A controversial graduated income tax plan was advanced during the week, with Democrat lawmakers and state officials claiming it is time to “let the people vote,” even though they will not allow similar votes on other issues such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.
In other action, the Senate spent long hours on the floor passing bills to the House that range from measures to help secure classrooms in the event of an armed intruder, address the teacher shortage, and work to prevent deadly ethylene oxide leaks.
Graduated income tax offers no protection for middle-income families
On April 10, Democrat members on the Senate Executive Committee advanced a proposed graduated income tax that provides no protections for middle-income families and would give those lawmakers the ability to raise taxes in the future.
Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 1 would place a referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot asking voters if they support moving Illinois from a flat tax to a graduated tax structure.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, who like his Senate Republican colleagues opposes a graduated income tax, noted that the crafters of Illinois’ current constitution chose a flat tax, which the people of Illinois embraced, because the flat tax provides middle-income families better protections from politicians.
And while the measure advancing in the Senate deals with putting the question on the ballot, there is no measure showing what future tax rates would be if it’s adopted and no protection against future increases for the middle class (or any other class).
In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his proposed rates; however, Pritzker’s rates are yet to be introduced in legislative form. When testifying before the Senate Executive Committee, Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes was unable to give middle-income taxpayers any assurance that these rates would remain level in coming years.
In hopes of providing some protections for Illinois families, Senate Republican lawmakers have offered SJRCA 12 to require a two-thirds super-majority vote in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly to increase any tax or fee. Currently, legislators only need a simple majority to pass a tax increase or to implement a new tax.
Senate Republicans are also calling on the Administration to let the people have their voices heard on other important issues, such as term limits, pension reform and fair maps.
No Dinner, No Dessert (But Only One Scoop)
After years of blocking Illinois voters from taking action on term limits and the independent, nonpartisan drawing of legislative districts maps, the Democrats controlling all three branches of government in Springfield are chirping in unison — “Let the people decide!”.
Unfortunately, they don’t want to “Let the people decide!” on new laws to eliminate the systemic corruption or political gridlock that has caused Illinois’ government bankruptcy.
Instead, they want the people to decide on whether or not to raise income taxes on themselves — and nothing else.
SJRCA 1 allows voters to amend the Illinois Constitution to substitute the current flat rate income tax system with a graduated rate income tax system, which will let our state legislators raise taxes on a whim every year if they so choose. I voted NO, and I’ll tell you why.
The Democrats are saying they will only raise income tax rates on the top 3 percent, but that’s not the language that’s in the referendum question they are proposing to ask the voters, and “Let the people decide!”. SJRCA 1 has no restrictions, no limits and no end date.
SJRCA 1 is the equivalent of handing a blank check to the Democrat-controlled state legislature to raise taxes on the rich today, the middle-class tomorrow and the poor next week. And then do it again the following year. Every year.
Illinois government has a lousy history of raising taxes while not cutting spending, then burning through the increased taxes with no improvement in our financial conditions, no improvement of political gridlock and no improvement on redistricting equality.
Illinois raised income taxes in 2011 and 2017, and we are now more in debt than ever.
Illinois voters need to wake up and force the Democrats who want to “Let the people decide!” to propose specific constitutionally protected graduated tax rates, but only if those same Democrats agree to allow the amendment of the Illinois Constitution to require a 10-year term limit on every elected office in Illinois, and require an independent redistricting commission, which will eliminate the partisan gerrymandered jigsaw puzzle that ensures perpetual gridlock in Illinois state government.
I am willing to allow the Democrats to have their dessert in the form of a binding referendum that asks voters if they want to empower the State of Illinois to raise taxes indiscriminately and perpetually because I will fight to defeat that referendum. However, I will only be scooping up the dessert if the Democrats agree to eat their vegetables in the form of binding referendums that establish term limits and eliminate gerrymandering because I will fight to approve these referendums.
I am predicting that J.B. Pritzker, Mike Madigan and the Democrat majorities in Springfield will spend the next few years skipping dinner and loading up on dessert. It’s the rest of us who will suffer the consequences.
Spending out of control
For those who think I am being overly pessimistic – here are just a few examples of the dessert being handed out.
Earlier this week, I warned my Senate colleagues against Senate Bill 1952, which would repeal a 3 percent salary cap for members of the TRS and SURS pension systems, and restore it to 6 percent. I suggested a great compromise – allowing school districts to pay whatever they chose (and have to pay for), but only the current 3 percent increase would be pensionable. However, the sponsor would not agree to talk about my ideas, and the bill was passed and sent on to the House.
And just last week, our state Supreme Court took the ill-advised step of backing a pension for a one-day substitute teacher. The Court ruled April 4 that a union lobbyist who worked just one day as a substitute teacher is entitled to a pension worth potentially tens of thousands of dollars each year. The 4-3 decision affects just one person, but it is a good indication of how the courts currently seem to be standing behind the state pension guarantee in the state’s Constitution. This kind of thinking will be little help as legislators keep trying to find a way to deal with pension shortfalls approaching $134 billion.
Improving school safety
The Senate passed legislation during the week aimed at letting Illinois schools utilize an affordable and easy-to-use option for locking classrooms to protect students in case of an intruder or other threat to students’ safety.
Senate Bill 1371 allows school districts to use door locking mechanisms that attach to the door and are lockable and unlockable from the inside of the classroom without a key. The mechanisms must be unlockable from the outside by a key or tool, and police and fire departments would be informed of the locations of the locks.
The legislation offers a way for teachers and students to lock their classroom securely from the inside in the event of an emergency.
Addressing teacher shortage
Legislation aimed at helping to relieve the current teacher shortage also passed out of the Senate during the week.
Senate Bill 1809 aims to help students enter the teaching field, by expanding the eligibility of MAP grant recipients to include students who have already received bachelor degrees or have 135 credit hours, but are seeking to earn their teaching certificate through an educator preparation program.
The bill also requires that the recipients must teach in Illinois for three out of the next five years, and states that they can only be eligible to receive the grant for one academic year.
Targeting Sterigenics crisis
Members of the Senate unanimously passed legislation during the week that would protect Illinois residents, like those Willowbrook residents impacted by Sterigenics, from the hidden dangers of ethylene oxide.
Senate Bill 1854 prohibits any facilities from having any fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide six months after it takes effect. The IEPA will be required to study ethylene oxide levels throughout the state to set a baseline for the levels.
In addition, it would subject facilities to stack testing, which tests emissions at all release points at least once per year. The facilities would also be subject to ambient air testing, at random, four times per year. Any facility that emits ethylene oxide at a level higher than standards set in the federal Clean Air Act or by the IEPA would be required to immediately cease operations until sufficient changes are made to reduce the emissions below both federal and state standards.
Senate Bill 1852 also cleared the Senate during the week. The legislation states that the case of an ethylene oxide leak, facilities are required to notify local government officials and affected property owners within 2,500 feet of the leak.