Monday, April 28, 2014

Senate waiting for House support on graduated income tax vote

By Jamey Dunn

Democratic leaders in the Senate do not plan to move forward with a graduated income tax proposal unless there is indication that plan could pass in the House.

Senate President John Cullerton said that he is supportive of the proposed constitutional amendment. But he said he plans to “wait and see” what the House does on the issue because it likely has less support in that chamber. A spokesperson for Cullerton later clarified that he would consider a vote if there was indication that the House would approve the measure.

Oak Park Democratic Sen. Don Harmon, who sponsors the amendment, reportedly planned to call it for a vote this week. Supporters of the amendment are almost out of time. For Harmon’s Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment Resolution 40 to make it to the ballot under the current legislative schedule, it would need to pass in the Senate tomorrow and in the House on Thursday. The final deadline to approve constitutional amendments is May 4, but as of now, both chambers are scheduled to wrap us session this week on Thursday.) Harmon was not available for comment.

Constitutional amendments require the backing of three-fifths of both chambers. House Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters last week that a progressive income tax amendment was “significantly short” of the support needed to pass in the House. The proposal has no public support from Republicans, so all the Democrats in the House would have to vote for it. Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, is a cosponsor of a resolution opposing a graduated income tax. There is a graduated income tax amendment in the House, too. But it is not as far along in the process as the Senate amendment after it failed to make it out of the House Revenue and Finance Committee in March.

Cullerton said today that his chamber would also take a wait-and-see approach on extending the current income tax rates. “We have two different budgets that we are contemplating.” Cullerton said one version includes an extension of the current rates. The other would allow the tax increase to begin its sunset in 2015 and would require substantial cuts. He said that since Madigan is still working to get the votes for it in the House, a tax rates extension should start in that chamber. “We will wait and see which of the two budgets we have to work with.” When asked if Democrats could vote in favor of the cuts that would be needed to allow the income tax rates to go down, Cullerton said: “It will be difficult, but we have to pass a budget.”

As lawmakers head into the last month of spring session, which ends at midnight on May 31, Cullerton says he hopes that the support can be mustered to pass an increase in the state’s minimum wage. He said that he thinks there is broad backing among voters for such and increase. “Now, the question is whether or not we have the votes for it here.” Madigan said last week that he is also still working to round up the votes needed to pass a minimum wage increase. A possible plan B of putting the issue to voters through a nonbinding referendum has also been floated. If the majority of voters cast a ballot in favor of a minimum wage increase as part of an advisory referendum, it would not actually change wages in the state. But the results of such a vote might help those in favor of an increase in their lobbying efforts. “We’re going to try to see if we can pass the bill, and if we’re short maybe we need to get public input through a referendum question. That would be an alternative if we don’t have enough votes to pass it,” Cullerton said.

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