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Illinois Senate Approves Graduated Income Tax

Don Harmon and Dan Hynes and Emily Miller
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
State Sen. Don Harmon, left, Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, and gubernatorial policy adviser Emily Miller testify about a graduated income tax proposal before the Illinois Senate Executive Committee earlier this year.

The Illinois Senate is moving the state closer to a major overhaul of its tax system.

Senate Democrats approved a constitutional amendment that would change Illinois’ flat income tax to one that’s graduated — where the wealthy pay more.

Republicans argue the current system protects the middle class. But Democrats — like state Sen. Don Harmon, from Oak Park — say that’s not true.

“If you’re saying the flat tax is a good idea, you are protecting the uber-rich, not the middle class,” Harmon said. “Because we can’t raise taxes on anyone without raising taxes on everyone, and that’s a protection for the richest among us.”

The plan would provide a slight tax cut for households earning less than $100,000 dollars a year, while those making more than $250,000 would see their taxes rise by about three percentage points.

The constitutional amendment passed on a party-line vote of 40-19.

State Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, says a graduated income tax will not solve Illinois’ problems.

“There are a handful who believe that the answer to government’s problems is simply to raise taxes,” Righter said. “This will make it easier for those who believe that to reach into your constituents’ pockets and get more money.”

Democrats also passed legislation that would increase the property tax credit on state income taxes by a percentage point — from 5 to 6 percent. And, more narrowly, they approved a repeal of the Illinois estate tax, which imposes a 40 percent tax on the people who die with assets worth at least $4 million.

All the plans still have to get through the Illinois House. Then Illinois voters have the final say in the 2020 fall election.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.