Lawmakers should let Illinoisans vote on tax hikes
Amendment 1 has many more negatives than voters will ever realize, but one of those is a $2,100 property tax hike. Illinoisans should vote on all taxing and spending hikes, not just those presented to them as vague constitutional amendments.
Illinois political leaders have twice recently presented voters with vague changes to the state constitution that obscure the fact they would hike taxes, but it would be better if Illinois were straight with voters and let them vote on all tax increases like other states do.
The current hidden tax increase is Amendment 1, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot. Barring a decision by an Illinois court to remove it from the ballot, Illinoisans will be asked to vote on this so-called “Workers’ Rights Amendment.” It is a vague constitutional change that could bring many unforeseen consequences, but one thing is clear: if it passes, expect more than $2,100 in increased property taxes for the typical Illinois family.
The prior hidden tax hike was just two years ago, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed voters for a marginally more transparent tax increase he called the “Fair Tax.” Illinoisans overwhelmingly sided against instituting the progressive tax amendment that would have made it easier for the state to tax Illinoisans’ retirements.
Amendment 1 is a more underhanded vehicle for increased taxes, because it hitches a lot of bad policy along for the ride by vastly expanding government union power to negotiate and force taxpayers to pay for a broad range of new demands.
Illinois only allows very limited forms of binding petitions and referenda, largely limited to home rule status, local government consolidation and constitutional amendments. But Illinoisans should have opportunities to vote on taxes and spending in the state other than the vague and far-reaching constitutional amendments that have been on their ballots in recent years. Other states that require tax increases to receive voter approval have seen varying degrees of success.
Tax referenda in the states
Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights is one of the most far-reaching limitations on taxing and spending in any state. This constitutional amendment, passed in 1992, sets limits to revenue that can be held by the state, and any excess revenue must be returned to the taxpayers unless voters approve a question to allow the state to keep it. Growth in state spending is capped at the rate of growth in population plus inflation. Similarly, growth in local spending is capped at the rate of local growth plus inflation. If the state’s revenue exceeds the spending limits, then the difference minus debt service payments must be refunded unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset.
Unless a Colorado taxing district’s annual payments on general obligation bonds, pensions, and final court judgments exceed its annual revenue, or the legislature passes emergency tax increases requiring a two-thirds vote, voter approval is required for any new tax, tax rate increase, mill levy above that for the prior year, valuation for assessment ratio increase for a property class, or extension of an expiring tax, or a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.
And while Colorado’s requirements are some of the strictest in the country, several other states require voter approval to raise taxes or spending. For example, Missouri’s constitution requires voter approval for any tax revenue increase above $50 million, adjusted by growth in personal state income or 1%, whichever is lower. The limit for Fiscal Year 2022 is $104.6 million. Nevada’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority or majority voter approval to pass any legislation that generates revenue. And California’s constitution requires local governments to receive voter approval for any tax increase that government passes.
Some research indicates voters tend to be more fiscally responsible than legislatures when approving taxing and spending policy. Not only that, referenda votes are less likely to be influenced by special interest groups such as corporations and labor unions than legislatively referred measures.
But popular referenda work best when the policy implications of the votes are clear – such as raising taxes or spending on a given project or program. Illinoisans should not be asked to vote for a vague, so-called “Workers’ Rights Amendment” that guarantees a $2,100 property tax hike for the typical Illinois family. They shouldn’t be faced with broad language that creates so many possible unforeseen consequences and costs.
Instead, Illinoisans should be given the opportunity to vote on taxes and spending in clear, transparent terms, just like Coloradans, Missourians and Nevadans can.