Illinois Should Tax its Residents Fairly

Posted On by

By RBC convener and Shriver Center President John Bouman 

It’s no secret that Illinois faces challenges that threaten the future of our state. After four years of an administration that held our budget hostage and refused to stabilize state finances, we find ourselves with a $3.2 billion budget deficit, devastatingly underfunded schools and human services, businesses longing for stability and predictability in state finances, and a stream of middle- and lower-class families leaving the state in search of better opportunity.

A fair tax plan is the first step we need to address these problems and set Illinois back on the path to success.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s fair tax plan would create a tax system in Illinois that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. Under the plan, 97 percent of Illinoisans would not see an income tax increase, with only those making more than $250,000 a year paying more. The largest increases would go to those making more than $1 million a year.

I think we can all agree that someone making more than $1 million a year should pay a higher rate than someone making $30,000. But that’s the fundamental problem with our current tax system — those two people are taxed at the same rate.

Illinois’ tax system is one of the most unfair systems in the country. The average middle-class family in Illinois is forced to pay close to 13 percent of its income in state and local taxes, and the people earning less than that pay over 14 percent. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent of Illinoisans pay only 7 percent of their income in state and local taxes.

As president of the Shriver Center, where our mission is to fight poverty, I’ve studied the rise of inequality in Illinois. I’ve seen how it’s gotten worse in recent years, and the role our current tax system has played in increasing the wealth gap in our state. The fair tax is a solid step toward equity and can help our state become a better place for people of all socioeconomic statuses to live, work, run a business and raise a family.

There are other critical reasons for carrying out this plan. A fair tax will reform our poorly designed revenue system and close the state’s structural deficit. A fair tax will allow Illinois to balance its budget, pay its bills, and stop disastrous underfunding and defunding of education and essential services.

If we do not implement a fair tax, we would have to look at drastic solutions such as cutting all spending by 15 percent or raising taxes by 20 percent on all Illinoisans. Cuts to spending would include critical programs we cannot afford to further defund, including our education, health care and human services systems. And if we raise taxes by 20 percent on all Illinoisans, the middle- and lower-income families that are disproportionately hurt by our current system would bear an even greater burden.

We can’t let either of those things happen. The fair tax is the smart and responsible solution for Illinois’ problems.

Despite that, there are opponents to the fair tax. While many wealthy Illinoisans actually support a fair tax, it’s not surprising that opposition to the fair tax includes some of the few Illinoisans our current system benefits. They’ll do or say anything to make sure our tax system doesn’t change and the wealthy continue to avoid paying their fair share.

This opposition has shown a shocking willingness to peddle misleading claims and false attacks. Opponents have continued these statements even after being called out by independent, nonpartisan organizations. In recent weeks, their claims have been deemed a “false narrative” by the Better Government Association and “false” by PolitiFact.

We may not be able to stop the noise coming from this opposition, but the facts surrounding a fair tax speak for themselves. A fair tax is the right move for Illinois — it will create a tax system that increases equity, lifts the burden off working families, and brings in much-needed revenue for our state’s education and vital programs.

Legislators, please do what is right in the coming weeks and vote to support a fair tax.

John Bouman is the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago.

The Responsible Budget Coalition’s (RBC) website is hosted by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center).