides in Woodstock while he waits for election results Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

A local lawmaker who is leaving the General Assembly is making a final effort to make it harder to pass tax increases in the lame-duck session after elections.

Concerned over a possible post-election tax increase, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would require three-fifths House and Senate supermajorities to raise taxes until the new General Assembly is seated after the election. Lawmakers in past sessions have used the post-election lame-duck session, and its lower threshold to pass bills, as a way to enact significant legislation while avoiding voter wrath.

Franks, who will be sworn in next month as McHenry County Board chairman, said getting it onto the House floor for a vote, at the very least, will put House members on the spot regarding their willingness to raise taxes if a much-discussed “grand compromise” state budget package comes to fruition.

“My goal is to get a majority of the House of Representatives to support my measure, and once I do that, we’re on record as not wanting to increase taxes during the lame-duck [session],” Franks said.

Under the Illinois Constitution, the threshold required to pass legislation that takes effect immediately increases from a simple majority to a three-fifths supermajority – or 71 House members and 36 senators – with the end of the spring session May 31. But it decreases back to a simple majority – or 60 House members and 30 senators – on Jan. 1. That gives lawmakers after each November election a window to pass controversial legislation until the new General Assembly is sworn in on the second Wednesday in January, which this time around falls on Jan. 11.

The political advantage of lame-duck votes goes beyond the lower threshold. With the election behind them, lawmakers can be persuaded to vote yes on issues they would not have touched during their re-election bids. Controversial legislation also can be backed by outgoing lawmakers who have nothing left to lose.

Several local lawmakers have raised concerns that a compromise budget between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly to settle a prolonged impasse, with a six-month stopgap budget set to expire Dec. 31, will be advanced in the lame-duck session.

It was during the final hours of lame-duck session in January 2011 that Democratic state lawmakers enacted the unpopular 67 percent state income tax increase – Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law, despite the fact that the increase was double the 33 percent maximum he promised voters during his 2010 campaign. In that same lame-duck session, lawmakers ended capital punishment in Illinois.

Four years later, Quinn, in his unsuccessful 2014 re-election bid, drew criticism over his plan to make the four-year temporary tax increase permanent after the election in lame-duck session.

The 2011 tax increase passed with the help of 12 outgoing lawmakers. Six of them later ended up with state jobs, including two who campaigned against a tax increase before losing their re-election bids. One of them ended up under Quinn as director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, despite not having a farming background.

Lawmakers have attempted in past years to amend the Illinois Constitution to curtail or end the practice of lame-duck votes, but no bills to that effect ever have made it out of committee. Regardless of the time of year, a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate are required to put a state constitutional amendment before Illinois voters.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed a House resolution last week that seeks to put lawmakers on record as opposing any effort to raise taxes during the lame-duck session.

The soonest that voters will be able to weigh in on any proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution will be the November 2018 midterm election.

Online

You can read the texts of HJRCA 62 and HR 1494 at www.ilga.gov.

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