A bunch of weak political arguments have been used so far against Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposed constitutional amendment for a graduated income tax. But there is a clear path to killing it. 

My "favorite" argument was the complaint that the governor is trying to impose a "millionaire's tax." That's precisely the sort of "Won't everyone please think of the rich people?" reaction Team Pritzker wants desperately to provoke. 

Another argument I'm seeing developing is that Illinois is too broke to include the governor's proposed tax cut for 97 percent of taxpayers, no matter how modest that cut may be. 

But in an age when the wealthy are receiving massive federal tax breaks and corporations are regularly handed taxpayer-financed gifts at the state and local levels, arguing against a smallish break for families earning $40,000 a year is political nonsense and also plays right into Pritzker's hand. 

The Illinois Policy Institute is trying to assert that the proposal doesn't raise nearly as much money as Gov. Pritzker is claiming - anywhere from about a third to two-thirds less. 

Ideas Illinois, the dark money group fronted by former Illinois Manufacturers Association President Greg Baise, has probably the best argument right now against the Pritzker tax plan. 

"We really can't trust J.B. Pritzker or the other Springfield politicians, the same people who in the last eight years have raised taxes twice, to really not take this as a blank check," Baise said on WGN Radio not long ago. "And if you believe the rates that J.B. Pritzker talked about last week will be what the Springfield folks, Mike Madigan and John Cullerton, ultimately implement, then I might have a bridge to sell you, too." 

In other words, this tax plan is just an attractive placeholder that will be replaced by a much more harmful plan as soon as House Speaker Michael Madigan can muster the votes. 

The truth is, income taxes are historically difficult to increase here. The tax has been raised just twice since 1989 (30 years ago). And one of those increases was a partial restoration of an automatic tax cut. But some of that tax may not be so difficult to increase if a graduated tax is allowed by the Illinois Constitution. Temporary fiscal downturn? Pension payments rise? Just slap another percentage point or two of taxation on the rich people. 

Using the argument that the tax hike on the rich won't raise as much money as advertised and the claim that even if the tax hike brings in all the money Pritzker projects, it still won't be nearly enough to balance the state's books. That message would serve a useful end: You're taxing the rich today, but, one way or another, you're taxing yourself tomorrow. 

I don't believe that prediction is true, but I do believe it could be a very potent argument.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.


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