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Poll: Support growing for graduated income tax — once voters are told what it is

Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveils his graduated income tax plan during a press conference in the governor's office at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield earlier this month. | Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

A dark money group funded in part by Gov. J.B. Pritzker contends in a new poll that the governor’s graduated income tax plan has strong support throughout Illinois — that is, if they’ve even heard about it.

The poll of 800 registered voters — conducted March 8-12 — finds 14 percent of voters say they’ve heard “a lot” about the tax plan. Asked if they support the plan, “generally with no additional description,” 42 percent said they didn’t know enough, while 33 percent said they support it and 25 percent oppose it.

After being given a “basic description,” 64 percent then said they support the plan, with 27 percent saying they still oppose it. The poll memo notes that 37 percent strongly agreed with the plan; 17 percent strongly opposed it.

According to the poll, which was provided to the Sun-Times, 79 percent said they were more favorable to supporting the plan if it “would help the state meet its obligations to fund schools.” When pollsters told them “97 percent of taxpayers will have their taxes remain the same or be reduced,” 78 percent then said they were more favorable to the plan. And 70 percent said they were more favorable to the plan after they were told only those making $250,000 would see a tax hike.

While the poll, paid for by Think Big Illinois, was intended to show the plan’s support is growing and opposition isn’t quite working, it also shows that voters don’t have a lot of basic information on the plan, which Pritzker is ambitiously pushing to be passed as soon as this spring.

Pritzker unveiled his proposed tax rates on March 7 after more than a year of dodging specifics on the campaign trail, which could have alienated some voters. He’s continuously touted the change — which the governor wants on the 2020 ballot — as an essential fix for the state’s dire finances. Pritzker’s himself would pay a state income tax rate 3 percentage points higher.

The governor’s office says the plan would provide tax relief for 97 percent of Illinois families, or those who make $250,000 or less. Currently, all residents pay the same 4.95 percent rate. The plan proposes dropping the personal tax rate for the first $10,000 of income for single and joint filers to 4.75 percent; income above $10,000 to $100,000 would be taxed at 4.9 percent; income between $100,000 and $250,000 would be taxed at 4.95 percent; income between $250,001 and $500,000 would be taxed at 7.75 percent; and income from $500,001 to $1 million would be taxed 7.85 percent. Income over $1 million would be taxed 7.95 percent.

Ideas Illinois, a dark-money group led by former Illinois Manufacturers’ Association head Greg Baise, has called the plan a “massive jobs tax on Illinois families.”

The group on Monday released a statement after the release of the poll.

“The real question for voters is simple: do you trust Mike Madigan and JB Pritzker with a blank check to raise your taxes?” Baise said in a statement. “If the answer is yes, then support the Jobs Tax.”

The poll finds support is “strong” in Chicago, with 67 percent; 66 percent in the collar counties of Cook County; and 60 percent in downstate Illinois. It also found that 83 percent of Democrats polled supported the plan, while 41 percent of Republican supported it and 49 percent opposed it.

The margin of error for the poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, is plus or minus 3.5 percent. Details on poll respondents, including the gender and ages of those polled, were not provided by Think Big Illinois.

A state constitutional amendment on the progressive income tax would require a three-fifths majority, or a majority of those voting in the election.