Tuesday, April 29, 2008


By Patrick O’Brien
The House approved a constitutional amendment today that would try to take the politics out of redrawing the state’s legislative map every 10 years. (See more here.)

Many supporters and opponents of the measure said any change would be better than the existing system, which has resulted in a draw out of a hat three consecutive times because lawmakers hit a stalemate. “Determining the future of Illinois based on the flip of a coin is irresponsible,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, during debate.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the framers of the 1970 Illinois Constitution thought that the tie-breaker provision would be enough to make any sensible, responsible party compromise. “It turns out, we’ve had three opportunities. And three times, we’ve struck out.” She said the proposal would “do the job” in forcing a compromise.

Under the plan, sponsored by Rep. James Brosnahan, an Evergreen Park Democrat, a stalemate over who would redraw the map would result in the Illinois Supreme Court appointing a “special master” to oversee the process. Each chamber of the General Assembly also would approve its own map with a three-fifths vote.

Opponents said the proposal lacks specificity in multiple areas, including the role of the state’s high court and the criterion for selecting a special master.

The House approved the measure, 98-10 with one voting present, but House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican, said the bill is presumed dead on arrival in the Senate. Even if approved by both chambers, 60 percent of the public would still have to vote for the idea before the state Constitution could change.

We remain flat
By Bethany Jaeger
Only 19 senators voted in support of asking the public whether the state should allow a graduated income tax rate to replace the existing flat rate. That’s far short of the 36 votes needed, indicating most senators are unwilling to support something that looks like a tax increase right now, particularly during an election year.

“I just think we need to escape the politics of self-preservation,” Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat and co-sponsor of the measure, said after the vote. He and Sen. Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, said they pursued the constitutional amendment to give the state flexibility in revising its tax structure so that it could establish a system less reliant on local property and consumption taxes, which often burden the low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Republicans voiced opposition to the measure because they said it would pave the way to increased income taxes. That would be a “killer” for small businesses and job creation, said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, during floor debate. Republicans also said the proposal fails to address high property taxes and lacks details, leaving voters vulnerable to a tax-and-spend approach to state government without public input.

Another income tax proposal, meanwhile, is still in the works in the House. It originally tried to set new, tiered rates for individuals making more than $250,000 a year, but it narrowly failed. It’s expected to come back in some form.

Coming up
Watch for more updates regarding Senate action on another constitutional amendment to let voters recall elected officials and on ethics reform to ban so-called pay-to-play politics.

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