Debating Illinois’ Proposed Graduated Income Tax

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is pitching his proposed graduated income tax amendment as vital to the state’s economic health.

“If the graduated tax rates do take effect, this budget proposal takes major steps to stabilize our fiscal condition and build on the historic investments and improvements that we’ve made across the board,” Pritzker said during his budget address last week.

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Voters will weigh in on the constitutional amendment in November. If passed, it would increase the tax rate paid by wealthier Illinoisans.

How it would work: Taxpayers filing jointly with incomes of $100,000 or less would pay rates slightly lower than the current rate of 4.95%. Couples with joint incomes of more than $250,000 – would see rates increase to 7.75%, with millionaires filing jointly paying 7.99%.

Supporters argue the new tax structure would even the playing field between the wealthy and everyone else.

“Our current tax system isn’t working. And it lets billionaires and millionaires pay the same rate as middle- and working-class families,” said Quentin Fulks, chairman of Vote Yes For Fairness, a group working to build support for the proposal.

Fulks previously worked as deputy campaign manager for Pritzker’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. In December, Pritzker donated $5 million to Vote Yes For Fairness. 

“The [graduated income tax] will lift that burden off of middle- and low-income families, and update Illinois’ tax system to a more modern tax system that’s used by the federal government, and a majority of states in America,” Fulks said. 

But opponents say a graduated income tax could lead to residents and businesses leaving Illinois for other states.

“We live in the highest-taxed state in the country. We are hemorrhaging population,” said Jason Heffley, executive director of Ideas Illinois, a group campaigning against the amendment. 

Heffley worked as campaign manager for Republican Erika Harold during her 2018 run for attorney general. He also worked in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.

He says Pritzker and the General Assembly should focus on cutting state spending instead of raising taxes. The current flat tax rate, he said, is “one of the very few taxpayer protections we have in this state.”

“By doing this, they take that constitutional protection away, and would allow the General Assembly to play basically class warfare with taxes, and not make some decisions on spending,” Heffley said. 

Fulks and Heffley join “Chicago Tonight” in conversation.

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