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GOP unites to oppose progressive tax plan

March 1, 2019 GMT

Republican lawmakers filed a resolution Wednesday opposing a progressive income tax structure they said voters also would oppose once they find out how much more they’ll have to pay in taxes.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants what he calls a “fair tax.” He has proposed changing the state’s constitution to allow for a graduated income tax that would have higher tax rates for higher earners. The state’s existing constitution only allows for a flat income tax, a single tax rate that all taxpayers have to pay, regardless of income.

To get that constitutional amendment question to voters, supermajorities in both chambers must pass the measure. Democrats have supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

While the governor does not sign off on a proposed amendment, voters do. A supermajority of those voting would have to approve such a change to the constitution at the ballot box.

State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said it will be important for the Legislature to negotiate and release the proposed tax rates before taking the measure to voters in 2020.

“Open, transparent, let the people decide, is this a good thing for them? Is it a good thing for the state or is it not? Because ultimately it’s the people who will weigh in,” Martwick said.

Martwick said the flat income tax puts an unfair burden on the middle class.

“We have exceptionally high property taxes, exceptionally high sales taxes, and relatively low, compared to the rest of the country, income taxes,” Martwick said.

Martwick was the only one to file a bill last term with proposed rates. He said that was more of a conversation starter. House Bill 3522 in the 100th General Assembly proposed changing the tax rates to 4 percent for income up to $7,500, 5.84 percent for income up to $15,000, 6.27 percent for income up to $225,000 and 7.65 percent for income more than $225,000. That measure was tabled.

The current rate is 4.95 percent, up from 3.75 percent. That increase was passed over former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto in 2017.

Pritzker ran on the progressive tax issue but didn’t and still hasn’t suggested what the rates should be. He’s said that the rates will be determined after negotiations in the Legislature.

In his inauguration speech, Pritzker said opposition to his progressive tax plan would be defeated. Pritzker said anyone who joins the tax conversation in good faith would have a seat at the table.

“But if you lead with partisanship and scare tactics, you will be met with considerable political will,” he said.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said there’s nothing to negotiate.

“To me, I would equate this to negotiating how I go out of business,” Wehrli said. “Do I want to be run out of business or do I want to fail on my own and they’re running people out of business here.”

He said voters will oppose a progressive tax once they see how much more they’ll have to pay in taxes. The state needs to make changes to grow the economy, not growth in government spending, Wehrli said.

“Opposition from those whose bottom lines are threatened by a fair tax will continue, but Think Big Illinois will remain a staunch ally for working families in this fight,” said former Pritzker campaign staffer Quentin Fulks, who now heads a Pritzker-backed group called Think Big Illinois that’s promoting the progressive tax

All 44 Republicans in the House signed on to co-sponsor House Resolution 153. Two state representatives who represent local constituents, Lindsay Parkhurst, of Kankakee, and Tom Bennett, of Gibson City, were among those who signed.

On her Facebook page, Parkhurst posted this statement:

“A graduated income tax only serves as a blank check to our government to continue the tax and spend mentality, which has plagued our state,” Parkhurst wrote. “I received message after message from constituents they cannot afford any more tax increases and are planning to move their families only a few miles East.’’

The move Parkhurst refers to is an apparent mention of neighboring Indiana.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation has said changing Illinois’ flat tax to a progressive one would lower Illinois overall business climate further as many small businesses file as individuals.

Lawmakers are expected to start debating the issue next week.