Illinois GOP Dismiss ‘Scare Tactics’ Over Graduated Income Tax

Republicans pushed back against Democrats’ warning that lawmakers could raise state income taxes for all if voters reject a graduated income tax plan.

Graduated Income Tax
Gov. J.B. Pritzker outlines his plan to replace Illinois' flat-rate income tax with a graduated structure with rates ranging from 4.75 percent to 7.95 percent, depending on income, at a state Capitol news conference on Thursday, March 7, 2019 in Springfield. John O’Connor / AP Photo
Graduated Income Tax
Gov. J.B. Pritzker outlines his plan to replace Illinois' flat-rate income tax with a graduated structure with rates ranging from 4.75 percent to 7.95 percent, depending on income, at a state Capitol news conference on Thursday, March 7, 2019 in Springfield. John O’Connor / AP Photo

Illinois GOP Dismiss ‘Scare Tactics’ Over Graduated Income Tax

Republicans pushed back against Democrats’ warning that lawmakers could raise state income taxes for all if voters reject a graduated income tax plan.

Republicans are pouncing after a top Illinois Democrat suggested that all residents could see their income taxes increase if voters reject a tax increase on wealthy residents.

Under Illinois’ current tax code, residents pay 4.95% of their income to the state. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has led an effort to change the state constitution so income above $250,000 would be taxed at a higher percentage. Voters will decide its fate in November’s election.

In trying to gin up support for the switch, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on Thursday issued this warning: If the graduated income tax ballot measure fails, then lawmakers could raise the flat tax by “at least 20%.”

“To adequately address the budget crisis under our current tax system, lawmakers will be forced to consider raising income taxes on all Illinois residents by at least 20% regardless of their level of income,” Stratton said on a video conference.

A 20% increase would move the current 4.95% flat income tax rate to 5.94%.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said Friday the comment amounted to a “scare tactic” meant to intimidate voters into supporting the amendment just as early voting is beginning.

“To threaten Illinois citizens with a smile on their face, that if you don’t pass this tax amendment we’re going to impose a 20% income tax against you, we will punish you for not following us — speaks volumes that this tax amendment is failing and that Democrats are desperate,” Durkin said.

No Republicans in the state legislature voted to put the graduated income tax amendment on the November ballot. They’ve argued that the proposal to raise taxes to 7.75% on income above $250,000 will lead to an outmigration of those residents.

“(The GOP) are the ones that are proposing annihilating the working class and the middle class in Illinois because they have no solutions,” Pritzker retorted at an unrelated news conference Friday.

In arguing in favor of the amendment, Pritzker outlined three possibilities to address the state’s financial problems: raise the flat income tax, cut 15% from the budget or move to a graduated income tax system. Pritzker argues that the graduated income tax system is the most equitable path.

The ballot measure passes if it gains 60% support from those voting on the question, or the majority of those who vote in the election.

The state’s wealthiest individuals have waded into their own pockets in this battle. Pritzker gave $51.5 million of his own personal fortune to a campaign committee named Vote Yes For Fairness to advocate on behalf of the amendment. Ken Griffin gave $20 million to the Coalition To Stop The Proposed Tax Hike Amendment.

Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.