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Democrats expected to begin progressive tax debate this spring

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Monday, February 4, 2019  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Taxes, Graduated/Progressive , Taxes, income (86) Butler, Tim--State House, 87 , Hoffman, Jay--State House, 113 , McConchie, Dan--State Senate, 26
With calls to change Illinois’ constitutional flat income tax to a progressive structure and a new push to change how political boundaries are drawn, one state lawmaker said there are enough proposed changes that it may be time to open the whole thing up.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said every year there are many ideas lawmakers bring forward to get voter approval on changing the state constitution.

“We talk about term limits, we talk about fair maps, we talk about pension reform, we talk about school funding, we talk about all of these issues that go into the constitution,” he said.

The last constitutional amendment to get the required 60 percent approval of voters statewide was the transportation funding lockbox amendment. The Safe Roads Amendment passed in 2016 with support from nearly 80 percent of voters. It mandates that taxes and fees generated from the state's motor fuel tax, vehicle title fees and other transportation-related sources be used for transportation-related purposes.

Lawmakers have all this year and most of next year to get constitutional amendment questions through the House and Senate to get them in front of voters on the November 2020 statewide ballot.

Traditionally, lawmakers pass proposed constitutional amendments only in even-numbered years just before statewide ballots.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, expects debate on a host of ideas in 2020, including changes to how legislative maps are drawn.

“I see that playing out more so next year,” Hoffman said. “But I do see the fair tax proposal being put out this year and debated probably in the House and Senate.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on changing the constitution's flat income tax to a progressive structure that has higher tax rates for higher income levels. Pritzker never specified rates or income levels, but repeatedly said a progressive structure would require people like him (a billionaire) and former Gov. Bruce Rauner (a multimillionaire) to pay more. During a debate in October, Pritzker said a teacher in Peoria with an average salary of $51,481 should get a tax break. While some call it a progressive, or a graduated, tax, Pritzker and other Democrats have taken to calling it a “fair tax.”

State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said if there’s going to be a debate about a progressive tax, taxpayers need clear terms of what the rates and income levels would be.

“I think the people need to be very wary of a graduated income tax unless they’re going to tell you exactly how much it is that they’re going to be asking from you,” McConchie said.

While Pritzker hasn't said what he thinks the rates should be, he has said that the rates would have to be negotiated with lawmakers. So far, it's still unclear if a constitutional amendment would set the rates in stone, or leave it open to a tiered structure with the legislature being able to change the rates year-to-year.

With a limit of three constitutional amendments allowed to go to voters, McConchie said redistricting reform and a spending cap should be among them.

Butler said it may be time to hold a constitutional convention and open the entire document up for changes.

“Convene a constitutional convention,” he said. “Elect the electors and hash it out in that setting. That’s kind of the reason why you have the ability to have a constitutional convention is to be able to make these changes to the constitution.”

The last constitutional convention created the 1970 state constitution. As with any amendment, any proposed constitution would require 60 percent approval by voters.