How Illinois Democrats plan to raise taxes again (in five easy steps)

By Ben VanMetre
Posted9/6/2013 5:00 AM

Illinois politicians have their faults, but one of their most salient traits is that they are creatures of habit. They often wear their political playbook on their sleeve.

Watch their maneuvers long enough, and you'll learn to anticipate their next move.

Their latest endeavor is to raise taxes on Illinoisans by swapping out the state's constitutionally protected flat income tax rate for a progressive income tax -- increasing tax rates on 85 percent of Illinois taxpayers.

Here's their plan to hoodwink Illinois taxpayers again:

Step 1: Pick the right lingo

Income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, alcohol taxes -- Illinois residents are sick of taxes. They are unhappy to live in a state that, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, has the nation's ninth highest state and local tax burden. The income tax hike of 2011 only angered state taxpayers more.

Because the wound from the recent income tax hike still is too fresh, politicians know the term "tax hike" is off limits for their currents sales pitch.

Instead, the tax hikers created a list of names that sound friendlier than "tax hike," such as "graduated income tax," "modern tax system," "fair tax" and the tax term in vogue these days, "tax on the rich." Politicians even mislabeled the progressive tax as a "tax cut." Anything sounds better than tax hike -- whether it's true or not.

Step 2: Find a willing foot soldier

Tax hike proponents believe that expert approval from an outside source is critical for the tax hike's passage.

Government unions are the chief proponents of tax increases in Illinois, and they conveniently fund a faux-academic organization that publishes white papers to advance union initiatives. This group, known as the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, boasts the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other unions as its top financial supporters.

The CTBA created a progressive income tax hike plan for Illinois. That plan pushes rates as high as 11 percent.

Step 3: Keep changing the sales pitch until one sticks

Selling a progressive income tax is particularly difficult in Illinois because the flat rate income tax is constitutionally protected.

But with a progressive tax plan in hand, tax hike advocates introduced legislation. The legislation was intentionally vague and meant to distract from the details of what "graduated" really means -- higher taxes.

When taxpayers caught on to the fact that graduated was code for tax hike, tax hike advocates changed their pitch. Now they call the tax hike a "fair tax" to dupe people into to a marketing strategy focused on a meaning the product doesn't have -- fairness.

Step 4: People like solutions, so call the tax hike a solution

Most Illinoisans don't like higher taxes. But everyone likes a good solution, so progressive tax hike proponents labeled it a "solution" to Illinois' fiscal problems.

They've presented the solution during pension committee hearings, in front of university students and to meetings with local activists groups.

They say Illinois has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. But regardless of the issue, they always say the progressive tax is the solution.

Step 5: Undersell the plan

Another strategy is to avoid telling Illinois taxpayers what specific rates will be signed into law. And when tax advocates have been forced to suggest rates, they shoot low -- knowing the rates can be increased when it's time to finalize the deal.

Recall Gov. Pat Quinn's promise that he'd veto any tax hike above the rate of 4 percent. Soon thereafter, he signed into law the tax rate of 5 percent.

The bottom line

As ridiculous as this playbook may seem, the strategy is real and it's been in the works for years. Lawmakers are trying to dupe taxpayers into another multibillion dollar tax increase by selling it as something it isn't. Illinoisans need to continue calling out the progressive income tax for what it is -- a tax hike that would hit Illinois' middle class and the state's already suffering economy.

Ben VanMetre is senior budget and tax analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank.

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