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Franks open to putting 'millionaire tax' on ballot

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:19 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:41 a.m. CDT

McHenry County's Republican representatives in Springfield blasted House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposed "millionaire tax" as a political stunt that would make the ailing state even more unattractive to job creators.

But its sole Democratic representative said he is amenable to the idea of putting the question to voters.

In a rare move for the powerful House speaker, Madigan held a news conference Thursday to announce his intention to seek an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would impose a 3 percent income tax surcharge on all income greater than $1 million to help fund public education.

Madigan claimed that the tax, if approved by Illinois voters, would generate at least $1 billion a year to be disbursed to school districts solely on a per-pupil basis.

Local state Rep. Mike Tryon called the amendment, filed two days after wealthy Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner won the Republican primary, a blatant political move. Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, also hit it hard, alleging that it will worsen the state's second-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

"This tax increase proposal is bad for Illinois and continues our shameful tradition of punishing job creators. It seems that some people aren't satisfied with Illinois' embarrassing rate out out-migration," McSweeney said. "They want to amend the Constitution to drive even more employers out of the state."

But state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he is leaning toward putting it on the ballot, while making clear he is unsure how he would vote on it.

Franks has steadfastly opposed any tax increase his 1998 election – most recently, his adamant opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment to change from a flat income tax to a progressive one has effectively killed it from moving forward unless Madigan can find a Republican vote, which is very unlikely. Franks also has used his position to push to ensure that the temporary 67 percent income tax increase approved in 2011 begins expiring Jan. 1 as scheduled.

But he said a decision on allowing the voters to decide the fate of Madigan's proposed tax does not violate his principles, which he most recently affirmed by again signing the pledge from Americans for Tax Reform to never vote for a tax increase.

"I think that's worth at least a discussion for the voters to decide if this goes forward," Franks said. "I'm not convinced I'd vote for it, but I certainly believe it's worth a discussion."

A three-fifths majority of 71 votes is needed in the Illinois House and Senate to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, and the Democrats have exactly that many votes in the House, meaning each vote is essentially the swing vote. Franks said Madigan pushed him hard to change his mind on the progressive tax amendment, but that he held his ground.

Franks said that the "millionaire tax", if approved, would affect about 100 people in McHenry County, and would mean an extra $1,750 in taxes for every $100,000 that individuals make over $1 million. He said Madigan told him that means $30 million more for schools in McHenry County alone on a per-pupil basis, and Franks said the money would be welcome in a county that pays much more to the state than it receives.

However, Franks has a challenger in the November election in Republican Steven Reick. Reick, of Hebron, opposes the idea of a millionaire tax and questioned Franks' assertion that putting it on the ballot would just be a matter of letting the people decide.

"Those are weasel words, I think that would hurt him politically in this county," Reick said. "The fact that the state is throwing away money like drunken sailors doesn't oblige people who earn their money to follow the state down the same hole."

Illinois' ever-worsening finances will come up again Wednesday, when Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn delivers his proposed 2015 budget to a joint session of the General Assembly. Among the issues he is expected to address is whether to allow the temporary tax hike to expire as scheduled or ask for a temporary or permanent extension.

The 2011 increase, 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses, was sold by supporters as a way for the state to stabilize its budget and pay down a huge backlog of bills. But almost all of the revenue from the increase was swallowed by the state's ballooning public employee pension obligations.

Lawmakers in December passed a sweeping overhaul of the state-run pension systems, but it is being challenged in court by public-sector unions which allege that it violates the Illinois Constitution's protection of pension benefits.

On the Net

You can read the text of the proposed constitutional amendment, HJRCA 51, at www.ilga.gov.

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