Local Government

McHenry County state lawmakers claim victory in lame-duck tax increase fight

The odds of a lame-duck income tax increase, already pretty remote, became even more of a long shot with a significant majority of Illinois House lawmakers now on the record opposed to it.

House Resolution 1494, which opposes any effort to raise taxes in the final days of session in January, passed on an 87-12 vote Wednesday. The House on Thursday is scheduled to vote on a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would make it much harder to raise taxes in the final days of session after elections.

With almost three-fourths of the House backing the House bill, local Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and Jack Franks, D-Marengo, consider a lame-duck tax increase dead in the water. McSweeney filed the resolution, and Franks the constitutional amendment, and both lawmakers have co-sponsored each other’s bills.

With a six-month stopgap budget set to expire at the end of the year, and ongoing talk of a “grand compromise” budget deal between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, McSweeney and Franks were concerned that an effort would be made to ram a deal through in the final days of session.

“I hope this kills a massive tax increase. Eighty-seven members stood up and said no tax increase during a lame-duck session,” McSweeney said.

Under the state constitution, the number of votes needed to pass legislation that takes effect immediately increases from a simple majority to a three-fifths supermajority with the May 31 end of the spring session. However, the threshold reverts back to a simple majority on Jan. 1, which gives lawmakers a window after each November election until the new General Assembly is sworn in several weeks later to pass controversial legislation without incurring voter wrath.

Returning lawmakers who are “safe” after the election, and lawmakers who are leaving office and have nothing political left to lose, may be more easily convinced to vote on issues in lame-duck session that they would never have dared to otherwise. The unpopular 67 percent income tax increase in 2011 was approved in the final hours of lame-duck session – and six of the lawmakers leaving office who voted yes ended up with high-paying state jobs.

Franks’ proposed constitutional amendment would close the loophole and require a three-fifths vote for any tax or revenue increase up until the new General Assembly is sworn in on the second Wednesday in January.

“For months, we’ve heard talk of a post-election ‘grand bargain’ in which retiring or defeated lawmakers could slam through another tax hike in the final hours of the General Assembly, but such a backroom deal is not the change voters demanded in November,” Franks said.

Any proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution has to be placed on the ballot with a three-fifths vote of the House and Senate.

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