Editorial | Vote ‘No’ on Tax Amendment

October 14, 2020 The News-Gazette

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking voters to remove the hurdles drafters of the Illinois Constitution put in place to protect taxpayers.

Fair? Unfair?

The debate over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed progressive-income-tax amendment to the state constitution has been overwhelmed with political buzzwords that, unfortunately, miss the point behind this dangerous proposal.

The proposal is a breathtaking example of government officials grasping for a huge expansion of their power to tax. That’s why proponents have tried to distract voters from the amendment’s actual language by denouncing evil “millionaires and billionaires.”

It’s no accident that Secretary of State Jesse White’s office did not include the amendment’s wording on the Nov. 3 ballot, replacing it with a friendly explanation designed to induce support.

That’s a tell right there.

When the state’s political elites obscure their intentions, it’s a sure sign that what they’re proposing is in their, not the public’s, interest.

This is a complicated issue for those who do not pay much attention to politics and government. So any examination has to start at the beginning.

The Illinois Constitution states the following: “A tax on or measured by income shall be at a non-graduated rate. At any one time there may be no more than one such tax imposed by the State for State purposes on individuals and one such tax so imposed on corporations.”

That means legislators are limited to imposing a single flat rate on everyone. Knowing that broad-based taxation generates opposition, drafters of the state constitution chose the “non-graduated rate” language — a flat tax — as a means of protecting taxpayers by limiting legislators’ desire for more revenue.

They inserted the “no more than one such tax” language as additional protection from legislators levying multiple taxes, or “surtaxes,” on a single income.

Pritzker is asking voters to tear down those two safeguards and give him and legislators unlimited taxing power.

His amendment reads: “The General Assembly shall provide by law for the rate or rates on any tax on or measured by income imposed by the state.”

Intentionally vague, the language frees the state to impose multiple escalating tax rates on multiple income categories. It would also permit legislators to impose multiple taxes on the same income.

This would represent a dangerous expansion of power even if the General Assembly was made of responsible and prudent men and women who watched every tax dollar like hawks.

Unfortunately, the spending habits of Illinois’ elected officials make drunken sailors look like models of fiscal probity.

Over the past 20 years, they have shown themselves to be not just reckless, but foolish, in their handling of public funds.

Illinois is a self-made fiscal disaster — up to its neck in unpaid bills, underfunded public pensions and budget deficits. Give legislators $1 million, and they’ll spend $10 million.

At the same time that they go on their spending benders, legislators have adamantly opposed any measures — however sensible — to reduce the size, scope and cost of government.

Amendment proponents argue the state’s financial status is the reason the governor and legislators need unfettered power to tax. Critics argue — more persuasively — that the state’s financial problems demonstrate why giving them more power would only subsidize more fiscal foolishness.

Proponents promise they will only target “millionaires and billionaires” with higher tax rates. But the higher rates they propose — between 7 and 8 percent, starting Jan. 1 — target those earning more than $250,000 a year.

That’s a substantial income. But it’s not “millionaire and billionaire” status.

Pritzker & Co. are asking for this expanded power for a reason. They can be expected to use it.

The governor and his supporters have argued that Illinois should follow in the footsteps of 34 other states that have progressive income-tax systems. They fail to mention that many of those states — Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin — impose higher marginal tax rates on middle-class incomes that Illinois’ 4.95 percent flat taxes.

Critics are correct when they point out that the people of Illinois are being asked to sign a “blank check” made out to the governor and General Assembly.

Since they can’t say “never,” Illinoisans should just say “no” to the tax amendment.