Illinois Democrats make final push on progressive tax before talks start

By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — The proposed amendment to change Illinois’ constitution from a flat income tax to one with higher rates for higher earners will get a last-minute hearing Wednesday in Springfield.

House Republicans said they are ready for the fight.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, requested the six-day posting requirements to hold a committee hearing be waived. He asked for his Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment No. 1, which includes language to change the state’s flat tax to a tax structure that levies higher rates on higher incomes, to be heard in the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, objected.

“What’s at issue here is a substantive amendment to the Illinois constitution that will affect the finances and taxes of millions of Illinoisans,” Righter said. “At the very least, the six days notice required is appropriate for this body … to have a conversation about the contents of the amendment and the effects it might have on our constituents.”

Despite the objection, the Democratic supermajority bypassed the six-day posting requirement to announce a hearing and will debate and likely pass the proposed amendment out of committee.

“This is a procedural issue, not a substantive issue,” Harmon said. “I cannot imagine that anyone is surprised that we are advancing the fair tax.”

He said the issue has been talked about for months, if not years, at the capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said he opposes the measure. However, he expects Democrats will get it out of the Senate and over to the House, where Democrats might not have enough votes to pass the question on to voters. Brady said House Democrats who are on the fence should listen to their constituents.

“Their constituents want constitutional protection against overzealous taxing governments,” Brady said. “We have that now [with the flat income tax]. This [proposed progressive income tax] eliminates that.”

The measure was amended to clean up language that Harmon said makes it “more lawyerly.”

The amendment does not have a proposed rate structure.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker had a message Tuesday for opponents of his progressive tax plan.

“It is transparent that you are defending an unfair status quo that benefits the wealthiest Illinoisans instead of offering your own ideas on how to fix the state’s problems,” Pritzker said at a news conference.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Republicans have been pushing for policy changes to grow the state’s economy, cut property taxes, reduce pension costs and pay down deficits. The said Democrats have been unwilling to address those issues.

“The unfair status quo is what has happened to Illinois taxpayers by the same Democrats who run these chambers who passed a massive tax increase in the last ten years based on the premise that we’d pay off our bills and get Illinois fixed,” Durkin said outside of Pritzker’s office. “It never happened.”

Durkin said Pritzker’s proposed rates, which is not the proposed constitutional amendment, is an estimated $3.4 billion tax increase on Illinoisans and Illinois businesses.

Pritzker said his plan will help the middle class. Durkin said if Democrats were sincere, they’d put the rates they want to charge taxpayers in the amendment.

“Otherwise [the rates] will be subject to change by the same people who have raised taxes over the last ten years and you just can’t trust them. And what’s going to happen is the middle class will eventually absorb theses costs over time. It’s just not fair.”

Voters would get the final say on the proposed amendment at the ballot box.

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