More than 240 years ago, a group of individuals stood up against a far-off king who taxed them without recourse. Americans honor their efforts each year on Independence Day.
The Illinois General Assembly had a funny way of celebrating this year.
On July 2, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a budget that includes the largest permanent income tax hike in state history and no structural spending reforms. The Senate concurred July 4, sending the budget plan to the governor’s desk. The governor vetoed the tax hikes and spending plan, but both chambers voted to override the vetoes, with the House doing so on Thursday.
One thing’s for certain: This disastrous budget would not have moved without the will of one man.
House Speaker Mike Madigan can often seem like the only lawmaker in the Land of Lincoln. Nearly two-thirds of Illinoisans oppose an income tax hike. Madigan moved this legislation forward regardless of the people’s wishes. He was even able to shield vulnerable members of his caucus, such as state Reps. Dan Beiser, Katie Stuart and Sue Scherer, from taking unpopular yes votes.
Madigan has been at his post for 32 of the past 34 years. He will soon become the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history. And polling data indicate he is the most disliked politician in the state.
What recourse do Illinoisans have against this king?
Perhaps they could pay their property taxes in pennies. Or dump sugary soda into Lake Michigan. Or even elect a governor who ran against the tax hikes devoid of reform that Madigan passed in 2011.
Illinoisans tried the third option. And they still haven’t forgotten the sting of the 2011 temporary income tax hikes. Families were asked to pay billions in additional tax dollars on the promise that some extra cash was all it would take to right the ship. No need to address core spending drivers. No need to limit political staying power. Just put up and shut up.
Look where we are now.
Of course, there are some differences between this tax hike and that which lawmakers passed six years ago. None of them are encouraging.
For one, this time it’s permanent. This plan increases the income tax rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent. The corporate tax rate would increase to 7 percent from 5.25 percent. No sunset.
The 2011 tax hikes passed on a straight party-line vote, with Democrat majorities in both chambers and a Democrat in the governor’s seat.
This time, 15 House Republicans rolled over for Madigan, allowing him to protect vulnerable Democrats. A lone Republican cast a “yes” vote on Madigan’s tax hike in the Senate, Dale Righter of Mattoon. Righter’s was the deciding vote that sent the tax hike to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk. He was also the deciding vote to override the governor’s veto.
Analysis of the House’s last-minute amendment to the budget revealed Righter was showered with $4.8 million in earmarks for his district.
Madigan wins again.
Twelve lame-duck lawmakers voted in favor of the 2011 tax hikes. Six subsequently took jobs with the state. The rest went off into the sunset.
One Republican who voted for Madigan’s budget this July, state Rep. Chad Hays, has already said he won’t run for re-election. More Republicans are likely to follow.
If not a Republican governor, what does independence from Madigan look like?
Voting him out of his district is little more than a running joke at the Statehouse. Madigan takes care of his own.
But perhaps Illinoisans could vote out Madigan’s House majority. After all, that’s how they took away his speakership in the early 1990s, however briefly.
But that’s been a tough task, given Madigan draws the legislative map. He even beat back a mass referendum effort to change that process. Twice.
Maybe a reform-minded state representative – from either party – could gin up enough support for an alternative budget plan?
Impossible when Madigan controls the legislative process. The Illinois House grants him more power than any state legislative leader in the nation.
No, the revolution against Madigan has not been one of political prowess or pitchforks. The revolution has not been televised.
Rather, it’s been a silent coup consisting of realtors, truck rentals and tearful goodbyes. The Illinoisans who leave the state may not know Madigan, but they know his handiwork: the nation’s worst income growth, highest black unemployment rate and a Great Depression-era economy are just a few examples.
Illinoisans are choosing to flee in record numbers.
But those who remain might take solace in these words from Founding Father Thomas Paine.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Austin Berg, a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute, wrote this column for the Illinois News Network, a project of the Institute.