Illinois puts ‘fair tax’ measure on 2020 ballot

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In a victory for working people in Illinois, the state House approved a constitutional amendment to ask voters next year if the state’s flat tax structure for income taxes should be removed from the constitution. The measure was approved by the state Senate earlier this month.

Illinois tax return form

Supporters celebrated on May 27 after the House approved the constitutional amendment 73-44. It needed 71 votes, a supermajority, to put the question on the November 2020 ballot, according to the Associated Press.

The action will let Illinois voters decide whether to adopt progressive tax rates requiring taxpayers making at least $250,000 a year to pay higher rates than the current 4.95 percent flat tax. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has championed the new tax structure, says that if passed, it would raise about $3 billion for public services.

The legislation is a cornerstone of the Illinois Federation of Teachers’ Fund Our Future campaign.

“It is a historic day in Illinois,” IFT President Dan Montgomery said on Monday. “With today’s vote to approve the Fair Tax proposal, we finally have the chance to fix our state’s broken tax system that places the burden on working families.”

By asking the state’s highest earners to pay their fair share while giving 97 percent of state workers some tax relief, Montgomery added, Illinois also would generate much-needed funding for public services. He expressed members’ gratitude both to the Democratic governor for backing the measure despite being a billionaire himself, and to the state lawmakers who voted for it. IFT members will continue to advocate for the fair tax ballot measure in the months leading up to the 2020 election.

“Wow! Big news out of Illinois today!” tweeted AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has stood with IFT during its entire campaign.

The referendum provides a great opportunity, says Matt Emigholz, president of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees. “For too long,” he adds, “every state agency has been underfunded and has cut back on staff.” In one example, he notes that an Illinois agency charged with monitoring prescription drugs statewide is down to only five inspectors. “A fair tax,” he says, “will at least be able to get us back to the staffing levels we had 20 to 25 years ago.”

New income tax rates still would have to be set, with a measure to do so making its way through the state House. A report by Bloomberg notes that the income tax push comes as Illinois faces steep budget deficits.

[Annette Licitra]