A logical and urgent question to ask J.B. Pritzker, Democratic candidate for governor, is “What’s your tax plan?” In fact, it’s such a basic question that we’ve asked him, and asked him. So have lots of other people. If only he’d tell voters how many more billions of dollars he wants to collect, and from whom?
Illinois is in financial crisis, with $130 billion in unfunded government pension liabilities and an unbalanced budget. Job growth is too slow. Residents and employers are leaving for better economic climes. Reviving Illinois is going to take some doing. Pritzker says if he’s elected he would try to change the state’s taxation system. But for well more than a year he has refused to disclose, beyond the vaguest generalities, what his proposal is.
Voters have a good idea of what Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate, would do. He tried to push a reform agenda through the Democratic-controlled General Assembly but was stymied by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Rauner is asking for another term to try again. He’d like to ease the 32 percent rate hike that legislators imposed over his objection last year.
Pritzker’s big idea is to generate more revenue from taxpayers by shifting Illinois to a progressive income tax system. Illinoisans pay a fixed rate, which is currently 4.95 percent. Pritzker wants Illinois to switch to a sliding rate scale, called a graduated or progressive rate income tax. But he won’t say how his plan would work or what the rates would be.
Therefore voters don’t know what Pritzker’s tax plan would cost them. Is that why he refuses to explain it? The most you can get out Pritzker is an assertion that his system, which requires a constitutional amendment, would collect more taxes from wealthy people while giving a tax cut to middle- and lower-income Illinoisans. That’s not a plan, it’s an empty boast.
Pritzker’s response to criticisms is that he won’t have further details, such as the tax rates and income levels at which the higher levies kick in, until he’s in office and negotiates with lawmakers. Looking back at Pritzker’s public statements, we found this quote to reporters at his April 2017 campaign kickoff: “I think that we ought to start with the millionaires and billionaires and make sure that they’re paying taxes first, and then we’re not going to be talking about raising taxes on middle-class families until we take care of that problem.”
Voters, does that clear things up for you? Didn’t think so.
Our concern with the switch to a progressive income tax is it would enable the worst instincts of many Illinois politicians, who treat higher taxes as the solution to every problem. Pritzker recently rolled out a higher education plan, for example, chock full of big promises and new spending — but no price tag. Details, details.
Giving Springfield the ability to play with rates would be like putting toddlers in charge of a cookie jar: The outcome is certain — they’ll gorge themselves. As Pritzker suggested, he’d start with higher rates for billionaires. But by the time he’s done, we reckon that middle-class residents also will be paying taxes at higher rates.
Raising taxes is one sure way to intensify competition from lower-tax states — and to intensify what we call the Illinois Exodus of economic refugees. Higher taxes punish taxpayers. Higher taxes remove pressure on political leaders to spend taxpayer money responsibly. Higher taxes drive employers and residents across state lines. That leaves remaining Illinoisans with an even greater share of the burden.
Pritzker wants voters to elect him. He thinks a progressive income tax will help Illinois. But he shouldn’t keep his intentions secret. He owes it to voters to share his plans before Election Day.
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September 28, 2018 at 03:57PM