Illinois taxpayers charged $1.8M for misleading ‘fair tax’ amendment pamphlet

Illinois taxpayers charged $1.8M for misleading ‘fair tax’ amendment pamphlet

The blue pamphlets sent to Illinois voters were mandated by law, but the constitutional amendment explanation inside included misleading language in its favor.

Illinois spent more than $1.8 million to send voters 5.69 million pamphlets ahead of the Nov. 3 question on abandoning the Illinois Constitution’s flat income tax protection.

The problem is that the blue pamphlets and the ballot question itself, by state law, are to contain a neutral description of the ballot question. The description was flawed and biased, which prompted a lawsuit aimed at correcting that mistake and giving voters a straight explanation.

The lawsuit does not ask that the pamphlets or ballots be reprinted, but it does ask that the Illinois Secretary of State issue a corrective notice as happened in another case in 2008. The state would be responsible for telling voters in plain, unbiased language what the amendment says – along with a printed notice handed to voters at polling places.

The $1.83 million cost is an estimate, because the Secretary of State had yet to receive final mailing and newspaper advertising costs when it responded to a Freedom of Information Act request. Only the $276,471 for printing and $2,801 for translations into Spanish, Urdu, Polish, Hindi and Chinese were final costs.

The lawsuit over the ballot description and pamphlet was filed by the Illinois Policy Institute and three retirees concerned about the potential for state lawmakers to use the proposed change to impose income taxes on retirement income. One of them is retired Chicago Police officer Don Wojtowicz, 84, who said state lawmakers have shown they won’t stop at taxing “rich” retirees and will continue seeking more money to spend.

“They’re in the hole for billions. How do you think they’ll get that money? They’re going to take it out of my pocket, your pocket and everyone else’s pocket,” Wojtowicz said. “And they’re lying when they tell you they’re not.”

Dishonesty about their intentions extends to the amendment question and the pamphlet. By law there is supposed to be a neutral summary on every ballot, explaining what the progressive tax constitutional amendment does.

The amendment itself is straightforward. It deletes the constitution’s language prohibiting graduated income tax rates and guaranteeing just one rate for all individuals and one rate for all corporations. It substitutes the following language: “The General Assembly shall provide by law for the rate or rates of any tax on or measured by income imposed by the State.”

But voters will not see that plain text on their ballot. Instead, the General Assembly passed summary language that reads like an ad in favor of the change:

“The proposed amendment grants the State authority to impose higher income tax rates on higher income levels, which is how the federal government and a majority of other states do it. The amendment would remove the portion of the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution that is sometimes referred to as the ‘flat tax,’ that requires all taxes on income to be at the same rate. The amendment does not itself change tax rates. It gives the State the ability to impose higher tax rates on those with higher income levels and lower income tax rates on those with middle or lower income levels. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become a part of the Illinois Constitution.”

The most misleading part of the summary is it suggests the progressive tax amendment only grants lawmakers the ability to “impose higher income tax rates on higher income levels.” But the amendment does not guarantee taxes only go up on higher income earners.

The amendment simply removes the state’s flat income tax protection, which means Illinois lawmakers for the first time could by a simple majority vote raise taxes on certain segments of the population based on income – including retirees. All 32 states with progressive taxes also tax some form of retirement income. The last state to do so, Connecticut, now sees seniors move out of state at a much higher rate than Illinois.

There are 2 million Illinoisans at retirement age. Two members of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration already touted taxing retirement income, although Pritzker has been working hard to deny that is the intention of his “fair tax.”

It is difficult for voters, especially retirees, to take politicians’ words at face value when those politicians are desperate for more money and refuse to consider reforms that could truly fix state finances. It is especially difficult when those politicians can’t even be honest on the ballot, and then spend $1.83 million in taxpayer dollars to push their flawed message out to voters.

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