Illinois Policy Institute, retirees challenge misleading progressive tax ballot language in court

October 5, 2020

The State of Illinois violated the “free and equal” elections clause of the Illinois Constitution by using biased ballot language to mislead voters on the progressive tax


MEDIA CONTACT: Melanie Krakauer (312) 607-4977

Illinois Policy Institute, retirees challenge misleading progressive tax ballot language in court
The State of Illinois violated the “free and equal” elections clause of the Illinois Constitution by using biased ballot language to mislead voters on the progressive tax

CHICAGO (Oct. 5, 2020) – Cook County retirees joined the Illinois Policy Institute in a civil complaint filed today challenging the misleading ballot language that is supposed to provide a neutral explanation of the progressive tax amendment.

The case, Wojtowicz, McGann, Sutherland and the Illinois Policy Institute v. Jesse White and the Illinois State Board of Elections, et al., challenges the inaccurate claim on the ballot that the “fair tax” amendment only grants lawmakers the power to “impose higher income tax rates on higher income levels.” In fact, the amendment gives lawmakers the ability to charge different rates on all levels and types of income, not merely “higher income levels.” If voters approve the “fair tax” amendment, lawmakers would have the legal authority to charge any income tax rate to any taxpayer.

Of particular concern to the plaintiffs is that the progressive tax amendment opens the door for the General Assembly to impose a new income tax rate on retirement income. While retirement income is currently exempt from taxation, this amendment would give Springfield new powers to tax retirement income at different rates than other forms of income. All 32 states with a progressive tax system also tax retirement income in some form.

Illinois voters are guaranteed free and equal elections by the Illinois Constitution. The biased wording in the “fair tax” ballot language violates this constitutional right. This case calls for the Secretary of State to issue a revised explanation sent through the mail and provide a corrective notice to be distributed to voters along with the ballot on Election Day.

The plaintiffs are Donald Walter Wojtowicz, Barbara Jane McGann, John Edward Sutherland, and the Illinois Policy Institute. Wojtowicz, 84, is a lifelong Chicagoan who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 1990 after serving for 25 years. McGann, 83, is a retired Orland Park resident who worked as an administrative assistant at a South Holland auto body shop for 25 years. Sutherland, 68, is a Chicagoan who retired from the Chicago Fire Department in 2000 after 20 years of service. The Illinois Policy Institute is a nonpartisan research organization that promotes responsible government and free market principles, fighting for taxpayers when they’re wronged by the government.

In 2008, the Chicago Bar Association similarly challenged Secretary of State Jesse White in court for including inaccurate and misleading language on the Nov. 4, 2008, general election ballot about whether to hold a state constitutional convention. Not only was this ballot language declared by the trial court to be inaccurate and misleading, and in some parts unconstitutional, but the judge also ordered corrective action, including a distribution of a corrective notice to be distributed to voters with the ballot.

Austin Berg, vice president of marketing at the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute, issued the following statement:

“After hearing from Illinoisans across the state, especially retirees, who fear what the progressive tax will do to their families, the Illinois Policy Institute joined Don Wojtowicz, Barbara McGann and John Sutherland to fight for the fair election taxpayers deserve. The information the government shared with voters on the progressive tax is wildly biased and misrepresents what this amendment would do. Not only does the amendment hand lawmakers the power to tax any income level at any rate, but it also allows for the implementation of a new retirement tax, as Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss and other political leaders have made clear.

“Wojtowicz, McGann and Sutherland are just three of the millions of retirement-age Illinoisans at risk of facing a retirement tax that would chip away at their nest eggs to prop up Illinois’ financial mismanagement. Because Illinoisans have the opportunity to choose the way their income is taxed for the first time in 50 years, they deserve to know the whole truth before making their decision. We’re holding the government accountable for misleading the people ahead of the election.”

To learn more about the free and equal elections case, visit:

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