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Illinoisans hear closing arguments about progressive tax ballot initiative

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Thursday, October 15, 2020  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Taxes, Graduated/Progressive Rezin, Sue--State Senate, 38

(The Center Square) – With fewer than three weeks until Election Day and many voters having already cast their ballots, supporters and opponents are making their closing arguments about whether Illinois should scrap its flat tax restraints enshrined in the Illinois Constitution. 

Vote Yes for Fairness Chairman Quentin Fulks and former state Sen. Daniel Biss defended the initiative against state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and Greg Baise, treasurer of the Coalition for Jobs, Growth & Prosperity Wednesday afternoon in a virtual forum hosted by Wintrust, Lincoln Forum and The Union League Club of Chicago. 

At debate is Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature “fair tax” ballot initiative. If enacted, it would remove the provision in Illinois’ Constitution saying the state must not tax the same dollar more than once and at different rates than other dollars. This would allow Illinois lawmakers to raise tax rates based on the level of income, charging higher-earning residents at higher rates than others. It would also allow them to tax other incomes, such as retirement or pension income, but limit it to earners over a certain threshold. 

Proponents of the initiative stress they don’t plan to tax retirement income. 

Both Rezin and Baise stressed the introductory rates that would take effect in January should the initiative succeed at the ballot box would likely change, increasing rates as soon as politically palatable. 

"It fundamentally moves power from the state's protection of the taxpayers to the legislators," Rezin said. "It's a simple question; do you trust your legislators ... to spend money well?"

The initial estimate of the rates, lowering slightly for most and spiking for income over $250,000 for single filers, would bring in roughly $3.4 billion, but the pandemic has brought that down to below $2 billion. 

Fulks and Biss made clear that the progressive tax would not solve the state’s perilous budget situation, rather it gave lawmakers some headway to couple with other solutions. 

“You won’t hear me argue that the Fair Tax is a solution to all the state’s problems,” Fulks said. “The state of Illinois had crushing budget deficits before COVID and, unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made that worse, but we can’t continue to sit back and keep the status quo because that’s what we have.” 

Baise and other opponents of the measure say its passage will crush small business owners who file as individuals and costs the state thousands of jobs. Opponents also say the wealthy can more easily pack up and more to more tax-friendly states.

Polling for the ballot initiative has fluctuated based in part on how the question was posed.