A few months ago, House Speaker Mike Madigan startled folks across the state by calling for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution.
Madigan, D-Chicago, wanted the state to tack on a 3 percent income tax surcharge on folks earning more than $1 million per year.
The crafty politician let it be known that he wanted lawmakers to put the matter on the Nov. 4 ballot so the people could decide via referendum whether it was good public policy.
But the measure didn’t gather enough support among lawmakers, so it died.
In Illinois, proposed constitutional amendments can be placed on the ballot by legislative action or through a difficult process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures from across the state.
Madigan saw how difficult it was to gets the measure through the House that he has ruled for decades and let it drop despite his populist rhetoric about letting the voters decide.
Interesting. Especially because Madigan isn’t usually open to the will of the people.
A case in point is his opposition to two other constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot because of successful petition drives.
One would limit lawmakers to serving no more than eight years in the General Assembly. For some reason, Madigan, who has served in the Legislature for 41 years, thinks this is a terrible idea.
Another would eliminate legislative gerrymandering. It would create an independent commission to draw the lines for legislative districts every decade in a manner void of political considerations.
Madigan, who has hung on to power by drawing maps that benefit his supporters in the Legislature, really hates this idea, too.
No sooner were the petitions filed in Springfield than an attorney affiliated with Madigan filed a lawsuit in an attempt to thrown them off the general election ballot.
While there are a variety of plaintiffs in the case, there’s little doubt Madigan is behind the lawsuit.
So, Mike, whatever happened to just letting the people decide?
Madigan said the amendments were part of some diabolical plot to help Republicans win elected office.
“The difference between the two parties in Illinois is the Democratic Party of Illinois is a party of progress,” he said. “We want to move forward. We want to help people. We want to help people get jobs and have opportunity. On the other side of the equation, the Republican Party is a party of reaction.”
Except, Mike, while you say you want to help ordinary people, it appears you don’t want to let them decide what constitutional amendments they can vote on.
Why else would you try to keep these measures off the ballot? The move is not only paternalistic, it’s hypocritical.
One day, Madigan says it should be left to the people to determine how a tiny minority of rich people should be taxed.
But the next week, he says it shouldn’t be left to the people to decide how their state constitution is amended.
The message seems to be that Madigan knows what’s best for Illinois — and don’t suggest otherwise.
But the will of those hundreds of thousands of Democrats, Republicans and independents who signed those petitions to place the measures on the ballot should be honored.
It’s time for the people, not the politicians, to decide what’s best for Illinois.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.