Pritzker fair tax to go to voters
General Assembly approves by supermajority, as governor touts accompanying relief on property taxes
By Ted Cox
Illinois residents will vote next year on whether to adopt a progressive income tax.
Led by Democrats, the state House of Representatives voted 73-44 along party lines Monday to approve a change in the Illinois Constitution allowing a graduated income tax — or what Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called a “fair tax.” The Senate voted 40-19 to approve the constitutional amendment early in the month, so the issue now goes before voters in the next general election in November 2020.
Both chambers of the General Assembly approved the matter by a supermajority, as required by the state constitution, and now voters must also approve it by a 60 percent majority next year in order for it to become law.
Pritzker has laid out a proposal in which 97 percent of state residents will pay lower or at most the same taxes, while the top 3 percent earning $250,000 or more will pay higher rates in three tax brackets maxing out at 7.95 percent for those making $1 million a year. The constitutional amendment, however, is a separate issue, and those tax rates can be set or altered by legislators ahead of passage.
Pritzker has made the case, though, that a graduated income tax will mean savings to the vast majority of Illinois taxpayers.
“For years, Illinoisans have been fighting to make our income-tax system more fair to middle-class families and those striving to get there, and this monumental vote in the General Assembly means that voters will have the right to decide our system for themselves in November 2020,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Together, we will continue our fight to make sure that 97 percent of Illinoisans will pay the same or less in income taxes and only those making more than $250,000 pay more.”
The governor suggested that the progressive income tax could enable the state to pass along revenue increases to local governments to reduce property taxes — long touted as a “grand bargain” in the General Assembly.
Pritzker and legislators also announced the formation of a Property Tax Relief Task Force on Monday, “designed to make recommendations that would give homeowners across the state property-tax relief,” according to a news release put out by the Governor’s Office.
“For far too long, families across Illinois have struggled under too-high property-tax burdens and an unfair income-tax system that protects the wealthiest,” Pritzker said. “This task force is a common-sense addition to the fair tax, which aims to protect the middle class and those striving to get there while those making $250,000 and above pay more.”
The task force, to be made up of two Pritzker appointees and members of both houses of the General Assembly, will be expected to deliver a report by the end of the year “using a racial and economic-equity lens to identify the causes of increasingly burdensome property taxes across Illinois, review best practices in public-policy strategies that create short- and long-term property-tax relief for homeowners, and make recommendations to assist in the development of short- and long-term administrative, electoral, and legislative changes to create short- and long-term property-tax relief for homeowners,” according to the Governor’s Office.
Members of the state House cheered Monday’s vote, and the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association immediately endorsed passage. Association President Kristina Zahorik issued a statement saying: “The IDCCA applauds the Illinois House of Representatives for approving the Fair Tax Amendment today. We are grateful for Gov. Pritzker’s leadership and the determination of Democrats in the House and Senate in finally giving voters an opportunity to end the state’s outdated income tax system during the 2020 election.
“Democrats at the statehouse have been tireless in tackling tough issues this year,” she added, “and Illinois is better for it.”
Republicans and anti-tax groups have already tried to muddy the waters surrounding the graduated income tax by suggesting it could be altered in ways other than what Pritzker has suggested. Illinois Republican Party Chairman Timothy Schneider laid additional groundwork for that approach in a statement issued Monday, saying: “It’s disappointing, but not surprising, to see Democrat lawmakers decide that a blank check from Illinois taxpayers is the solution to our financial issues. It’s not surprising because it’s been their agenda for years. Raising taxes yet again and asking for more from the most overtaxed group of people in America is not a solution to our problems, it unfairly punishes taxpayers for problems they did not create. We need to reform the way we do government in Illinois before ever thinking about taking more from our hard working families.”