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Michael Madigan: Dems still discussing progressive tax internally

By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Democrats are still talking about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s progressive income tax plan behind closed doors.

Pritzker wants to amend the state constitution’s flat income tax structure with a progressive one that has higher tax rates for those who earn more. The governor calls it a “fair tax” system. He has said the progressive tax rates and income brackets he’s proposed would generate $3.4 billion a year in additional revenue for the state.

Ultimately, though, outside of promoting the idea, Pritzker has no role in getting the proposed constitutional amendment in front of voters. That’s entirely up to lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature. If the House and Senate approve the measure with three-fifths majorities, the question would go to voters, who would have the final say at the ballot box. Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers.

One Democrat, state Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, had previously said he was opposed to the progressive tax plan. He declined to comment Wednesday.

Others could be on the fence.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said his caucus is still discussing the amendment.

“We’re going to continue to work with the governor,” Madigan said. “Refine the proposal, refine the messaging, and work to have a fair tax system for the people of Illinois.”

He didn’t elaborate on how the proposal should be refined.

“Like any group discussion, different ideas were raised,” Madigan said.

Pritzker unveiled proposed income rates last week that he said would give 97 percent of the state’s taxpayers a tax cut while the 3 percent of the top earners would see tax rates increase. Critics of the proposal have said it would substantially increase taxes for small business owners, many who file as individuals.

House Deputy Minority Leader Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said Democrats on the fence may have the same concerns as Republicans, including uncertainty about how the rates would change in the future.

Demmer said the proposal would collect an additional $3.4 billion from taxpayers each year, but Democrats and the governor have spending priorities that could eclipse that new revenue.

“How much more is he going to be taking five years or ten years down the road?” Demmer said. “As people look at all the pressures that people in Illinois are currently facing with their total tax burden, I don’t think we can look at this and say this is going to provide relief for them.”

The only measure right now filed at the statehouse is Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1, which replaces the constitution’s flat tax with an income tax “where lower rates apply to lower income levels and higher rates apply to higher income levels.” That proposed amendment does not include rates.

The state’s existing flat income tax structure mandated in the constitution also does not include rates. Lawmakers have changed the state’s income tax rates at least four times since 2010.

Demmer said Democrats should consider a different approach.

“I think we need to look at things that will help grow our economy,” Demmer said. “The best way to get more tax revenue is to have more people living and working here and productive jobs. We need to find ways to bring employers back to Illinois, bring families back to Illinois.”

The proposed amendment in the Senate remains in subcommittee. No hearing has been scheduled.

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