The Law Q&A | Three ways to amend the Illinois Constitution

The Law Q&A | Three ways to amend the Illinois Constitution

Though the election is a nearly a year and a half away, Illinois is in the midst of high campaign season.

Not for the election of a person, but for a change in the Illinois Constitution by removing a restriction on how Illinois income tax can be assessed.

How do you amend the Illinois Constitution, and what is it the proponents of the income tax change are seeking to change?

The Illinois Constitution, which is the highest law of Illinois, says in Article IX, Section 3 that a tax on income shall be at a nongraduated rate, and only one such tax shall be imposed at one time on people and corporations. The proposed amendment to Section 3 would wipe out that language.

Wiping out such limitation does not automatically mean that a graduated income tax is imposed. That would be a legislative process like any other.

But if the current constitutional restriction is removed by amendment, a graduated tax passed by the state government would no longer be generally prohibited under the state constitution.

So how can the Illinois Constitution get amended?

There are three ways. All are found in Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution.

The first way is limited to only amending Article IV dealing with the powers and structure of the legislative branch. A petition calling for amendments to Article IV must be signed by 8 percent of the total votes cast for candidates for governor in the preceding gubernatorial election.

If the petition is valid, then the proposed amendment is submitted to the voters in a general election with passage by a majority of votes cast.

A second method of amendment is by constitutional convention. This is done by a three-fifths vote of both houses to submit in a general election the question of calling such a convention into being to amend the constitution. Passage is also by majority the voters in the general election.

At the convention, delegates are selected per the legislative rules, who then organize the meeting and make the proposed amendments. The proposed amendments are then submitted to the voters in another general election with passage by majority vote.

On the income tax amendment, the third method of amendment is the one being used by the current General Assembly. Under Article XIV, Section 2, a three-fifths vote by both houses submits the proposed amendment to the voters in a general election that is held at least six months after legislative approval.

Passage of the amendment then too requires a majority of the general election votes. The Illinois Legislature passed such proposed amendment and it will now be presented to voters on Nov. 3, 2020.

Progressive v. regressive income tax is one that always roils debate. A graduated federal income tax has been on the books since 1913 after a federal constitutional amendment (the 16th) reversed an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision that an income tax imposed directly on an individual which was not apportioned among the states was unconstitutional.

Americans love getting government services.

They just don't want to pay for them.

Kind of like watching movies on YouTube.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.