Illinois voters will get a chance in November to weigh in on whether millionaires should pay an additional income tax to help fund schools after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Tuesday adding a nonbinding resolution to the ballot.
The resolution asks voters whether incomes over $1 million should be taxed with a 3 percent surcharge. It comes as Quinn is locked in a hotly contested gubernatorial race with multimillionaire businessman Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
"It's very important that our state put its money where its mouth is when it comes to education," the Democrat said at a bill-signing event at a school in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. "We need to get more resources to help our students learn."
House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, proposed the idea as a way to raise revenue, saying it could bring in $1 billion a year for education — about $550 more per student.
Madigan — a lawyer who said he earns more than $1 million "in a good year" — had wanted the idea proposed as a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. But he could not get the 71-vote supermajority in the House needed to put the amendment before voters. Illinois' constitution imposes a flat tax, in which all taxpayers pay at the same rate regardless of income.
The non-binding question would give the idea momentum in the Legislature next year, proponents say. But critics claim it's simply a way to drive people who support Democrats to the polls in the governor's race and to further highlight Rauner's wealth, which Quinn and other Democrats say causes him to be out-of-touch with working-class people.
Quinn denied that was the case Tuesday, saying he has advocated "for a long time" for a tax system based on ability to pay.
Rauner opposes the ballot question, which campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf described as "another toothless referendum."
He noted Quinn and other Democrats raised income taxes 67 percent in 2011, but still cut millions from general state aid — money sent to schools to help cover the basic cost of educating students. Rauner says lowering taxes will make Illinois more competitive.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, Illinois had 14,692 tax returns in 2011 from households where adjusted gross income was $1 million or more. Collectively, their income was $42.7 billion.
Illinois has 4.8 percent of the nation's millionaires, according to an analysis of IRS figures, and ranks fifth in the number of wealthy residents behind California, New York, Texas and Florida.
The measure will be among several poll-style questions on the November ballot, including one asking voters if Illinois should raise the minimum wage. State election officials certify ballots next month.