Poll: Nearly half of Illinois voters view progressive tax as ‘blank check’ for state lawmakers

Poll: Nearly half of Illinois voters view progressive tax as ‘blank check’ for state lawmakers

Recent polling shows many Illinoisans would not trust state lawmakers with expanded taxing authority under a progressive income tax system.

A new poll shows many Illinoisans are losing confidence in the fairness of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed “fair tax” system.

Polling commissioned by Ideas Illinois revealed 46% of Illinoisans who plan to vote in the 2020 general election agreed Pritzker’s “fair tax” plan is “just a blank check for Springfield politicians to spend more and will hurt Illinois’ economy and force businesses to leave the state.” Among those who agreed with that statement included 74% of Republicans, 46% of independents and 25% of Democrats.

The survey also found that overall support for the progressive income tax has dropped to 51% from 59% since February, despite Think Big Illinois – a pro-“fair tax” group that has received financial support from Pritzker – having spent millions of dollars on television advertising promoting the progressive tax.

Ideas Illinois, a group that opposes the progressive income tax, enlisted the data research organization We Ask America to conduct the survey.

A referendum question asking whether to eliminate Illinois’ constitutional flat income tax protection will appear on voters’ November 2020 general election ballots. To become law, it will require approval from either 60% of those answering “yes” or “no” on the referendum question itself, or over 50% of those casting a ballot overall.

Faced with the choice between fiscal responsibility or increased spending, Illinois lawmakers have opted for the latter. Rather than pursuing responsible constitutional changes such as structural pension reform, a smart spending cap or a true balanced budget amendment, state lawmakers have only given voters an option on a $3.4 billion progressive income tax hike.

Illinoisans looking to the only modern example of a state that has switched from a flat to a progressive income tax system have legitimate cause for worry. Connecticut shifted to a two-tiered tax system in 1996, with rates of 3% and 4.5%. Eventually, Connecticut began raising taxes bracket by bracket: The initial top bracket rose to a 6.99% tax rate from a 4.5% rate, and the lower bracket splintered into six separate brackets, with rates ranging from 3% to 6.9%. Meanwhile, spending and debt continued to spiral upward, poverty worsened and property taxes increased. Middle-class Connecticut households have seen their income tax rates increase more than 13 percent since 1999.

That outcome hits close to home when considering Illinois’ fiscal problems. Illinois’ state budget for the coming fiscal year is out of balance by up to $1.3 billion, according to an Illinois Policy Institute analysis, and the governor’s proposal already includes higher top and bottom income tax rates than Connecticut’s. Under a progressive tax system, state lawmakers could more easily target residents for tax hikes to cover budget shortfalls and irresponsible spending promises.

Illinoisans have seen this play out before: State leaders sold income tax increases passed in 2011 and 2017 as ways to repair the state’s economy – and both failed to do so. Moreover, Pritzker himself has refused to guarantee the middle class will see income tax relief under a progressive tax system.

While some state lawmakers are banking on voters’ approval of Pritzker’s progressive tax amendment, they should not be surprised if taxpayers decide against sending them that blank check.

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