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Editorial: Illinois needs a progressive tax

Editorial: Illinois needs a progressive tax

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Illinois's flat income tax is regressive. It's budget busting. It's got to go.

House Democrats rolled out a spate of proposed Constitutional amendments over the past few days, finally showing their hand in the nearly 10-month standoff with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Codify the state's role in funding public education. Cave, ever so slightly, on how gerrymandered district maps are drawn. And, to fund it all, do away with Illinois's long-embattled flat tax, last year dubbed one of the nation's most regressive by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Bludgeoning Speaker Mike Madigan is almost passe these days. He's been in power for decades, overseeing much of the state's fiscal demise. He's a political animal with close ties to special interests, particularly union fat cats who would rather fiddle while Rome burned.

Make no mistake, Democrats' attempt to revive the oft-rejected progressive tax amendment is, at some level, inherently tied to election-year politics. But political motivations don't necessarily negate its merit.

The tax rate would actually drop from 3.75 percent to 3.5 percent for households annually earning less than $200,000, under the proposal. A new 9.75 percent tax bracket would be created on income of more than $1.5 million, and the plan touts intermediate increases on cash in between. The result: An additional $1 billion in revenue targeted for schools. 

It wouldn't fix Illinois's woes, but the influx of money sure would help. 

Illinois's multi-billion dollar deficits, piles of unpaid bills and failing school districts are nothing new. Rauner is not wrong when he blasts special interests and spending. The busted state pension system and incessant union demands are significant factors in the state's continued decline.

Yet state coffers require cash, and, as currently structured, the rich are getting a middle class-subsidized bargain. 

Dissenters will, as usual, label the bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, as nothing but populist class warfare, particularly if it somehow survives both legislative houses and finds its way onto November's ballot.

Don't buy it.

The wealthy reap the greatest rewards from public infrastructure. Trucking companies need roads. Manufacturing requires water and rail. Private business fails without an educated workforce. All enrich those atop the corporate food chain. And all are failing under the weight of a bottom-up tax scheme.

Yes, taxes are inordinately high in Illinois. But all taxes aren't equal. A readjustment of income tax could, in effect, provide substantial relief to property owners throughout the state.

Illinois touts the nation's second highest property taxes, which fund schools and far too many local governmental bodies. Property taxpayers have spent decades subsidizing the flat tax. 

Madigan's plan to boost revenue to increase state aid to school districts might just provide the property tax relief that Rauner rightly says Illinoisans desperately need. 

Throughout the stalemate, both Rauner and Madigan have refused to acknowledge when the other was on point. Rauner's office immediately panned the progressive tax. 

Rauner is correct when he rails against inflated state spending and skyrocketing benefit costs for employees. This week, Madigan and his subordinates rolled out a plan that could end the middle-class subsidy of the rich.

If Rauner really wants to overhaul Illinois, Skokie's "fair tax" is a good place to start. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.


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