Editorial: The real goal of the millionaire tax referendum

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/31/2014 10:14 AM

Do Illinois' political leaders really want to know what you think about an extra income tax for millionaires? Gov. Pat Quinn made a ceremony out of signing a bill Tuesday at an elementary school in Berwyn that will put just that question on the Nov. 4 ballot. The vote is only advisory, and where you stand is your call -- quite possibly depending on your latest financial statement.

A referendum may sound like a straightforward way to gauge the will of the voters, but like all things in Illinois, there's a lot more to it than that. It's best to go into the voting booth with eyes wide open to the political cunning that brought this ballot question to fruition.


Consider its Robin Hood appeal -- take money from the very few rich and give it to children's education (hence the elementary school setting.) The poll on taxing millionaires fits like a puzzle piece into an election-year Democratic platform that emphasizes income inequality and also features a minimum wage advisory question on the same ballot.

Is the millionaire tax, the brainchild of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, calculated to draw loads of voters to the polls, including the hugely important education union bloc, and pump them to such a mood that they'll vote Democratic all the way across the ticket and give a resounding no to Republican challenger for governor (and multimillionaire) Bruce Rauner? Is it intended to mask lawmakers' indecision on the current flat state income tax rate, which is set to drop Jan. 1 unless the Democrat-led General Assembly votes otherwise? Is it meant to give cover to Democratic lawmakers who'd still have to vote on the millionaire tax even if the measure passes at the polls, and who have already failed to pony up enough votes to get the measure on the ballot as a binding constitutional amendment?

You be the judge. But note that whatever the relative merits and objections to the millionaire tax, the November ballot measure will not sort them out. It is a purely advisory question whose ultimate answer will only and can only be sorted out on the floor of the legislature.

The millionaire tax and proposed $10 minimum wage join another advisory issue on whether all insurance programs should cover contraception and two proposed constitutional amendments dealing with rights for minorities, women, gays, lesbians and crime victims.

That lineup should reveal the answer to our initial question. If lawmakers really cared what all voters want, they wouldn't have fought so hard to keep two binding measures -- for term limits and redistricting reform -- off the ballot. Sure, they're interested in the results of the vote on taxing millionaires. But you can bet they care more about who it brings out to the polls.

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