SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Only one thing stands between Illinois voters and a November 2020 ballot question to adopt a progressive income tax: a vote in House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chamber.
The House Revenue and Finance Committee voted nine to six along party lines to advance the ballot question to the House floor for a debate over the future of the state’s income tax structure. Curiously missing from the proposal was the actual rates and income tax brackets themselves.
“They don’t have to be decided on before the constitutional amendment,” Representative Rob Martwick (D-Chicago) explained.
“It doesn’t sound like we’re going to have the rates for a long time,” Representative David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) concluded.
Republicans voiced concerns about the rush to approve a ballot question roughly a year before the State Board of Elections deadline.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs asked the governor’s staff, “Why do we have to get this done in the next two weeks?”
“We want to make sure we have a plan to put Illinois back on track,” Pritzker’s senior policy advisor Emily Miller responded.
Cameron Mock, the Chief of Staff at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said the urgency to pass the ballot question was “for the utmost transparency for the voters and what is being considered.
“The longer we feel the voters have to know and digest and, you know, this is highly complex,” Mock said. “You know, taxes are never easy. And so we feel the longer that we can have the rates out and passed and voters know exactly what they are voting on, the better informed they will be, and better informed to decide for themselves.”
Representative Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) chaired the Monday night committee debate and provided cover for Pritzker’s staff when they dodged questions about specifics in the rates.
“We are very much working through the rates bill conversation,” Zalewski said, adding that House Democrats “are very much acutely aware of the need for property tax relief.”
Pritzker has privately courted House Democrats Sam Yingling and Jonathan Carroll to reverse their position after the two representatives issued public proclamations announcing their opposition to the progressive income tax because of concerns that it doesn’t include significant property tax relief.
The libertarian think tank Illinois Policy Institute celebrated Carroll and Yingling’s opposition with congratulatory headlines and social media posts lauding their independence and courage. The group’s economist Orphe Divougny used his time before the House Committee to question whether the billionaire governor was in touch with average people.
“I feel the Governor is very disconnected from middle class realities like going to go to the pump and not being able to fill up before the next paycheck,” Divougny said.
Todd Maisch with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce said his group is not even interested in discussing or negotiating more favorable income tax rates.
“The only influence we want to have on this issue is to defeat the issue,” Maisch said moments before the measure advanced. “There are other issues where we are working with the Governor’s office on, whether it be transportation funding, maybe cannabis — not our favorite idea — but we can work with the administration and the majorities on that. This is an issue, though, we believe is just dead wrong and we are opposed. I believe we are going to kill it.”
Andrew Libman, President and CEO of The Libman Company in Arcola, said he traveled to Springfield to oppose the graduated income tax after Pritzker’s move to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour by 2025 “really opened my eyes.”
Libman said he fears higher taxes on the wealthier residents could dry up available investment funds for his company.
“We want to keep our business going in the right direction,” he said. “We want to do the right thing for our employees and the right things for the community. In order to do that, you have to have the capital to keep reinvesting in your business.
“Up to this point, the state of Illinois has been great to do that. We want to stay in America as well.
“‘Made in America’ is what was really important, and we had been in Illinois a long time and there was no reason to leave,” Libman said.
Libman said a combination of the progressive income tax and increased wage floor could make the state’s business climate more difficult, but he stopped short of predicting his company would leave for greener pastures if the state moved to abolish the flat tax.
“I think it would have to be something that would really tip the scales,” he said. “I don’t know if this is something that would do that where I could come out and tell you that we are going to move, but I think it is something we have to continue to evaluate.”
Other groups that rely on state funding said if lawmakers don’t raise money to balance the state’s budget, homeless people in need could suffer.
“If those funds run out, that person may be sleeping on the street,” said Niya Kelly with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “That may mean they have to take their children to a shelter where they don’t know where their next meal or where their next housing situation will come from.”
Divougny predicted a progressive income tax “definitely won’t help those people who actually need those extra services.” He argued the extra revenue from a progressive income tax would not provide enough funds to eat into the state’s increasing pension obligation which often crowds out other budget items.
Martwick says if the state doesn’t institute a progressive income tax, “the flat tax alternative according to COGFA (the Center on Government Forecasting and Accountability) is 6.5 percent flat. [A] 6.5 percent flat tax on every resident of the state of Illinois doesn’t make sense. That will only exacerbate our problems. This fixes our financial problems and does it in a way that’s fair, giving everyone who makes less than $250,000 a break.”
Martwick predicted the House would likely not consider a repeal of the estate tax, a controversial provision Senate Democrats included in their progressive tax package that would benefit wealthy families.