Jim Dey | Yes, by all means, let the people vote

Jim Dey | Yes, by all means, let the people vote

Gov. J.B. Pritzker was proselytizing on behalf of his progressive tax-hike amendment plan last week when he uttered one of the least credible cliches in American politics.

He wants to amend the Illinois Constitution to repeal and replace the current mandated flat tax with a progressive income tax that allows rising tax rates on rising levels of income.

Not everyone agrees, of course, the first hurdle in this complicated process requiring members of the House and Senate to vote in favor of putting the measure on the November 2020 ballot. That prompted Pritzker to issue a broad appeal to legislators.

"Let the people vote. We have a constitutional amendment process that ultimately puts this decision to the voters. It's time to let the people of Illinois — our taxpayers — decide," he said.

Who could argue with that? Let's hear from the much-vaunted pee-pull.

But while the pee-pull are speaking to the tax issue, why not hear from them about depoliticizing the legislative redistricting process, imposing term limits on state elected officials and/or modifying the state's pension clause in a way that would ease the state's unbearable underfunding problem?

It's not just the issue of a flat tax versus a progressive income tax that lends itself to the amendment process Pritzker cited. The other three issues — and many more — do as well.

After all, what's good about hearing from the voters on taxes must be equally good on other key issues, right?

Wrong — couldn't be more wrong.

The let-the-people-be-heard rhetoric is just a fig leaf argument that a proponent of a particular idea uses when there's controversy about the issue of putting an issue to a public vote. After all, why should legislators who think a proposed amendment, like the progressive tax, is a bad idea vote to advance the issue by putting it on the ballot?

They shouldn't, and they don't. If legislators actually were persuaded by Pritzker's let-the-people-vote talk on taxes, they'd be equally persuaded by the same arguments made on behalf of other issues. Just look at how hard Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan worked over the past four years to keep the gerrymandering of state House and Senate districts his own personal prerogative.

In the same vein, it'll be a cold day in the nether regions before voters are allowed to decide whether to impose legislative term limits. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for limiting legislative terms. The idea is so popular the only people in Illinois who oppose term limits are the elected officials whose terms in office would be limited.

Pritzker is correct in that the process for putting a proposed state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot requires legislative action. Members of the House and Senate must vote by a 60 percent margin to do so. To become law, voters also must approve the amendment by a super-majority of 60 percent.

Some people wonder whether Pritzker can get the votes, given the tax-hike rhetoric that surrounds it. But he and his fellow Democrats have super-majorities in each house, more than enough members to easily exceed the required 60 percent majority.

So, one way or the other, Senate leader John Cullerton and Madigan will almost assuredly get enough votes to move the issue forward.

But raising taxes, particularly on high-income earners, is one thing — Pritzker is ravenousness for more money to spend on his favorite social programs. Laying the groundwork for other reforms in this corrupt state is another.

The result is his feverish interest in allowing voters to address an issue he cares about — generating more tax revenue — declines dramatically when it comes to other issues that would upset the status quo and the permanent political class.

Pritzker, of course, is no different from other politicians when it comes to issuing bogus cries to "let the people" vote. It's a common refrain from intellectually dishonest pols who know a good line when they steal one.

But, like so much of the rhetoric from our public servants, its inherent insincerity is exceeded only by its grotesque selectivity.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion
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