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Will Illinois Millionaire Tax Referenda Boost Quinn?

(Chicago) – Will the new Illinois millionaire tax referendum improve Governor Pat Quinn’s reelection prospects?

Quinn yesterday signed legislation to authorize a statewide advisory referendum to be placed on the November 4 ballot to ask voters if they favor a surcharge to be paid by the state’s wealthiest individuals to provide increased funding for Illinois public education.

“Our democracy is strongest when more voters make their voices heard about important matters of public policy,” Quinn intoned. “Illinois voters will now be able to have their say when it comes to whether the state’s most fortunate should pay a little more to put more resources in our classrooms.”

The referenda is less about having voters’ “voices heard” than goosing dispirited Democrats to head to the polls on Election Day.

The measure, which follows an aborted effort to embed the idea in the Illinois Constitution via a Constitutional Amendment, is the brainchild of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“This legislation will provide an important benchmark,” Madigan said. “Illinois is long overdue for tax fairness and a much needed boost for our school children.”

The advisory referendum will ask voters whether the Illinois Constitution should be amended to require that each school district receive additional revenue, based on their number of students, from an additional three percent tax on income greater than one million dollars. The extra cash would be directed towards classroom education.

The Illinois Department of Revenue estimates that a three percent tax on income greater than $1 million would generate approximately $1 billion annually for Illinois elementary and secondary education.

The political impact of the populist referenda on Quinn’s campaign, which is currently trailing opponent GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner by 14 points, is uncertain.

The referenda will need its own campaign of advertising and field organizing to gain the attention of Democratic voters in order to persuade them to head to the polls. It’s unknown at this point what resources – if any – that Quinn’s campaign or a third party, such as a teachers union, plans to invest in promoting the referenda.

The millionaire tax will also be competing with other advisory referendum and Constitutional Amendments crafted by Illinois Democrats for voter attention. In fact, the November ballot will likely resemble a friggin’ standardized test.

Illinois voters will be also asked their opinion about whether a requirement for prescription drug coverage should include birth control as part of the coverage, a ripple effect from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision. Voters will offer their opinion on raising the Illinois minimum wage for adults to $10. And a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit voter discrimination at the polls will be seeking voter approval, too.

In Cook County, voters will be asked to weigh in on a ban on the sale of assault weapons.

However, it is the minimum referenda that currently has political legs.

The powerful SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana union is behind the group Raise Illinois Action to boost the minimum wage question at the polls in November. This effort will help get Quinn voters to the polls.

SEIU is the governor’s largest donor in the current election cycle, donating $1 million to his reelection campaign, and is eager to see the Democratic governor reelected in order to sign an actual minimum wage increase law.

Unless the Illinois Education Association or Illinois Federation of Teachers invests big dough to promote the Illinois millionaire tax referenda, it’s doubtful that it will weigh heavily the gubernatorial election outcome.

However, it has no need to play a starring role.

Given the likely result of a close race between Quinn and Rauner, even a marginal positive impact by the referenda’s presence on the ballot may help nudge the embattled governor over the finish line.

Stay tuned.


Twitter @DavidOrmsby

(*Note to Political Insiders: The Illinois Observer also offers our exclusive, subscriber-only e-newsletter – The Insider – to, well, Illinois political insiders. Each Tuesday and Friday at 6:00 a.m. The Insider, whose Consulting Editor is Capitol Fax Publisher Rich Miller, arrives in e-mail boxes with the choicest Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago political gossip, insider information, and news tips. For more information and a free, 4-week trial subscription to The Insider, please go here).

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