Progressive tax, millionaire tax backed by firm majority across state

Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll also finds strong support to legalize pot, sports betting

Million-dollar earners might have less money to count if a progressive income tax passes. (Shutterstock)

Million-dollar earners might have less money to count if a progressive income tax passes. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

A new statewide poll finds strong support across Illinois for a progressive tax and an additional tax on millionaires, while also backing the legalization of marijuana and sports gambling.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale found that fully two-thirds of Illinoisans, 67 percent, favor a graduated income tax.

That’s important in that Gov. Pritzker has pushed for what he calls a “fair tax” to address the state budget deficit and other issues such as pensions and infrastructure. An amendment to the state constitution ending the requirement for a flat tax rate needs to pass both houses of the General Assembly and a statewide referendum next year — all by 60 percent supermajorities — in order to clear the way for a progressive income tax.

Illinoisans supported the tax change across the state, with 74 percent in favor in Chicago, 68 percent in the suburban collar counties, and 60 percent in the rest of the state. Some 88 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of political independents backed the graduated tax, with only Republicans opposed by 55 to 43 percent.

An additional 3 percent tax on annual incomes over $1 million had even stronger support, with 71 percent of voters backing it statewide: 75 percent in Chicago, 71 percent in the suburbs, and 70 percent across the rest of the state. Some 90 percent of Democrats and 69 percent on independents backed it, and even Republicans were in favor by 51 to 47 percent.

“Gov. J. B. Pritzker ran on the graduated income tax as the centerpiece of his plan forproviding a solution to Illinois’s long-term budget crisis,” said John Jackson of the Simon Policy Institute. “After he was elected Pritzker unveiled his specific brackets for those who would see some tax reductions, those who would see no differences, and those who would have to pay up to 3 percent more. Those with over $1 million dollar per year annual incomes would pay the bills, according to the governor.”

Tax opponents are already mounting a disinformation campaign against the “fair tax,” which Pritzker maintains would actually cut taxes for 97 percent of state taxpayers, with only those earning more than $250,000 paying more. Which makes the poll’s findings critical.

“This campaign is just starting, and those forces in favor and opposed to the plan are gearing up for the referendum on a constitutional amendment that would be required if the General Assembly approves this fairly audacious solution,” Jackson added. “Here we have a benchmark of where the public stands at the outset of that contentious campaign.”

Opposition has also been mounting against the speedy passage of bills to legalize marijuana and sports gambling. But the poll found firm support for those reforms as well.

Again, two-thirds of those polled, 66 percent, backed legalization of marijuana, given the expected tax revenues, and again with support across the state and all political affiliations. Three-quarters of Chicagoans expressed support, 67 percent of suburbanites, and 57 percent of those across the rest of the state, with 79 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents, and even Republicans backing it by the narrow margin of 49 to 48 percent.

“This may be one of those public policy shifts — like gay marriage — whose time comes fairly quickly,” said the institute’s Charlie Leonard, co-director of the poll. “Given the solid support it receives across almost all the groups we surveyed, its strong advocacy from the Pritzker administration, and aversion to higher taxes, the legislature may feel emboldened to legalize and tax marijuana.”

This may be one of those public policy shifts — like gay marriage — whose time comes fairly quickly.
— Charlie Leonard of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute on legalizing marijuana

The same might well apply to sports betting. Some 57 percent of those polled said they were in favor of expanding gambling, and that was pronounced when it came to wagering on sports. Some 63 percent of voters backed sports gambling — 72 percent in Chicago, 63 percent in the suburbs, and 57 percent downstate — with solid support across the political spectrum. Two-thirds of Democrats and 60 percent of both Republicans and independents all favored legal sports gambling, again with the expected revenue from taxes and licensing.

There was decidedly less support for other proposals to raise revenue. Some 61 percent of Illinoisans opposed expanding the state sales tax to services, and the same 61 percent opposed an increase in the gas tax, even though it’s considered key to a capital bill on infrastructure.

An overwhelming 73 percent of those polled said they were opposed to taxing retirement income, but there might be a window for a tax on retirement income above $100,000. Those who opposed the tax in general were asked if they’d support it if the first $100,000 were exempt, and of that 73 percent 36 percent said they would, with 34 percent still opposed, and the other 3 percent undecided.

“New taxes have never been popular in the United States or in the state of Illinois,” said John Shaw, institute director. “Several proposals tested in this poll showed the same pattern. However, it is clear that the general idea of a graduated income tax is strongly supported. This support is further buttressed by the proposition that those Illinoisans earning the most could bear a 3 percent tax on the increment of their incomes above $1 million per year.”

Shaw also noted the overwhelming support for extending “sin taxes” to legal pot and sports betting.

The poll was conducted the week of March 11 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.