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Weed and greed? Poll finds Chicagoans favor legalizing pot, expanding gambling

A participant takes a very smoky puff from a marijuana cigarette during at meet and greet at "Tommy Chong's Live, Love, and Smoke Tour hosted by GreenTours in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles, last week. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A handful of pot-centric events are scheduled around Chicago for 4/20, the annual "high" holiday of marijuana. | AP Photo/Richard Vogel

A solid majority of Chicagoans support legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding gambling in the state — two big legislative priorities for Gov. J.B. Pritzker this year.

Those are among the findings of a Simon poll released on Tuesday that also found 67 percent of Illinois voters favor a graduated income tax, which the Democratic governor is heavily pushing. That’s down from a Simon poll in March 2018 that found 72 percent of Illinois voters polled supported the tax.

The survey of 1,000 registered voters — released by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale — was conducted March 11-17, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The highest level of support for legalizing marijuana came from Chicago, where 75 percent favored it, and 24 percent were opposed. Statewide, 66 percent of respondents favored or strongly favored legalization, while 32 opposed it, the poll found.

In suburban Cook and the collar counties, 67 percent favored legalizing pot, and 31 percent opposed it. The lowest support level was Downstate, where 57 percent supported it, and 39 percent opposed it. Democrats largely favor legalization, with 79 percent supporting it. Republicans were tied with 49 percent in favor, and 48 percent opposed.

A marijuana plant at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

A marijuana plant at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

The poll also asked a general question about expanding gambling. That was also heavily favored in Chicago, with 65 percent supporting it. The majorities were a bit lower elsewhere, with 56 percent supporting it in the suburbs and 54 percent Downstate.

Support for expanding gambling was spread evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents, the poll found.

Poll takers were also asked specifically about legalizing gambling on sporting events. About 63 percent favored or strongly favored the expansion, while 33 percent said they opposed legalized gambling on sports events. It was heavily favored in Chicago, where 72 percent said they supported it and only 26 percent opposed it.

Pritzker’s budget proposal recommends legalizing cannabis, which he said would create jobs and bring in $170 million in “licensing and other fees.” He also wants to legalize and tax sports betting, which he said could bring in $200 million. Legislators unveiled several gambling proposals last week.

The poll also asked about expanding service taxes, an idea what has been tossed around for years to try to bring in more revenue. Statewide, just 36 percent favored or strongly favored expanding the sales tax, and 61 percent opposed or strongly opposed it.

The highest level of support was in Chicago, where 41 percent supported it and 56 percent opposed it.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in February. He was joined by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, left. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in February. He was joined by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, left. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The comprehensive poll also asked respondents about support for a gas tax, with 61 percent saying they opposed it and 37 percent favoring it. Taxing retirement income, which is always considered politically unpopular, was also not supported by respondents. Just 23 percent either favored or somewhat favored taxing retirement income, and 73 percent said they somewhat opposed or strongly opposed the tax.

Poll authors noted “sin taxes,” such as taxes on gambling and marijuana are typically supported.

There have already been several polls testing the public opinion of Pritzker’s plan for a graduated income tax, which the governor wants on the 2020 ballot and is personally pushing with his own money via the dark money group Think Big Illinois.

The latest Simon poll found 67 percent of Illinois voters favored the plan in which the tax rate would be lower for lower-income taxpayers and higher for upper-income taxpayers. Thirty-one percent opposed the plan. In Chicago, 74 percent of respondents supported the plan. In Cook County and the collar counties, 68 percent supported it while 31 percent opposed it. Downstate, 60 percent supported and 37 percent opposed the plan.

When respondents were asked specifically about increasing the income tax by 3 percent on all incomes over $1 million — which has been proposed in the past as “the millionaires tax”  — 71 percent were in favor, and 27 percent were opposed.

Ideas Illinois, the dark money group battling against the graduated income tax, said in a statement that it will continue its efforts “to stop Springfield politicians from making a permanent tax increase on middle class families.”

“At the end of the day, there’s one question middle class families should ask themselves: do they trust Springfield insiders with a blank check when it comes to raising their taxes? If the answer is yes — then the Jobs Tax is for them,” Ideas Illinois head Greg Baise said in a statement.

Think Big Illinois, which has already launched a TV ad in support of the tax, is pushing out the governor’s message that 97 percent of Illinois residents would see no tax hike, with only those making more than $250,000 paying more.

The poll shows “Illinoisans across the state want a tax system that forces the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, lifts the burden off middle and working-class families, and brings much-needed revenue into our state,” Think Big Illinois’ head Quentin Fulks said.

Currently, Illinois’ income tax rate is 4.95 percent, regardless of how much a taxpayer earns.

Pritzker’s plan proposes reducing the personal tax rate for the first $10,000 of income for single and joint filers to 4.75 percent rate and taxing income from $10,001 to $100,000 at 4.9 percent. Income from $100,001 to $250,000 would still be taxed at 4.95 percent, but earnings from $250,001 to $500,000 would be taxed at 7.75 percent, and income from $500,001 to $1 million would be taxed at 7.85 percent. Income over $1 million would be taxed 7.95 percent.