This piece was also published in slightly modified form in the Oak Park newspaper Wednesday Journal.
In this election, Illinoisans are being asked to make at least two consequential decisions. One is to choose between Joe Biden and Donald Trump for President. The other is to decide whether Illinois, like 32 other states, should implement a graduated income tax — the Fair Tax. Right now, Illinois taxes all of our incomes at the same rate — the billionaire at the same rate as the family struggling to make ends meet. And at the same time, the state is struggling to meet its financial obligations. It is fair that we would turn to those who can most afford to pay — the wealthy. I have not heard anyone dispute this reasoning.
Instead, the objections break down as follows.
“This is a license for Illinois to increase taxes further in the future.” In fact, the legislature can address our debts by increasing taxes now. It’s just that all Illinoisans would have to pay the increase instead of asking those to pay who can most afford it.
“We should not change the tax structure without reforming pensions, which are taking up a large portion of the state’s budget.” Some changes to pensions are needed. But there is no reason to tie the challenge of pension reform to the passage of a graduated tax. This would just complicate the passage of both and make both less likely.
“We cannot trust Illinois politicians with increased funds.” Illinois politicians, like those in other states, have not always been responsible with the tax dollars we have sent them. The solution is not to deny ourselves the funds we need to address our debts. The solution is to vote out politicians when they have been irresponsible.
The usually unstated objection is that wealthy Illinoisans don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes. And of course that is left unstated because no one wants to be seen as greedy. But I can’t think of a better word for it.
The Fair Tax will not solve all of Illinois’ financial problems. But we do need it to increase our revenue and begin to correct the errors of the past and set us on a better course where we can fund the social services that our residents need. And we need to rebalance our state’s tax rolls to start addressing the racial wealth gap. A recent study found that, “Black and Hispanic households with income under $250,000 paid an additional $4 billion in taxes over 20 years than they would have under the Fair Tax. This was $4 billion that wealthy households did not pay. Compounded over time, this effectively enriched the state’s top 3 percent (a majority of whom are white) by an additional $7.5 billion.”
For all of these reasons, I hope that we all vote YES on the proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution, which would allow us to implement fair and graduated income taxes in Illinois.
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