41st House District candidates debate graduated income tax plan

  • Republican incumbent Grant Wehrli, left, and Democrat Janet Yang Rohr are vying for the 41st state House seat.

    Republican incumbent Grant Wehrli, left, and Democrat Janet Yang Rohr are vying for the 41st state House seat.

 
 
Updated 9/28/2020 10:54 AM

One of the hottest Illinois races on the Nov. 3 ballot is an issue that divides the candidates vying for the 41st House District: a constitutional amendment that would set the stage for a graduated income tax.

Changing the tax structure so that rates rise by income level would lower the burden on the middle class and put some much-needed revenue in the state's coffers, Democrat Janet Yang Rohr said. But Republican incumbent Grant Wehrli argues that asking for money from the state's wealthiest residents won't fix its budget woes and could end up doing more harm than good.

 

With nearly two terms under his belt, Wehrli is seeking another turn at bat to fight corruption and push for fiscal responsibility. Born and raised in Naperville, the former city councilman pointed to his willingness to reach across the aisle and his track record of voting for what best represents the district, rather than along party lines, he says.

Yang Rohr, who also grew up in Naperville and now sits on the Naperville Unit District 203 school board, says she believes it's time for a fresh start. A global data director at Morningstar, she pledged to defend women's rights and support better access to health care, while also protecting the middle class and retirees.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's graduated income tax plan is a simple solution to lowering taxes for a majority of Illinois residents, Yang Rohr said during a virtual candidate forum Wednesday. The additional revenue generated by taxing the state's wealthiest at higher rates could help fund crucial service areas, such as education and programs for those with developmental disabilities, she said.

But even if their taxes are maintained or reduced, middle- and lower-class families could feel the effects of the state's financial struggles in other ways, Wehrli said, pointing to recent increases in the state's gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

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"Simply asking for more money is not the solution," he said. "What we need to look at is how we're spending money. Budgets are reflective of our priorities."

At a time when other agencies are trying to reduce expenses amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wehrli said, Illinois' budget this fiscal year anticipates spending $2 billion more than last year and relies on $6 billion in federal aid. During an interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board, he likened the move to pouring "kerosene on a raging fiscal inferno."

"We need to get our fiscal house in order before we go to the taxpayers for one more cent," he said.

Yang Rohr argued the progressive tax will increase revenues that could help the tackle those very issues, while also addressing a growing wealth disparity in Illinois.

"In this context, I think adopting a graduated tax policy like that of the federal structure makes a lot of sense," she said.

She disregarded Wehrli's "slippery slope" argument, saying voters have the power to keep legislators in check if their actions don't reflect the district's values. Regardless of whether the progressive tax question passes, Yang Rohr said, "I am absolutely committed to not raising taxes on middle-class families and not levying taxes on retirement income. Full stop."

The 41st House District includes parts of Naperville and Warrenville.

• For more election coverage and help filling out your ballot, visit dailyherald.com/election.

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