Illinois heavyweights slug it out over November progressive tax decision

(The Center Square) – Illinois voters are going to be battered with political messaging from all angles in the next two months, much of it from supporters and opponents of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “fair tax” ballot initiative that would remove the constitutional flat tax requirement.

Four of the most-respected minds met in a rare face-to-face debate Wednesday, hosted by the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce.

Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, is a longtime ally of Pritzker. His work is frequently cited in arguments for the progressive tax. Joining him was former state Sen. Daniel Biss, who has stumped for the progressive tax.

On the other side of the panel was Ted Dabrowski, president of the financial watchdog Wirepoints and former vice president at the Illinois Policy Institute. Like Martire, Dabrowski’s work has been used in many of the arguments against a proposed progressive tax. He was flanked by Americans for Prosperity Illinois director Andrew Nelms, whose organization has lobbied and broadcast messages against Pritzker’s “fair tax” amendment.

At debate is the proposed “fair tax” ballot initiative. Should it pass, it would amend the Illinois Constitution to allow Illinois lawmakers to tax income at different rates as well as tax the same dollar in different ways.

The theme of the supporters’ arguments focused on Illinois’ need for revenue and who should pay that tab.

“If our income tax isn’t combined to comport with the ability to pay … we will continue to have structural deficits and that will continue to pressure a political system to push costs down to your property taxes and to borrow and spend rather than tax and spend,” Martire said.

In addition to pointing out that Illinoisans are already taxed at higher rates than most other states and deciding to leave for greener pastures at higher rates than other states, the anti-progressive tax side focused on not what it would do, rather what it would allow Illinois lawmakers to do.

“A simple majority [of lawmakers] will be able to add brackets, increase rates, and reduce the thresholds at which higher rates apply at any time and the amendment also makes it easier to begin taxing retirement income,” Nelms said.

Biss and Martire, who accused Nelms of “putting words in his mouth,” denied the charge.

“The great majority of the fearmongering from the opponents of this amendment goes like this: they say ‘hey, I know the proposal in front of you sounds good but just wait, they’re gonna do this nice-sounding thing now but they’re gonna come back and do this other mean-sounding thing later,’” Biss said.

Both Biss and Martire denied that there is any interest in taxing retirement income.

Biss frames the “capability” argument on allowing lawmakers to do something to dig out of the state’s fiscal hole that isn’t as regressive as property taxes, which punish businesses and residents regardless of profit or income.

“If we can’t get the money we need through a fair tax, the only options that are going to be left to Gov. Pritzker and the legislature are the worst options,” he said.

Dabrowski said the issue boils down to whether or not Illinoisans trust lawmakers enough to remove the flat-tax progression and spend more of their money.

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