It’s your baby now, J.B.
Or is it Mike Madigan’s?
Congratulations on your victory in the race for governor, Mr. Pritzker. You ran a smart campaign. But forgive us for thinking you did not so much win as Bruce Rauner lost. You won big on Tuesday because the current governor failed for four years.
Please don’t misunderstand. We are rooting for you. With your election, we believe Illinois finally has a chance to get back on its feet, pay its debts and grow its economy in a way that puts working people first, not anti-union corporate elites.
But there is no doubt that you have been vague on the details of some of your plans, especially with respect to your proposal for a progressive income tax. And there is no doubt that an awful lot of Illinois voters, probably including most of those who voted for you, are curious now to see who’s really going to lead this state for the next four years.
Will it be you? Or Speaker Madigan?
Lucky for you, Mr. Governor-elect, you have a golden opportunity, right away, to put such questions to rest.
Now is the time for you — and nobody else — to roll out the specifics of what a progressive income tax for Illinois should look like. Tell us what the rates would be. Tell us what the income brackets, deductions and exemptions should be.
And because the implementation of a progressive income tax is at least two years down the road — requiring a change in the state constitution that must be approved in a referendum — tell us, as well, what should be done immediately to make the current flat tax more fair.
As a candidate, you talked about raising the overall rate of the flat tax and then effectively lowering it for most taxpayers by adding and expanding deductions for low- and moderate-income people. Tell us what the new flat tax rate, deductions and exemptions should be.
During the campaign, you deflected all such questions, saying the specifics of a progressive income tax were “subject to negotiation” with the state Legislature. That was pure politics, and we understood. Any specific plan inevitably will create winners and losers, and you didn’t want the losers coming at you too soon.
But now you’re the boss, right? Or, rather, the boss-elect. Any negotiation should begin with a plan from you, the new chief executive. That is your obligation, if you mean to lead. The tax plan you put forth will create the framework for whatever eventually becomes law.
You can figure on pushback. From Republicans, of course. But also from your fellow Democrats, beginning with Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. They may agree with you in concept on the need for a progressive income tax, but they will have their own ideas, their own reservations, and their own constituencies.
Push back, J.B.
And, above all, sell this thing.
Explain to the people of Illinois why it is untrue to say that a flat tax is “fair” because everybody is taxed at the same rate when, in fact, that results in greater hardship for working-class and poor families. Lower-income people must spend a larger share of their total income on necessities, such as rent and diapers for the baby. They also are hit harder, as a percentage of their total income, by other taxes, such as sales taxes and payroll taxes.
Explain that a progressive income tax, which 34 states already have, not only will allow Illinois to raise more necessary revenue, to pay off $7 billion in old bills and $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. It also will spread the tax burden more fairly. A Lake Bluff lawyer can afford to pay a higher percentage of his income in taxes than a Pilsen waiter.
Take the lead on tax reform now, Mr. Pritzker, and make clear to one and all that you — and not that other guy — will be our state’s true chief executive for the next four years.
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