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Republicans aim to make sure Pritzker’s income tax plan doesn’t progress

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Springfield. Screen image.

Democrat J.B. Pritzker wants to change the state income tax to put a higher burden on the wealthy, but he’s had a tough time providing specifics.

Republicans are trying to fill that void, tossing out words such as “disaster,” “horrible policy” and “punishment to the middle class.”

A day after Gov. Bruce Rauner denounced Pritzker’s plan to enact a progressive income tax, House Republicans on Tuesday filed a resolution and vowed to block any attempts to enact the tax.

Pritzker has campaigned on a promise to change the state’s tax structure, even though it will require a constitutional amendment and could take years to enact.

If history is any indication, changing the state’s tax structure is no easy feat. Former Illinois Gov. Richard Ogilvie proved just how difficult and unpopular it could be, surviving just one-term after enacting the state’s first income tax in 1969.

“I knew damn well that it was probably signing my death warrant as governor,” Ogilvie later said. “But everything I had in mind doing was contingent on having additional revenues —school needs, social service requirements.

Trying to mess with the income tax was also political dynamite for Dawn Clark Netsch, who pitched a $2.5 million income tax increase to fund schools and provide property tax relief during her 1994 gubernatorial campaign. She lost to Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who ultimately embraced the unpopular idea.

On Tuesday, state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin went after Pritzker’s plan to tinker with the tax, spearheading a resolution in opposition of a progressive income tax — signed by 50 House Republicans and sans just one.

Speaking at a Springfield news conference,  Durkin did not mention Pritzker by name, citing “recent proposals from the Democrat Party” and calling a progressive income tax “a punishment to the middle class.”

And he vowed that House Republicans will block Democratic efforts to change the tax structure.

“Enough is enough. We are here today in solidarity to show that we will oppose and block every measure to get a progressive income tax passed in Illinois,” Durkin said.

Durkin said Republicans want no additional taxes in the next budget, and will push to decrease the current income tax rate, which was bumped to 4.95 percent last year. Durkin said he wants it back to 3.75 percent. But revenue from the hike has helped to fuel the state back to life from a nearly three-year budget impasse.

Rauner released a statement in support of the resolution, claiming a progressive income tax “ultimately it will kill the middle class.”

Rauner on Monday said Pritzker’s plan for a progressive income tax would be a “disaster for the state of Illinois.”

“Disaster. Horrible policy,” Rauner said.

“First of all business owners will flood out of the state. It will lower our tax base, but more importantly in every state that puts in a graduated income tax hike, the middle class ends up paying more. The middle class gets whacked in the end,” Rauner said.

Pritzker favors a progressive income tax, in which higher earners would get taxed at a higher rate. The state currently has a flat tax in which all residents are taxed at the same rate. And Rauner is pushing for a rollback of the income tax, which went up last year when the state finally ended a budget impasse.

Pritzker last week admitted his progressive income tax, pitched to fund education, would take “a little time” — about two years — to get passed through the Legislature. He said he’d want a Massachusetts model in the meantime, “an artificial progressive income tax, in which we would raise the exemptions for those striving to get to the middle class … and raise the overall rate and the raise the earned income tax credit at the same time. All of which would create a kind of artificial gradual income tax in the state.”

But when asked for specifics about the graduated income tax — and how much the rate would be — Pritzker has offered none.

In response to the Republican resistance, the Pritzker campaign on Tuesday focused on its portrayal of Rauner as a “failed leader.” But the campaign said Pritzker supports the tax to lower the income and property tax burden on the state’s middle class “and those striving to get there.”

“After three years of crisis, statewide fiscal destruction and ongoing fatal mismanagement at the Quincy Veterans Home, House Republicans, just like their failed leader, prove once again that they care more about political stunts than governing,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “The resolution introduced today is pure politics, carried out by Republicans pressured to distract from Bruce Rauner’s utter failure as governor. This is what happens when you head into an election year with no accomplishments to point to.”