Illinois House amendment would require supermajority to hike taxes

By Vincent Caruso, Illinois Policy Institute | May 8, 2019


Some Illinois lawmakers want to make it tougher on themselves to demand more of Illinois taxpayers.

On May 7, state Rep. Thomas Morrison, R-Palatine, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin introduced House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 34, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives before state lawmakers could increase any tax levied at the state level. Currently, Illinois lawmakers only need a simple majority to pass a tax hike.

This accompanies the Senate version of the proposal, filed March 26 by state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods.

Most of Illinois’ neighboring states – Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin – currently enforce some form of supermajority requirement for state lawmakers to pass tax hikes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The amendment is good news in Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker declined to rule out the threat of middle-class tax hikes under his “fair tax” proposal.

Pritzker’s proposed budget includes a slew of proposed tax and fee increases totaling $4.5 billion. This includes the first statewide plastic bag tax and a new tax on e-cigarettes, as well as tax hikes on cigarettes, video gambling and Medicare providers. Outside the governor’s budget proposal, lawmakers in Springfield propose to more than double the state’s gas tax. Illinoisans’ gas taxes already rank 10th-highest in the nation, but would skyrocket to the highest under that increase.

Each of these pending tax hikes would be subject to a supermajority vote under the proposed amendment.

The defining feature of Pritzker’s term has been repeated calls for a graduated, or “progressive,” income tax system, which would require scrapping the state’s constitutionally-protected flat tax.

The flat income tax is one of Illinoisans’ only protections against endless income tax increases. Why? Because lawmakers face higher political risk when they raise a tax on everyone. Under a progressive tax system, lawmakers may target smaller groups of taxpayers to relatively muted resistance. In Connecticut, the only state to switch from a flat to progressive system in 30 years, the median family has seen income taxes rise by more than 13% during the past decade, residents’ property tax bills climbed by more than 35% and the state’s poverty increased at the same time it was declining in the rest of the nation.

Illinois Policy Institute research has shown Pritzker’s proposed tax rates fall far short of the $3.4 billion his office projects – and would generate far less than the funds necessary to keep his spending promises. Middle-income families would inevitably see their tax rates spike to pay the difference. The governor’s office has twice walked back its promise of tax relief for most Illinoisans.

Illinoisans endure the highest overall tax burden in the nation, driven by both state lawmakers’ penchant for tax hikes and a local property tax burden that has for years ranked second-highest.

Springfield for decades has failed to address the primary cost drivers: pensions and state employee health care. Instead, they’ve used record tax hikes that are still failing to fix the problems. By making it harder for state lawmakers to punish Illinoisans for lawmakers’ own fiscal mismanagement, HJRCA 34 would be a win for taxpayers.

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