BLOOMINGTON — A forum on senior care issues involving Bloomington-Normal area candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday night evolved into a spirited debate over the question of whether Illinois should change its constitution to allow for a progressive income tax.
Favoring the change were Democrats Jill Blair of Bloomington, who is running against State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, and Ben Webb of Normal, who is running against State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
Brady opposed the change. Sommer did not appear at the event, which was attended by about 60 people at Wayman AME Church in Bloomington. The forum was sponsored by the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, YWCA McLean County, Caring Across Generations and LIFE Center for Independent Living.
Blair said she supports amending the state's constitution to switch from Illinois' current flat tax, in which the same tax rate applies to every taxpayer regardless of income, to a progressive tax, in which the tax rate increases as income increases.
"It's fair," it's done at the federal level and most states surrounding Illinois have a progressive tax rate, Blair said.
She said the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability recently said that, if Illinois would switch to a progressive income tax, the state would realize $2 billion in additional revenue even as 98 percent of Illinoisans — those earning less than $300,000 a year — would realize a tax cut.
"This seems like a no-brainer to me," Blair said.
Webb said "People should pay what they can." Switching to a progressive income tax is preferred to raising the income tax for everyone, he said.
"We need to discuss as a state what we can do to give back," Webb said after the forum. A progressive income tax is a step in that direction.
But an animated Brady pointed out that the temporary income tax increase did little to pay down the state's debt.
"Yet people want to send more tax money to Springfield without knowing where the money will be spent," Brady said. "That's like taking sour milk out of the refrigerator, it tastes bad, but you put it back in the hopes that it tastes better the next day."
Brady said "structural reforms" are needed in Springfield before there is another tax increase. He argued that, in moving to a progressive income tax, "77 percent of taxpayers would see an increase in their tax liability."
Challenged on what he has been doing representing the Bloomington-Normal area in Springfield since 2001, Brady said "I've been trying to represent the people of my district ... I've been under the thumb of the Speaker of the House (Mike Madigan) ... It's very difficult being in the minority (party)."
"I try to provide constituent service by cutting through the red tape in Springfield," Brady said.
Webb said people need to vote their values. "I will listen to you and take that voice to Springfield."
Blair pointed out that Sommer didn't attend the forum.
"If you're happy with what's going on in Springfield, elect the same people," Blair said. "What I'm hearing is that everyone is frustrated with Springfield."
Sommer's 88th district covers the middle and west side of Bloomington-Normal and areas to the west. Brady's 105th district covers the far east side of Bloomington-Normal and areas to the east.