Multiple ‘fair tax’ proponents in Springfield implicated in federal probes
Multiple state lawmakers have been charged or associated with criminal conduct after passing the progressive income tax amendment on to voters.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker continues pushing for voters to adopt the progressive income tax amendment on Nov. 3, including with $56 million of donations toward the cause. At the same time, federal investigators have arrested or implicated in criminal investigations five lawmakers who also supported the amendment.
The investigations leave voters to wonder whether these lawmakers really were thinking about what is best for Illinois taxpayers when they backed the progressive tax.
Former Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Luis Arroyo pleaded not guilty in February to a federal bribery charge. He is accused of bribing one of his former colleagues for support on a gambling bill.
According to a federal complaint made public in October, Arroyo met with a state senator seeking support for gambling legislation that would benefit one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients. A Chicago Tribune source at the time identified the senator as state Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, who is the chair of the subcommittee on gambling and was an assistant majority leader in the Illinois Senate at the time.
The two met at a Highland Park restaurant Aug. 22 and stepped outside to talk, where Arroyo allegedly offered Link a bribe while Link was wearing a wire for the FBI.
“I’m going to give you this here. This is, this is, this is the jackpot,” Arroyo said as he handed Link $2,500, with the promise of monthly payments in the same amount.
Arroyo resigned in November after being encouraged to do so by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. While in office, Arroyo’s leadership position made him a key player in the passing of Pritzker’s “fair tax” amendment.
Former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty in January to taking $250,000 in bribes from SafeSpeed, a red-light camera vendor, as well as filing a false tax return. He worked closely with the company to block legislation threatening the $1 billion industry in Illinois. In September, a series of raids involving the FBI and IRS targeted the home and offices of Sandoval as agents searched for information about his relationship with Commonwealth Edison.
As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Sandoval has agreed to cooperate with investigators looking into the state’s deepening corruption probe. His name was mentioned in a subpoena served to Madigan as federal investigators look into the speaker’s relationships. Investigators want any communication Madigan had with Sandoval, including on Chinatown properties and a bill Sandoval sponsored.
While Sandoval worked on deals to benefit himself, he publicly proclaimed his support for Pritzker’s “fair tax.”
“It’s absurd that families who are struggling to make ends meet are paying the same income tax rate as the wealthiest residents of our state,” Sandoval said after voting for the amendment.
“It’s long past time to implement a fair and equitable tax system that will provide relief to middle and working class taxpayers who have been carrying an undue financial burden in this state.”
When Link wore a wire for the FBI to implicate Arroyo on bribery charges, it was part of his deal to cooperate with authorities investigating Link’s own behavior.
Sources to the Chicago Tribune identified Link as “cooperating witness one” in Arroyo’s case, although the senator denied being the FBI’s witness. Link wore the wire in hopes of a lighter sentence on pending tax fraud charges.
A member of the Legislative Ethics Commission and the assistant majority leader in the Senate, Link is being investigated for filing false income taxes in 2016. With more than two decades in the Senate, Link’s support for the progressive income tax carries a lot of weight.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was indicted in federal court in August on 41 counts for embezzlement, conspiracy and making false statements. He allegedly pocketed about $275,000 in salary and health benefits from the Teamsters for a do-nothing job. Cullerton pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A Senate Democrat and distant cousin of former Senate President John Cullerton, Tom Cullerton was also a supporter of the progressive income tax, which could raise taxes by 47% on small businesses.
Anything that passes in the Illinois General Assembly must have the blessing of Speaker Madigan. A high-profile bill like Pritzker’s progressive income tax is no exception.
Madigan was implicated on July 17 in bribery charges filed against ComEd. The charges allege that ComEd directed $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates in exchange for support on key legislation to benefit the energy company. Madigan would also be allowed to name people to jobs at ComEd. The FBI served Madigan with a grand jury subpoena in search of documents about his relationship with several companies and individuals, including whether he helped the individuals or a family member get a job.
The speaker’s support for Pritzker’s progressive income tax – encouraged by a $7 million donation from Pritzker just before Election Day in 2018 – was critical in getting the measure on the statewide ballot.
Given these cases, it’s unsurprising that polling shows about half of Illinoisans see Pritzker’s progressive tax not as a “fair tax,” but rather as a “blank check” for untrustworthy politicians.