'We are really, totally at odds on this;' Roskam, Casten sharply disagree on 2017 tax law
Whether the changes from 2017's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act help or hurt suburban residents in the 6th Congressional District is the defining disagreement between the two candidates seeking to represent the area, both men say.
And whether specific taxpayers are helped or hurt by the new income tax reality could shape whether voters agree with Republican incumbent Peter Roskam of Wheaton or Democratic challenger Sean Casten of Downers Grove.
Roskam, who has held office since 2007 and who helped write and pass the tax law, says the legislation provides $4,600 in income tax relief to the district's median-income family of four making $135,000 a year.
He said there is "probably no bigger difference" between he and Casten "than our views on taxes." Casten, a clean energy entrepreneur and first-time political candidate, also cited the opposing positions on taxes, saying "we are really, totally at odds on this."
Casten, 46, says the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act creates "massive concern" about the estimated $1 trillion it adds to the U.S. budget deficit and could contribute to "historically high levels" of wealth inequality.
"The tax bill that was passed gave tax cuts to those who least need it," Casten said.
Those cuts won't pay for themselves, he says. And failing to address income inequality puts the country "at levels that, in history, are getting dangerously close to the levels that preceded revolutions," he said.
Roskam criticized the implication of a potential revolution as "hyperbole."
"Sean, we are not at risk of revolution in this country," he said.
"Peter, I certainly hope you're right," Casten said.
But Casten offered another caution about the new tax code. He said people who did not adjust their federal tax withholding levels to account for changes in the state and local tax deduction and liabilities under the new law could see sizable federal income tax bills next April.
"Be careful because you're going to have to end up writing a big check when tax season rolls around," Casten said. "You've been under-withheld because you live in a district where the wealth is a bit higher than average, the state taxes are higher than average, and those things are a big factor."
Roskam, 56, refuted that worry as overstated and said taxpayers instead have relief coming in the spring, along with the other benefits of the tax changes, which he said are a modernized, competitive tax code and a growing economy.
"That's the entire premise of this whole approach," he said.
The candidates met for 90 minutes with the Daily Herald's editorial board Monday in Arlington Heights, during which their thoughts on taxes rose to the forefront. A full video, which drew thousands of viewers and comments, can be found at Facebook.com/DailyHeraldFans.
While Casten criticized the effects of last year's federal income tax legislation, Roskam questioned Casten's intentions to increase other forms of taxation, such as the gas tax.
"There is a tax burden that Sean is proposing on people in this constituency that they can ill afford," Roskam said.
Casten said the gas tax has not been increased since 1993, during which time he said inflation has risen 65 percent.
"That makes it harder and harder and harder for us to fund our infrastructure," such as the roads and airports that Casten says attracted him to move to Illinois when he wanted to start a business. "We are not going to continue to attract people ... if we don't invest in infrastructure, if we don't invest in education."
The candidates' meeting Monday was the final of four debates Roskam offered to conduct in person with Casten after Casten arose victorious from a Democratic primary field of seven candidates.
Roskam and Casten are squaring off to represent the 6th U.S. Congressional District, which stretches from Naperville to Tower Lakes and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.