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Gov. J.B. Pritzker outlines his plan to replace Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with a graduated structure. | File Photo. (AP Photo/John O’Connor)

Speaking as a millionaire, it’s only fair that I pay taxes at a higher rate

SHARE Speaking as a millionaire, it’s only fair that I pay taxes at a higher rate
SHARE Speaking as a millionaire, it’s only fair that I pay taxes at a higher rate

Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker worked with lawmakers to advance a bill to scrap the state’s flat tax system, the first step in their goal of raising taxes on some of the wealthiest Illinoisans.

It’s a move that I, as one of those wealthy Illinoisans, applaud and encourage other states to follow.

OPINION

Illinois needs change now. Our state’s revenue crisis is out of control, driving away potential business and chronically underfunding our public schools. A progressive tax code would bring a desperately needed influx of cash and could reduce our shameful inequality.

The top one-percent of taxpayers in Illinois makes 27 times more, on average, than the other 99%. Together, this small group of people — fewer than 100,000 in a state of 12.8 million — owns more than one-fifth of all the wealth in the state. The last time such a large amount of wealth was concentrated in so few hands was during the Great Depression.

Proponents of the current flat tax system argue that it’s the only “fair” system of taxation because it allegedly treats everyone the same. If that were true, then Illinois wouldn’t be ranked the “eighth most unequal” state in the nation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. We are one of only eight states in the country with a flat tax system. Perhaps there’s a reason for that.

Under a flat tax, a CEO making $10 million a year pays the same percentage of his income as a working mother earning $35,000 a year.

It’s true, of course, that the multi-millionaire will pay a larger total amount in taxes. But even just a 1% increase in the flat tax rate (which is what Illinois experienced in 2016) can be monumental to a working mother on a marginal income. It can make it impossible for her to keep up with the costs of medicine and healthcare for her and her child, for school supplies, and even food for the week.

On the other hand, the multi-millionaire, at worst, might have to postpone buying a new vacation home.

We need a tax code that deals in fairness, not one that turns a blind eye to the lived reality of our most vulnerable citizens.

Pritzker is himself a billionaire, and his proposal would levy a 7.95% rate on the ultra-wealthy, while the 97% of Illinoisans who aren’t earning millions would see their tax rates stay the same or go down.

Why would a billionaire voluntarily go against his self-interest to raise taxes on his own wealth? The answer, of course, is that he wouldn’t — without knowing that our current system is cruel and untenable.

As a janitor’s son who is now very comfortably retired after a successful career, I am painfully aware of the effect that “small” differences in net income can make in working people’s lives. Our democratic system of government and our capitalist economy have made it possible for me to prosper. It is only right that I pay my fair share to provide the same opportunity for those who are less fortunate.

A progressive tax code is the best chance Illinois has for a fair system that truly does treat everyone equally, giving the diversity of our citizens’ lived experiences their proper due. Wealthy people like me should have to pay more because we have reaped the most benefits from our system and have more to give.

Ninety-seven percent of our citizens need Springfield to step up to the plate and tax me, to achieve a fairer and more prosperous Illinois.

Dr. Michael Pine and his wife, Joan, founded a consulting firm that helps clinicians and hospitals improve the quality of care to patients. Pine is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires, a coalition of high-net worth Americans concerned about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in the United States.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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