Illinois' flat tax, a boost for economy or a burden for schools? Two opposing views

  • Travis Nix, left, and Dillin Randolph

    Travis Nix, left, and Dillin Randolph

Posted10/25/2020 1:00 AM

Fairness in taxation also will boost fairness for schools

By Dillin Randolph


Guest columnist

As a teacher who works in a well-funded suburban district in Illinois, I always joke with my CPS teacher friends that they should join the dark side and "come to the suburbs." My situation as a teacher is better than most. We have a new, cutting-edge learning management system. Our English department provides novels for students to keep, not borrow, for class. We have the ability to only be a 1:1 school that provides a Chromebook to each student, but we are even able to provide an internet hot spot for students with limited access during remote instruction in the midst of a global pandemic.

This makes it astronomically easier for me to educate all my students. But there are many, many teachers who are nowhere near this situation. I have friends who teach in CPS; the district is not providing laptops and hot spots to their students. How are teachers supposed to effectively educate students remotely when some may not even have a device to get on the internet? Not everyone has the means to move to the suburbs and enjoy these necessities that, to others, seem like luxuries. Does this mean that only some of our children deserve to have them?

One thing we can do to help is to support the Illinois "Fair Tax" referendum. Illinoisans will vote to amend the Illinois state Constitution to allow us to switch from a flat tax system (where everyone regardless of income is taxed at the same rate) to a graduated one (where the more money you make, the more you are taxed, as with our federal income taxes every year).

Currently in Illinois, whether you make $40,000 or $400,000 per year in income, you are taxed at 4.95%. This essentially means that lower-income residents pay a higher share of their disposable income as taxes than higher-income residents. This isn't fair.

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Numerous schools in Illinois are seriously underfunded. The evidence-based formula (EBF) for school funding, which passed in 2017, established a goal of comprehensively changing the way school districts receive the bulk of state funds. The EBF sends more money and resources to Illinois' most under-resourced students. Students from Zion to Chicago all the way down to Belleville are benefiting from an increase in state funding. In my school, we already have all of the resources we need to adequately teach our students. The resources some schools receive through EBF funds are things we have had access to for years. This isn't fair.

The EBF also determines the "adequacy target" of school districts. This represents the amount of funding a district should spend to provide its students with a high-quality education. This target is calculated based on a number of factors, including student demographics and regional living costs (a district with more low-income students needs more resources to cover services than a district with fewer low-income students). The school district where I teach in the suburbs has 172% of the funds needed to provide its students with a high-quality education. CPS, for example, has hovered around 64% for the past few years. This isn't fair.

We need more state funding. At Thornton Fraction High School District 215, state funding has allowed the district to hire seven additional teachers, which allowed the district to double its Advanced Placement offerings from seven to 14 classes. Because of state funds, hundreds of students can now be exposed to more rigorous courses. McLean County School District 5 was able to bring in two college and career counselors with funding that was previously unavailable. This effectively helps increase post-secondary opportunities for their students. And if the Fair Tax passes, these students will be able to enjoy more resources to allow them to become the contributing members of society we expect them to be.

Arriving at fair and sufficient funding relies upon Illinois' capacity to have consistent revenue sources and addressing the disparity in school funding. Otherwise, the dent we've made in mitigating this disparity will be buffed out.


So how can we ease this imbalance of funding in school systems in our state? By voting yes for fairness. By voting yes for change. And by voting yes for the Fair Tax.

• Dillin Randolph teaches freshman and honors sophomore English at Niles West High School in Skokie. He is a 2020-2021 Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow.

Flat-tax vote will shape our future -- and not for the better

By Travis Nix

Guest columnist

Illinois voters will cast the most important vote of their lifetime on Nov. 3, one that will determine whether our state can make a full economic recovery following the COVID recession.

This vote is not about who will be the next president, senator or congressman; it's about whether Illinois will keep its constitutionally mandated flat tax, where everyone pays the same individual income tax rate, or whether the state will change its constitution to allow a progressive income tax, where lawmakers can tinker with tax rates and brackets as they see fit.

A yes vote on the so-called "fair tax amendment" would give corrupt Illinois politicians even more power to raise taxes and would worsen the state's job and population loss in the middle of a recession.

This proposed constitutional amendment would remove one of the last safeguards protecting Illinois citizens from having the highest tax burden in the nation. Until now, the flat tax has made it difficult for lawmakers to increase the income tax. If lawmakers want to raise it at all, they have to raise it for everyone -- an unpopular decision, politically speaking. A progressive income tax, on the other hand, allows lawmakers to tinker with rates and brackets as they see fit to choose who's taxed and who's safe. Illinois voters should think twice before voting in favor of such a system.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised the amendment will lower taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans, but this is far from a guarantee. The amendment sets no exact tax brackets or rates; it just gives state lawmakers the power to set the rates. That should be a big red flag for voters.

Illinois voters know better than to give corrupt Illinois politicians like House Speaker Mike Madigan even more power. In 2011, state politicians "temporarily" increased the state income tax to 5 percent from 3.75 percent to allegedly pay down state pension debt, which at that time was an estimated $83 billion. It's 2020, the income tax rate is 4.95 percent and the state's pension debt has grown to $261 billion. Recent history suggests that any promise of lower taxes in Illinois without spending cuts is a fallacy at best and at worst a bald-faced lie.

If the progressive income tax is allowed, Illinoisans' taxes will most likely go up. And so will taxes on millions of Illinois families and small-businesses that are barely surviving the COVID-19 recession.

Most small businesses rather than paying corporate income taxes pay business taxes on their individual income tax forms -- these are known as "pass through" businesses. The proposed progressive income tax amendment threatens to increase these taxes, creating even more uncertainty for businesses just trying to survive the COVID crisis.

Small businesses are the state's largest job creator and the businesses that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus shutdown. For their tremendous courage in keeping their doors open and paying their employees, they deserve a tax cut, not a tax hike. Yet one bill in the state legislature would increase taxes for pass-through businesses by 47 percent if the progressive income tax is approved.

Raising the taxes of small businesses now would cause more businesses to close, increase layoffs and reduce wages for their hard working employees. It would devastate Illinois families as the state tries to make an economic recovery.

We could expect these issues to accelerate Illinois' population loss. The state has lost more people this decade than any other state as residents have fled its already high tax burden. The threat of increasing taxes even further would cause more residents to Illinois for low-tax states like Indiana, Texas and Florida.

The primary people leaving the state are those under 35 years old who make over $100,000. These are entrepreneurs and job creators -- the state's best and brightest. If Illinois hopes to make a fast-economic recovery, it can't afford to lose these smart, hardworking residents.

A shrinking tax base will lead to a higher tax burden on those who are left behind. Population loss will raise taxes even more, no matter how much residents make.

Illinois voters have a choice to make this November between future prosperity or continued economic hardship. A "yes" vote on the proposed graduated income tax amendment gives corrupt Illinois politicians more power to raise your taxes. This would result in less jobs, lower wages and more businesses destroyed during a recession.

• Travis Nix (@tnix113), of Lake Zurich, is a student of tax law at Georgetown Law and a contributor to Young Voices, a nonprofit that helps young pro-liberty writers break into commentary.

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