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House approves Madigan push to survey voters on millionaire tax

SPRINGFIELD-A plan by House Speaker Michael Madigan to measure voter support this fall for imposing an additional 3-percent tax on millionaires passed the Illinois House Friday despite GOP criticism of the move as get-out-the-vote gimmickry by Democrats.

The House voted 64-46 in support of Madigan’s legislation, which would place an advisory referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot about the millionaire tax that he says could yield a $1 billion windfall for cash-strapped public schools.

The measure, which now moves to the Senate, is a watered-down follow-up to a proposed constitutional amendment Madigan drafted earlier this spring that stalled in his legislative chamber.

During floor debate, Madigan explained that he was taking this approach, which needed only 60 votes to pass the House, because amending the state constitution requires 71 votes in the chamber and he didn’t have them.

Two House Democrats, Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, and Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, blocked the speaker’s proposed constitutional amendment earlier this month.

The non-binding referendum that Madigan passed Friday marks the second voter question the speaker has advanced this spring for the Nov. 4 ballot. Earlier this week, the House approved a Madigan-drafted advisory referendum for the Nov. 4 ballot on raising the minimum wage, which also awaits Senate action.

If those two questions wind up passing and getting Gov. Pat Quinn’s approval, they will join two constitutional amendments the House and Senate already have booked for the November 4 ballot.

One is an amendment establishing new rights for crime victims. The other, also bearing Madigan’s fingerprints, would bar any kind of voter-suppression tactics in Illinois.

Asked by Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, if he thought the November ballot was getting too crowded, Madigan insisted that was not the case.

“I don’t think it’s too much. I think that the Illinois voter is an intelligent, informed voter. And they’re more than willing to participate in the electoral process, including advisory questions and other questions,” the speaker answered.

But Sandack labeled Friday’s move as a thinly veiled vehicle to get Democratic-leaning, low-income voters to the polls this fall for what promises to be a tight gubernatorial election and an election in which the entirety of Madigan’s House supermajority faces re-election.

“Compare them to the two citizen initiatives which are being fought in court: ‘Let’s stop the citizens from voting on issues we don’t like’ – ‘we’ being the party in charge – ‘[and] let’s put a bunch of disingenuous questions before them to gin up the vote,’” Sandack said, alluding to Madigan-backed legal challenges to voter initiatives changing the state’s redistricting process and imposing term limits on legislators.

“Let’s be certain folks what this is,” Sandack said. “This is not a genuine question. This isn’t a truth-seeking, what-do-the-people-want initiative. This is pure politics, and I find it unfortunate, distasteful.”

Madigan denied the charge.

“Voters make a judgment to vote or not to vote based on a variety of reasons,” the speaker said. “Generally, it’s not one narrow question. So in this particular election, why, there will be multiple reasons why people choose to vote and not to vote.”

Other Republicans said taxing millionaires represented a “job-killing” idea, a contention one of Madigan’s allies ridiculed during floor debate.

“This is going to ‘kill jobs’ allegedly if it passes. But wait a second. I was under the impression the children in my district who get early childhood education eventually become workers for those businesses. I thought maybe some of the working mothers getting childcare might be on their way to work at some of these companies where these millionaires might work,” said Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago.

“And I thought, this being a marginal tax question, that what we were talking about here was something like possibly one-third of one percent of the income of these folks potentially going back into the coffers to pay for the workers who work for them every day,” he continued. “So let’s not be ridiculous.”

All spring, Madigan and his fellow Democrats have laid out a series of initiatives taking aim at the wealthy, including GOP standard bearer Bruce Rauner, stoking Republican claims Democrats are engaged in class warfare to energize their voting base for the fall.

The last Republican to rise in opposition to Madigan’s bill Friday, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, renewed that claim while angrily lashing out at the longtime speaker, who has run the House for all but two years since 1983.

“It’s easy to beat up millionaires. You know, it is. If you go to the coffee shop, you’re probably going to get that,” said Bost, who is challenging U.S. Rep. William Enyart, D-Ill., in far southern Illinois. “Well, I’m going to ask for one more referendum that might come out of here. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the coffee shop, and let me tell you I have a deep respect for the sponsor. But I think the people of my district and I think the people of the state of Illinois would love, maybe, a binding referendum to put term limits on the speaker of the Illinois House.”