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Illinois state leaders see taxpayers’ ‘no’ as reason to just ask again


Tuesday, January 24, 2023  |  Article  |  Brad Weisenstein

You’ve been in the supermarket and seen the beleaguered parent bugged by a child for a package of cookies. “No” is followed by asking again, and whining, and asking yet again.


Illinois taxpayers are seeing this scene, only they are the parents and state leaders the needy youngsters.


Voters already said “no” in November 2020 to replacing the Illinois Constitution’s flat tax protection with a progressive state income tax. They did so by a nearly 7 percentage point margin.


But some in Springfield are refusing to take “no” for an answer.


The day after the proposal failed, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had his spokesman claiming voters were deceived into rejecting the tax, despite the $58 million of his own money he dumped into his failed campaign that claimed taking another $3 billion from Illinois taxpayers was a “fair tax.”


Duped? More like adults deciding Pritzker & Co. needed no more cookies – or rather denying them a way to consume taxes from different income groups, including retirees, whenever they wanted.


And don’t forget that pols let slip exactly what the progressive tax could lead to.


“One thing a progressive tax would do is make clear you can have graduated rates when you are taxing retirement income,” Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs said while speaking at an event hosted by the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce in 2020. “And, I think that’s something that’s worth discussion.”


We also heard from indicted former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s successor, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, when he let the proposal resurface about three months after voters rejected it.


“We need to tell the taxpayers how we will spend this money,” Welch said in February 2021 at the Economic Club of Chicago. “Tie progressive tax(es) to paying off pension(s). Voters will trust us more.”

Which brings Illinois taxpayers to state leaders’ latest refusal to listen. On the heels of giving themselves 18% raises in their base pay, state lawmakers again are looking for that power to end the state’s flat income tax of 4.95% and they expect voters to let them set whatever rates they wish by targeting whatever income groups they wish.


It’s a progressive tax. They call it fair. And they are fine with ignoring the “no” from voters.


The chief House sponsor for putting the progressive tax on the ballot recently told Crain’s Chicago Business he is planning to bring it back, maybe in a month, now that he’s a state senator.


“If you really believe in something, you don’t give up after one loss,” state Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said about reviving the plot. “It’s the right thing to do.”


Right for state lawmakers who want ever more to spend, even with a record $46 billion budget this year? Right for taxpayers who can only be sure their taxes will never go down in Illinois?


Pritzker reacted: “That’s not something I am focused on this session.” That’s far from telling Martwick to stand down, but maybe Pritzker is getting the message?


Illinois lost a record 104,437 residents last year – the ninth straight year of population loss. Losses are because people are moving away. They’ve said they are moving away because of taxes, and for the better job and housing markets lower-tax states offer.


Whether they are insistent, or deaf or just want what they want regardless of the consequences, members of the new 103rd Illinois General Assembly should not take their supermajority status for granted. They may get what they want for now, but they also may get abandoned in the supermarket.