It was encouraging to see the new governor visit Rockford at 9 a.m. Thursday to meet with the Editorial Board.
All his other events and meetings that day were in Chicago, starting at noon.
That shows that JB Pritzker, in office since Jan. 14, is concerned enough about the greater Rockford area to plant his flag here early in his administration.
Unlike some other governors, he has a working knowledge of the important issues in this area and a close relationship with some of our leaders, especially Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Chicago Rockford International Airport Executive Director Mike Dunn Sr.
I observed during the 2018 March primary campaign that of all the Democratic candidates, Pritzker was the easiest to carry on a real conversation with. He listened and responded as if he really heard what you were saying and had taken the mental time necessary to give you a thoughtful answer. He didn’t use prepared talking points that say nothing.
I noted to myself then that “JB” was worlds apart from then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. There was not much use talking with Rauner. Every question drew the same response: “They should pass my Illinois Turnaround Agenda” — which, of course “they,” the members of the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly, were not going to do.
Rauner acted like the personification of the career from which he came: Hedge fund manager with a Crocodile Dundee knife.
Meanwhile, Pritzker was creating jobs at 1871, the business incubator he started in the Merchandise Mart. The firm, which grows digital startup companies, had created more than 7,000 jobs by 2017.
Pritzker’s sunny disposition hasn’t changed now that he’s governor. He’s very engaging and talks of building positive relationships with Republicans to see what can be done in a bipartisan fashion.
One thing Pritzker said that both parties can agree on is the need for a capital construction plan, which would be the first since 2009. Everybody likes infrastructure: union construction workers, construction company owners, residents, businesses and the politicians who cut the ribbons.
The problem will be figuring out how to pay for it. Nobody wants to raise motor fuel taxes, and a bill to enact a ”miles driven” tax was met with shock and dismay and quickly withdrawn by its lone sponsor, state Rep. Marcus Evans Jr., D-Chicago.
The main reason Pritzker came here was to make a pitch for a graduated income tax, which he calls “the fair tax.” The Illinois Constitution requires a flat state income tax.
Pritzker pointed out that 34 states have graduated income taxes. Illinois is one of nine states with flat income taxes, and seven states, including Florida and Texas, have no state income tax.
Pritzker knows the fair tax won’t be easy to sell. All through the campaign, he declined to provide the proposed rates of his fair tax. In Thursday’s meeting with the Editorial Board, the governor again declined to discuss details.
However, he assured us that he will provide the rates as the plan advances in the General Assembly and before Illinoisans are asked to vote on a tax amendment in 2020.
The graduated income tax must pass the state House and Senate with 60 percent majorities. When it goes to the voters as a proposed constitutional amendment, it also must pass with a 60 percent majority.
Pritzker all along has said that wealthy Illinoisans like him should pay higher taxes, presumably meaning that ordinary middle class folks shouldn’t pay more. Forbes listed Pritzker’s net worth Friday at $3.2 billion.
Pritzker noted that other states around Illinois have graduated income taxes, mentioning Wisconsin and Iowa. In both of those states, however, low- and middle-income people pay a higher percentage of their income in state income taxes than Illinoisans do.
In Wisconsin, a married couple filing jointly and making $14,980 a year pays 5.84 percent in state income taxes; if they make $29,960 or more they pay 6.27 percent; the rate is 7.65 percent for couples making $336,200 and up.
In Iowa, a married couple making $14,382 a year pays 6.12 percent; if they make $31,960 they pay 6.8 percent; at $47,940 the rate kicks up to 7.92 percent, and if that couple earns $71,910 or more they pay 8.98 percent to the Hawkeye State.
Pritzker said his income tax plan will be tied to a reduction in local property taxes, which are used disproportionately in Illinois to fund public schools, even though the state constitution says, “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”
Currently, the governor noted, the state of Illinois funds just 23 percent of the cost of public education in the state, and that is squeezing property-tax payers, throughout Illinois.
Chuck Sweeny: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org;@chucksweeny; @chucksweeny
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March 2, 2019 at 10:25AM