Illinois desperate for an honest tax plan

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You might have filed your tax returns a few weeks ago, but Tax Freedom Day was yesterday. Now is when those of us lucky enough to be employed in Illinois have finished making enough money to pay all the tax bills and start working for ourselves.

Next year, Tax Freedom Day might be sooner because, by law, the state income tax rate is set to drop to 3.75 percent from 5 percent, but not if several top Democrats can help it.

Word is state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, is planning to seek a vote today on his proposal to ask voters if they want to change the state constitution to move from a flat to a graduated income tax system, where people pay higher tax rates as their incomes rise. People who make more already pay more, of course, because 5 percent of $200,000 is more than 5 percent of $20,000. Harmon has a separate bill to set rates at three levels. The first $12,500 would be taxed at 2.9 percent, income above that up to $180,000 would be taxed at 4.9 percent, and income greater than $180,000 would be taxed at 6.9 percent. That sounds to me like most of us working Illinoisans would be paying more than the 3.75 percent the law provides for next year. And if that doesn’t fly, Gov. Pat Quinn has put himself out on a political limb, saying he believes the current, temporary 5 percent rate should be permanent.

And here is where election years prove to be both beneficial and frustrating if you believe, like I do, that our politicians need to learn to keep their word and live within our means.

Last week, as he was re-elected chair of his party, House Speaker Mike Madigan told reporters he doesn’t have the votes yet to make the 5 percent tax rate permanent. It’s an election year. Not every Democrat represents a district with constituents who support a tax increase, and yes, politicians do listen to voters when it comes to tax increases before an election. Every House Democrat would have to vote for Harmon’s amendment this week to get it on the ballot. At least one, state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, has vowed to oppose it.

So, I suspect the veteran statehouse observers at the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce had it right when they suggested to their members that it would be politically unwise for Harmon to pursue a vote on a progressive tax plan sure to fail in the House. Why would Senate Democrats want to go on record for what amounts to a tax increase that won’t ultimately pass?

The frustrating part of this election year is that few politicians are willing to commit to details that could come back to haunt them. Give Quinn credit for announcing he wants to go back on his word, change the law, and raise taxes to 5 percent. Yet neither he nor Republican challenger Bruce Rauner nor anyone else are giving any of us much detail about how we might create more jobs or live within the 3.75 percent tax rate Democrats passed into law in 2011.

We have the third-worst unemployment in the nation. What’s Rauner’s plan to fix that? What’s Quinn’s? Both sides look like they might try to run out the clock, see who wins in November and then give us a plan. That’s politics, not leadership.

Madeleine Doubek is the chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.

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