Democrats take first step toward graduated tax as partisan divide holds firm

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker faces a challenge in convincing 60 percent of Illinois voters to support a shift in the income tax system.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker faces a challenge in convincing 60 percent of Illinois voters to support a shift in the income tax system. Associated Press

 
 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's signature election promise to switch Illinois from a flat to a graduated income tax moved closer to reality when fellow Democrats filed legislation to that end Tuesday amid Republican pushback.

The constitutional amendment would require approval from a supermajority in the House and Senate, which Democrats hold. Then 60 percent of voters must endorse it to pass.

Rhetoric Tuesday indicated it will be a partisan fight to the 2020 ballot box despite both sides saying they're open to negotiations.

"They're just demagoguing the issue," Pritzker said of Republicans. "Those who oppose this by waging a misinformation campaign ... are defending an unfair status quo that benefits the wealthiest Illinoisans."

"Let us adopt a system that's more fair to the middle class. It doesn't make sense I pay the same rates as a teacher or first-responder," the Hyatt hotel heir said.

But "our caucus is united against this proposal," House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said. "We should not give Democrats the ability to change (income tax) rates and virtually write a blank check to raise taxes on residents in the future. That's not how we fix our state."

Pritzker has proposed six tax brackets to replace Illinois' flat tax of 4.95 percent. The lowest bracket for income up to $10,000 is 4.75 percent, while the highest for incomes of more than $1 million is 7.95 percent.

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The governor's office estimates the change would generate about $3.4 billion.

The amendment does not include specific brackets. The brackets are open for negotiation, said Pritzker, who contends just 3 percent of Illinoisans would see their taxes go up.

The Chicago Democrat warned that with a $3.2 billion deficit in his proposed 2019-2020 budget, plus about $15 billion in unpaid bills, Illinois faces a financial abyss. Inaction could mean 15 percent cuts to colleges and universities, public safety, social services and schools, he said.

"I'm not hearing any proposals by Republicans that meets that threshold," Pritzker said. "They're not coming up with solutions."

"The Senate stands ready to move," said Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, who sponsored the amendment.

Republicans support property tax relief, pension reform and paying down the state's bills as a solution, Durkin said. "If the administration commits to working with us on improving the economy, we're all in."

An online tax calculator to see what the proposed brackets would mean is available at www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/fairtax/Pages/default.aspx.

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