McCaleb: Need to kill progressive tax push

Illinois state government reminds me of that AT&T commercial where actor Beck Bennett sits on a classroom floor with a group of kids and asks, “Who thinks more is better than less?”

You know the one I’m talking about?

The kids raise their hands, and the cute little girl in the purple dress and white sweater jumps in with: “More is better than less because, if stuff is not less, if there’s more less stuff then you might want to have some more, and your parents just won’t let you because there’s only a little. But we want more, we want more ...”

We want more. We want more.

They won’t say it publicly, but behind the scenes, “We want more” is the rallying cry of some powerful state officials and large special interest groups who hope to bring a progressive income-tax rate to Illinois by the end of next year.

So there’s no confusion, “progressive income-tax rate” is code for “large tax increases” for Illinois’ hardworking men and women.

Illinois’ wage earners currently pay state government a 5 percent flat income tax regardless of how much they earn. That rate was 3 percent before 2009, when Democrats in a lame-duck General Assembly foisted a huge, “temporary” income-tax increase on individuals and businesses in a middle-of-the-night vote.

That “temporary” income-tax increase is scheduled to scale back to 3.75 percent at the end of 2014. But many of those in power in state government – mostly elected Democrats – want to replace it with a progressive income-tax rate that likely would maintain the 5 percent rate for the state’s lowest earners and increase it dramatically for higher wage earners.

In the coming months and into 2014, proponents of a progressive rate will blatantly try to mislead the public by saying that the vast majority of wage earners actually will see their income taxes decrease under a progressive rate.

Let me be clear – that’s a load of crap.

The folks behind this movement (check out ABetterIllinois.org, but don’t be persuaded by the propaganda) want more revenue – even though the state already is taking in more money than ever before. The state can’t get more revenue by lowering taxes on the bottom – say – 95 percent of wage earners and increasing it just on the top 5 percent.

There’s this thing called math, you see, and those numbers don’t add up.

If a progressive tax rate is approved, just about everyone’s taxes in Illinois are going up. Or, at the least, the “temporary” increase to 5 percent will become permanent.

There’s a large political hurdle that has to be crossed before a progressive tax can become reality.

Illinois’ Constitution protects the state’s current flat tax, so changing to a progressive tax system would mean a constitutional amendment.

Changing the state’s Constitution first requires that a resolution be adopted by a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the General Assembly to put a measure on the ballot. If both the House and Senate manage to get it on the ballot, then either three-fifths of those voting on the constitutional amendment or the majority of those voting in that election would have to approve it.

Voters would not be setting the rates at the ballot box, however.

That would come only after everything is approved, and taxpayers would be at the mercy of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, the same group that’s been wanting – and wasting – more of our tax dollars for years.

It’d be like handing a blank check to a gambling addict outside of a casino and saying, “Here, go have some fun.”

There are two resolutions seeking the amendment already filed, one in the Senate and one in the House (SJRCA30 and HJRCA33).

The resolution has a clearer path out of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 40-29 majority. Just 36 votes are needed to meet the three-fifths requirement there.

It’s a little trickier – and more interesting – in the House, where Democrats hold 71 seats to the Republicans’ 47. Exactly 71 votes would be necessary to move the resolution out of the House.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is the only Democrat in the House to sign on as a sponsor to a resolution filed by state Rep. David McSweeney opposing a constitutional amendment allowing a progressive tax.

If all House Republicans stick together and vote against it, as McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, thinks they will, the Democrats would need Franks’ vote to proceed.

But Franks is steadfast in saying he won’t be swayed.

“I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would give our government more money,” he told me Thursday. “The only reason a tax increase would be necessary is because we’re doing such a bad job with the revenue we have. ... We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

Franks is right, of course.

More, more, more is the mantra of most in Springfield.

State government is like a giant black hole. We put money in, it sucks it out into the middle of who knows where and demands more.

Illinois already is a high-tax state. Other states have successfully used that against us to lure businesses and jobs out of Illinois.

“A progressive tax rate will be the final nail in Illinois’ coffin,” said McSweeney.

Despite the two resolutions that already have been filed, and the coalition of forces through A Better Illinois, Franks thinks the effort won’t go anywhere.

If there is a big push, as McSweeney and others believe there will be, Franks acknowledges that he will be the subject of a lot of political pressure from within his own party.

“I’m sure I will,” he said. “I get that every day.”

Thankfully, he’s on the right side of this issue.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor for Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which include the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com.

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