Not all Illinois Democrats behind progressive tax proposal

SPRINGFIELD — While Democrats have generally been in favor of changing the state’s charter to allow for a progressive income tax, not everyone is on board as the 101st General Assembly gets underway.

After being elected for another term, the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history, Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listed some of the top problems in the state.

“We have a significant budget imbalance,” Madigan acknowledged. “We have a debt load that is far too high.”

He said that takes away from funding for education and infrastructure.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, also listed some of the problems the state faces, including continued outbound migration. Illinois lost 40,000 people in the most recent U.S. Census report, the fifth consecutive decline.

Durkin said there are some common reasons why people are leaving Illinois.

“Taxes are too high to afford staying in their home,” Durkin said of neighbors he’s talked to who are moving out. “Job opportunities are growing in other states as we remain stagnant.”

Durkin also said high crime, pension debt and crumbling roads are causing people to flee. He said for years there’s been a lack of substantive action by lawmakers and he hopes that changes in the new general assembly.

But not all Democrats are on the same page when it comes to one of the party’s core ideas, and that’s changing the state constitution from a flat tax to a structure that taxes people who earn more at a higher rate.

Getting a progressive income tax was one of the main priorities state Rep. Chris Welch, D-Westchester, laid out Wednesday when he nominated Madigan for another term as speaker.

“We will make the rich finally pay their fair share,” Welch said. “It’s a new day in Illinois.”

Madigan offered a resolution last year supporting the idea. Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a progressive tax. But Downstate state Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, said he’s against a progressive tax.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out obviously,” Costello said. “My hope, being a conservative downstate Democrat, is that there’s moderation in governing.”

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation says a flat state income tax is more attractive for business development, something that gives Illinois a higher than average grade compared to states with a progressive tax.

Before the state constitution’s flat income tax can be changed, three-fifths of the legislature must approve a question for voters. From there, a super majority of the public must approve in a ballot referendum.

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