SPRINGFIELD — In the absence of public details regarding a rate structure for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax, opposing factions are painting starkly different pictures of the proposed changes' potential impact on the state and its residents.
While Republicans say a graduated income tax will put an added burden on the middle class and businesses, Democrats say most Illinoisans, including small businesses, will see a tax reduction if a constitutional amendment passes.
But despite both sides’ best efforts, there’s no way to know who is right until Pritzker or Democrats in the Legislature release a rate structure. Pritzker’s office has said that will happen before the matter comes to a vote.
“As the discussion on the amendment moves forward, the rate structure will be negotiated with the General Assembly before a vote takes place so the public has a full and transparent understanding of the way forward,” said Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.
Last week, House Republicans called for Pritzker to release the rate structure to fully inform the conversation.
“Gov. Pritzker, release your rates,” Assistant House Republican Leader Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said. “Let the people know what the tax structure is going to look like. And then we can have an informed conversation.”
Even if Pritzker releases those rates soon, it’s not likely to be the “conversation” Wehrli describes. The entire Republican House caucus signed on to a non-binding House Resolution 153 opposing Pritzker’s efforts.
Instead, the Republicans said they prefer to talk about reforms, although they haven't touted any specifically. Wehrli said he would prioritize technological integration as necessary reform, noting money could be spent more wisely in that area.
Legislatively, however, Republican opposition isn’t enough to prevent a graduated tax question from advancing — Democrats have the required three-fifths majorities in the House and Senate to place a question to voters in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Even so, the question of whether the amendment is ratified will be up to Illinois’ voters — if 60 percent of those voting on the question or a majority of the total voters in the election approve it, the Legislature would have the ability to approve a graduated tax rate.
“We are unified in that this is not the solution that Illinois is looking for. And we would welcome the opportunity to take our stance to the voters, and I think it will be well received,” Wehrli said.
That effort began in earnest with a claim that 77 percent of Illinoisans would see their taxes rise under the only public plan so far. They based that number on a House bill introduced, and tabled, by Rep. Robert Martiwick, a Chicago Democrat, in the previous General Assembly.
“I don’t want to argue whether or not my rate structure is the right one, because it’s not going to be the rate structure,” Martwick said. “I filed that bill in February 2017 and had no illusions that it was going to be a final solution. I filed it to illustrate how more revenue could be used to solve the fiscal problems in the state.”
Martwick said $3.5 billion of the added revenue from that plan would have gone to property tax relief programs, along with $1 billion each directed to pension payments and sales tax relief. He also said, with the right graduated scale, Illinoisans making less than $50,000 could see income tax relief.