Editorial: Closing arguments, Part Five: Why reject the Pritzker Tax? Take your word for it

October 14, 2020 Chicago Tribune
By The Editorial Board

Editor’s note: In this series the Tribune Editorial Board offers its closing arguments against a proposed constitutional amendment that would replace Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with graduated rates.

Illinois voters have a crucial Election Day question at the top of the ballot about their future in this fiscally dysfunctional state: whether to give Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Springfield lawmakers the constitutional power to raise income taxes however they see fit, in order to spend your money … however they see fit.

This editorial board opposes the Pritzker-backed ballot amendment, which he calls the “Fair Tax” and which would shift Illinois’ taxing system from a flat tax to a graduated-rate tax. The change would free the General Assembly from its obligation to tax all residents at the same rate. Why is it controversial? Because the flat tax serves as extra protection for taxpayers. It’s a much heavier lift for the governor and lawmakers to raise rates unilaterally on everyone than to tinker with graduated rates or tax brackets. That’s why they want the ability to do it. It’s easier.

Pritzker says only the richest 3% of Illinoisans would pay a higher tax rate to help the state get on sound financial footing. But this is Illinois, land of broken government promises and endless profligacy. Give Springfield denizens an inch and they will spend a mile.

Why our skepticism toward the proposed Pritzker tax?

• Because political leaders aren’t willing to match their request for more tax revenue with ironclad promises to control spending.

• Because they also refuse to match this constitutional change with an accompanying amendment on the ballot to allow Illinois to address its $137 billion government pension hole by trimming future compounded cost-of-living increases, for example.

• Because Illinois’ problems run so deep that raising taxes on the wealthiest residents won’t make a dent and will instead encourage high income-earners to leave the state. Soon enough, we expect, Springfield will start ratcheting up the rates on middle-class taxpayers too.

We’ve been making detailed arguments against the Pritzker tax for more than a year and know they resonate with many Tribune readers. As Nov. 3 approaches, and with early voting underway, we’re receiving letters to the editor from many fed-up Illinoisans who don’t just agree with us, they’re making their own strong arguments for voting “No.” We’ve published many. Here is another sampling:

They just want more money

Let’s look at the actual numbers. The first $10,000 will have the rate reduced by 0.2 percentage points. That is $20. The next $90,000 has the rate reduced by 0.05 percentage points. The next $150,000 is taxed at the current rate. So for an average family making $50,000, the reduction is a whopping $40 and the maximum anyone can receive is $65. This is more than offset by the increase in car registration fees, which is $100 for a couple with two cars, not to mention the doubling of the gas tax. Wow, does my burden feel so relieved. Springfield twice in the recent past raised our income taxes and it did nothing to solve the budget problems. They just want more money to collect so they can continue to spend more.

— Steven Peck, Long Grove

Can’t be trusted

There is no doubt that the taxes on the middle-class and retirees will be raised in the near future. I make that statement based on the past history of the Illinois legislature. Illinois politicians can’t be trusted, period. I am retired on a public pension. Yes, Illinois needs pension reform, property tax reform and term limits, now. Until these other things are addressed, I will vote No on the alleged “Fair Tax.”

— Dave Kundrot, Lombard

You are dreaming

Instead of addressing the real reason for our financial mess, which is a rich and unaffordable government employee union pension plan, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Pritzker are asking Illinois citizens to approve a “Fair Tax,” although there has never been such a thing. They want you to approve a new tax plan that they promise will only affect citizens making $250,000 or more. Unfortunately, that will not solve our problem. Financial experts and economists say that their tax plan will not raise enough money to even make a dent in the state’s indebtedness.

Further, unlike you and me, millionaires and billionaires can simply leave the state by declaring their vacation homes/condos as their primary residences, thereby taking their tax money with them. Finally, given the taxing history in Illinois, you are dreaming if you think your taxes will be reduced. It will be only a matter of time until the middle classes and below are hit with increased taxes. Reducing the cost of government is not something Springfield politicians ever consider, even during a pandemic

— A.H. Walker, Lake Forest

Reject Speaker Madigan too

The only thing Democrats know is to tax and spend. It’s reckless to keep taking money from taxpayers and use it to save liberal politicians from consequences of poor choices. Americans make responsible budget decisions every day. Why can’t the politicians of Illinois do the same? They need to make some hard choices. I would also add that Speaker Madigan step down from his position or vote him out. He is also a big obstacle.

— Matina Kantzavelos, Morton Grove

Voters are livid

There’s a significant number of voters out here who are livid about the unconstitutional singling out of government workers for pension protections. How is it possible that only such a small number of workers in Illinois have such protections as mandated in our state’s constitution? Who could even believe that to be constitutional? Whatever happened to equal protection under the law?

— John Babush, Big Rock

Why is a flat tax unfair?

One thing I’ve never heard Gov. Pritzker say is why the flat tax is unfair. If you make $100,000 per year you pay roughly $5,000 in state taxes. If you make $1,000,000 per year you pay roughly $50,000 in state taxes. If someone makes 10 times what you do, they pay 10 times as much in state taxes. Sounds fair to me.