Illinoisans are still waiting for their independence
House Speaker Mike Madigan can seem like the only state lawmaker in the Land of Lincoln.
More than 240 years ago, a group of individuals decided to stand up against a far-off king who taxed them without recourse. Americans honor their efforts each year on Independence Day.
But the Illinois General Assembly has a funny way of celebrating.
On July 2, the Illinois House passed a budget that includes the largest permanent income tax hike in state history and no structural spending reforms. The Senate concurred July 4, sending the budget plan to the governor’s desk.
This budget would not have moved without the will of one man: House Speaker Mike Madigan. Nearly two-thirds of Illinoisans oppose an income tax hike. Madigan moved regardless. He was even able to shield vulnerable members of his caucus from taking unpopular yes votes.
Madigan has been at his post for 32 of the past 34 years. Polling data indicate he is the most disliked politician in the state.
What recourse do Illinoisans have against this king?
Perhaps they could pay their property taxes in pennies. Or dump sugary soda into Lake Michigan. Or even elect a governor who ran against the tax hikes devoid of reform that Madigan passed in 2011.
Illinoisans tried the third. Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Madigan’s permanent tax increase on Independence Day. The Senate successfully voted to override the veto.
Now, yet again, the fate of the state rests in Madigan’s hands.
In order to override the veto, Madigan need only hold on to the votes he whipped up to send the package to the Senate in the first place. The tax hikes will then become law, regardless of Rauner.
If not a Republican governor, what does independence from Madigan look like?
Voting him out of his district is little more than a running joke at the Statehouse. Madigan takes care of his own.
But perhaps Illinoisans could vote out Madigan’s House majority. After all, that’s how they took away his speakership in the early 1990s, however briefly.
But that’s been a tough task, given Madigan draws the legislative map. He even beat back a mass referendum effort to change that process. Twice.
Maybe a reform-minded state representative could gin up enough support for an alternative budget plan?
Impossible when Madigan controls the legislative process. The Illinois House grants him more power than any state legislative leader in the nation.
No, the revolution against Madigan has not been one of political prowess or pitchforks. The revolution has not been televised.
Rather, it’s been a silent coup consisting of realtors, truck rentals and tearful goodbyes. The Illinoisans who leave may not know Madigan, but they know his handiwork: the nation’s worst income growth, highest black unemployment rate and a Great Depression-era economy are just a few examples.
Illinoisans are choosing to flee record numbers.
But those who remain might take solace in these words from Founding Father Thomas Paine.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”