Progressive tax amendment appears headed for defeat

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By Kevin Bessler | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The most expensive ballot issue in Illinois history – the progressive income tax amendment – appeared to be headed to defeat early Wednesday.

The amendment had 45% in support and 55% in opposition as of midnight Tuesday, according to preliminary results. Those numbers could change as additional mail-in ballots are tallied.

Illinois Republicans said the measure would be defeated. The party’s leader said it was time for politicians to “put taxpayers first.”

“We hope the Governor, Speaker, and Democratic leaders finally join us in the effort to put taxpayers first,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement.

Vote Yes for Fairness Chairman Quinten Fulks said the group is waiting for every vote to be counted.

“We are encouraged by the Illinoisans who cast their ballots in support of the Fair Tax despite the onslaught of misinformation and lies from those who were desperate to defeat the amendment,” he said. “Until every ballot is counted, we will stand with the Illinoisans who cast a ballot by mail, early and in-person today to ensure their voices are heard.”

If approved, the amendment would have scrapped the state’s flat-rate income tax for a new structure allowing lawmakers to tax different levels of income with varying tax rates.

A statement from the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment said it is a victory for small business owners, middle-class families, family farmers, retirees and large employers.

“In this election, Illinois voters sent a resounding message that with an $8 billion deficit and two massive tax hikes in the last ten years, we cannot trust Springfield politicians with another tax hike,” said spokesperson Lissa Druss. 

Issac Wink, an analyst with Reform For Illinois, said it was a costly contest for opponents and proponents.

“You’ve got Gov. [J.B.] Pritzker putting $58 million into the pro side and you’ve got Kenneth Griffin giving about $54 million on the anti side,” Wink said. “So, that’s over $110 million just on that ballot question alone, which is the most expensive ballot initiative that we’ve seen in Illinois history.”

Pritzker said Tuesday afternoon that he remained positive about the outcome. Illinois’ current budget counted on more than $1 billion in new tax revenue from the proposed structure change. If the results hold, Pritzker and lawmakers will have to revisit the budget.

During his daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Pritzker said he was confident in the outcome of his proposed amendment to the Illinois constitution. However, the governor said Illinoisans may not get results promptly because the specific method of calculating passage could delay the final tally until the end of the week.

In 2019, Pritzker signed two separate pieces of legislation to change the state to a graduated income tax system. One was an amendment to repeal the state’s flat income tax requirements, and a new law to set the rates. The second won’t happen unless voters approved the amendment.

If 60% of people voting on the amendment approve it, or if a simple majority of all voters, including those who skip the question on their ballots, approve it, the amendment will pass, changing the state’s constitution.

If approved, those making less than $250,000 a year would pay the existing rate of 4.95%, with a slight decrease in the rates on their income up to $100,000. Pritzker said 97% of Illinois residents would pay the same or less in state income taxes.

But Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said the Illinois legislature can change the tax rates and income brackets in the future without approval from voters.

“We saw this in Connecticut in what started out as a millionaire’s tax turned out to be a tax increase on people making $50,000 a year,” Maisch said.

Thirty-two other states all have some form of a progressive income tax. Illinois and its Midwestern neighbors Michigan and Indiana are three of eight states that use a flat tax.

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