Graduated Income Tax Inches Forward

Apr 10, 2019

A proposal to overhaul Illinois’ income tax took another step forward Wednesday. The graduated income tax easily cleared an early hurdle — passage by the Senate Executive Committee.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has made it a priority to change the tax structure so people making more money pay a higher rate.

Because of that, it’s not surprising the measure passed on a party-line vote, with only Democrats voting in favor.

Republican state senators and staff listen to Democrats defend their proposal to eliminate the flat tax requirement in the Illinois Constitution.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Republicans, like state Sen. Dale Righter, from Mattoon, said they‘re worried this would make it easier for future legislatures to endlessly raise taxes.

“Politicians ... are pretty good at the class-warfare game,” Righter said. “And if you can point to them and say, ‘Well we’re going to get more money for your schools but we’re going to make the guys over there pay for it,’ that makes it easier to do.”

Democrats counter that for Illinois politicians, voting to raise taxes has always been difficult and rare.

Sen. Harmon listens to questions from Republican legislators during a hearing of the Senate Executive Committee.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

“I just don't know how to respond,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park and lead sponsor of the constitutional amendment. “It's the same problem we have today with a flat tax. We could raise it, but it’s really hard to do. ... It’s not going to be any different with a fair tax than it is today with a flat tax.”

Republicans and their allies in the business community also argue a graduated income tax would be bad for Illinois‘ economy.

“There’s been a lot of talk about billionaires, but let’s talk about who this proposal really impacts: small- and medium-sized businesses across Illinois,” said Mark Denzler, head of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Manufacturers, retailers, family farmers, car dealers, beer distributors, nursing homes, hotels and more.”

A graduated income tax requires changing the state constitution — and on that voters would have the final say. Democrats want that question on the ballot in the fall of 2020.

Business lobbyists Todd Maisch, left at table, and Mark Denzler, center, share their concerns about a flat tax with state Sen. Don Harmon, right, and members of the Senate Executive Committee. Maisch heads the Illinois Chamber of Commerce while Denzler leads the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois