Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Always look at the bright side of life...."

The post title is the title of the closing song (and my favorite part) of the Monty Python musical Spamalot. I catch myself whistling that tune quite a bit.

So, to apply that piece of wisdom to the overtime session in the Illinois General Assembly, I'd like to point out the good things about an overtime session.

Because a budget requires a 60% vote, the General Assembly has more institutional power. Once 71 Representatives and 36 Senators agree on an agenda (and the Speaker and the President sign off), lots of good things can happen that are normally taken off the table when only a 50% vote is required.

Good things like putting constitutional amendments on the ballot.

If we want a modern, progressive income tax to match the new structure of our economy (where the middle-class is under pressure and most of the new income is flowing to high income people), we need to amend our constitution.

(Note we can make our flat rate income tax more progressive as Voices for Illinois Children explains in this policy brief by raising the personal exemption and the state's earned income tax credit, but if we really want a modern income tax, we should get rid of that constitutional provision prohibited a non-graduated rate.)

It takes a 60% vote of each chamber to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Well, since it takes a 60% vote of each chamber to pass a budget, it's just as easy to pass a budget as it is to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. And since most of our budget troubles are based on an out-of-date tax system (too heavy on low incomes and it doesn't tax enough of the modern economy -- services and high incomes), it would be prudent for those who care about the FY10 and FY12 budgets just as much as the FY08 and FY09 budgets to ask the electorate for the ability to implement a progressive income tax in 2009.

Note that a constitutional amendment does not require gubernatorial action.

Speaking of gubernatorial action, another nice thing about overtime is that the threat of a veto doesn't matter so much, since it takes 60% of each chamber to override a veto. So, since it takes 60% to pass a budget, and 60% to override a veto....whomever votes for a budget and sticks to their guns will be able to override a veto.

That means when the Governor makes a mistake and threatens to veto good public policy, it doesn't matter. Once 60% of each legislative chamber agree to implement good policy, a veto is irrelevant.

That dynamic opens up the possibility of a legislative consensus, since this year, the Governor's bold vision was unfortunately matched by hostility to alternatives. That hostility is less important in June.

If ever there was a time to have a big picture conversation with your legislator, this is it.

I hope 60% of the General Assembly match the Governor's attractive tendency for game-changing proposals with constitutional amendments and progressive taxes.

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