Vote for fair play and the Fair Tax Amendment

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Rev. Tim Hokstra, of Suburban Life Community Church in Darien, speaks at a rally in favor of the Fair Tax Amendment on Oct. 6 2020. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The amendment would allow Illinois to ask a little more of rich people so that middle class people can catch a break. It is that simple.

If you have yet to vote in this election, we urge you one last time:

Vote for the “Fair Tax Amendment,” which would allow Illinois to ask a little more of the very wealthiest among us so that the middle class and working poor can catch a break.

It is really that simple. Nothing complicated. The Fair Tax Amendment is premised on the reasonable principle, already embraced in 34 other states and the federal government, that a person who is doing very, very well should pay income taxes at a slightly higher rate than a person who’s scraping by on the minimum wage.

To ask a little more of a rich man might mean, at worst, that he has to put off buying a new vacation home. To ask little less of a poorer man might mean he can buy school supplies for his kids.

As it works now in Illinois, everybody is taxed at the same flat rate, 4.95%. The state’s Constitution allows only a flat tax. If, however, the Fair Tax Amendment is approved by the voters, allowing for a switch to a graduated income tax, the levy will rise — according to a schedule already worked out in Springfield — only for those who make more than $250,000 a year.

The richest 3% of us, that is to say, will see a tax increase. The other 97% won’t.

As you have no doubt noticed, there’s been a massive advertising campaign, financed by multimillionaires and billionaires, to kill the Fair Tax Amendment. They have thrown up one scary argument after another to persuade you not to vote for a progressive income tax — the Fair Tax.

Don’t be taken in. The super rich are looking out for themselves, not for you.

Consider the following:

  • If Illinois does not switch to a progressive income tax, every taxpayer in Illinois — rich, middle class and working poor — soon will be forced to pay more. Illinois faces an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills, and the pandemic threatens to make matters worse. The state will never be able to cut its way to financial health, not without destroying essential services. Additional revenue is necessary.

If that extra revenue cannot be collected by taxing just the wealthy at a higher rate, as allowed for by the Fair Tax Amendment, taxes will go up for everybody under the flat tax.

  • The Fair Tax won’t touch retirement income, nor will it make it more likely that retirement income will be taxed in the future. Proposing to tax retirement income will remain politically suicide. If that were not the case, AARP Illinois would not be such a strong supporter of the Fair Tax.

“No matter who has said it or how they have said it, the simple truth is that switching to a graduated income tax does not allow the state to tax retirement income,” AARP Illinois stated in a recent online post. “AARP Illinois adamantly opposes taxation of retirement income and we would not support the graduated income tax if it did.”

  • The initial Fair Tax income brackets worked out by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration strike us as reasonable. The tax rate on incomes below $100,000 actually would be reduced. But if Republicans and other opponents of the Fair Tax think those tax brackets punish the rich, that’s on them. They refused to negotiate when the brackets were being worked out. There’s also nothing stopping them from returning to Springfield, after the Fair Tax Amendment is approved, to negotiate revised tax brackets.

What is absurd, though, is to oppose the Fair Tax because you’re unhappy with the tax brackets, a position taken by the Civic Federation. As a Sun-Times reader, David Eppenstein, of Hickory Hills, recently wrote to us: “That’s like saying you’re in favor of fire prevention, but you oppose the purchase of all hoses because those under consideration are too big.”

A beginning, not the end

This brings us to a larger argument in favor of the Fair Tax, which is that nobody’s saying it will solve all the state’s problems. But it will move Illinois in the right direction after years of fiscal mismanagement by both Republicans and Democrats.

Even after the Fair Tax is approved, much more work must be done to reduce costs and rein in public pensions. We will continue to argue for the elimination of hundreds of unnecessary units of government. And we will continue to argue that an annual 3% compounded increase in pension benefits is overly generous and must be renegotiated.

But Illinois must pay its bills. It must pay down its debts. It must bring a level of stability to state finances or watch as businesses big and small, which abhor fiscal unpredictability, pick up and leave.

And the Fair Tax is among the fairest ways to get us there.

In a nation in which the top 1% enjoy an income that is 26 times higher than that of the other 99%, how is it even debatable that wealthy people should pay taxes at a slightly higher rate than middle class people?

We urge you to vote for fair play. Vote “yes” for the Fair Tax Amendment.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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October 29, 2020 at 02:12PM

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