Pritzker spars with Republicans over progressive tax

Capitol News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A question could be coming to a ballot box in November 2020 which could fundamentally alter the way the state collects income tax.

At issue is whether or not the state should change the constitution to remove the guaranteed flat income tax where currently everyone — rich and poor alike — pay the same income tax rates.

Senator Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, filed an amendment to his constitutional amendment resolution on Tuesday, kickstarting a process that could lead to voters weighing in on the matter.

“Today is an important next step to give voters a choice about whether the wealthy will pay more and 97 percent of families will pay the same or less,” Pritzker said during an impromptu press conference from his executive office on Tuesday afternoon.

After a controversial tax increase in July 2017, Illinois residents now pay a flat income tax rate of 4.95 percent. Pritzker’s proposal would offer a slight tax reduction to people earning less than $250,000 annually. People earning more than that would see a dramatic income tax increase up to at least 7.75 percent, reaching a cap of 7.95 percent for people earning a million dollars or more per year.

Source: Governor Pritzker’s press office

The high stakes debate is central to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s biggest campaign pledge. The revenue he estimates will come from his income tax hike on the wealthiest earners in the state is the single biggest solution he has proposed to patch the state’s sinking economic ship.

“It will let us adopt a system that is more fair to the middle class,” Pritzker argued. The Democratic governor — a billionaire three times over — accused his critics “waging a misinformation campaign” to protect their wealthy donors.

“It is transparent that you are defending an unfair status quo that benefits the wealthiest Illinoisans,” Pritzker said.

“We prefer to keep the status quo,” Todd Maisch retorted. The president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce argued in favor of keeping a flat tax in place and called the Governor’s proposal a “bait and switch” that “opens the door to whatever they want to do, even if it’s not this year.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin slammed the governor’s progressive tax plan as “bad for the middle class,” and called it “a blank check to raise taxes on Illinoisans in the future.”

Last month, Senate Republican Dan McConchie from Hawthorn Woods filed a counter measure that, if approved, would raise the threshold from a simple majority to a supermajority in both chambers before the statehouse could enact or raise any new taxes.

Asked whether or not the state should also consider McConchie’s constitutional amendment to make it harder for the legislature to raise taxes or adjust tax brackets in the future, the governor dismissed the idea as “demagoging.”

“Creating a higher threshold also means you can’t lower taxes,” Pritzker inaccurately said.

McConchie’s amendment is “only structured for an increase in taxes,” spokesman Jason Gerwig responded, “it doesn’t make it harder to lower taxes.”

Still, the governor did not appear to favor any plan that would make it significantly harder to raise taxes or adjust tax brackets down the road.

“I think that this legislature and future legislatures ought to have the choices — all the choices — available to them. The future is unknown, so you want to make sure the options are available in the constitution,” Pritzker said.

While Democrats do hold a supermajority in both statehouse chambers, Maisch suggested that the governor’s plan is nowhere near a done deal even in his own party.

“He’s going to meet the legislature,” Maisch said, “and I think he’ll find out the legislature sometimes has a mind of it’s own, even with the supermajorities.”

The Senate Executive Committee is scheduled to consider Harmon’s amendment Wednesday morning and could clear the measure to advance before the Senate for a vote, which is expected when lawmakers return from Spring Break later this month.

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