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Union leaders vow to campaign for ‘Fair Tax’ amendment

With working families under duress, labor groups say a graduated tax would make high-income earners pay a fair share.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the unveiling of his plan for a graduated income tax at the Illinois State Capitol on March 7, 2019.
Labor unions representing about a million workers endorsed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Fair Tax amendment Thursday.
AP file

Labor union leaders from throughout Illinois spoke out Thursday for voter approval of the proposed graduated state income tax, saying the pandemic has underscored the need for taxation that’s fair to working people.

“Our communities have been living in perpetual crises,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare. “We all deserve a brighter future, and this is why we need the Fair Tax.”

Fair Tax is the name proponents have applied to the proposal to replace Illinois’ flat-rate income tax with graduated rates that increase for those who earn more money. The proposal is on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in the Nov. 3 election.

Voters will see messages for and against the proposal dominating the airwaves and mailboxes soon. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has poured $56.5 million from his family fortune into the Vote Yes for Fairness political action committee supporting the graduated income tax, while business groups are raising money to fight it.

Some 125 unions representing 1 million members in Illinois will be contacted and urged to support the amendment, the union leaders said at a virtual news conference. The proposal “would give workers relief at a time of extreme hardship,” said Robert Reiter Jr., president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The CFL and SEIU Healthcare are among the labor-affiliated groups that have an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Opponents, who have branded the plan the Blank Check Amendment, have framed the debate as involving trust in government, arguing the Illinois Legislature ultimately could raise taxes on the middle class. They have used the ComEd corruption scandal targeting Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to make their case, with the group Vote No Blank Check even using Madigan’s image in its logo.

Reiter said those making Madigan the issue are hiding their true motives. “It’s really just a way to protect rich guys on the right,” Reiter said.

The Illinois flat tax on income is 4.95%. New graduated rates are not spelled out in the proposed amendment, but the Legislature has adopted rates that would apply if the amendment is ratified.

Rates higher than 4.95% would apply to incomes greater than $250,000 a year. Those making less than $100,000 a year would pay a slightly lower rate.

Illinois is one of nine states that has a flat income tax, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. Its data show nine other states don’t tax earned income, while the rest vary their rates so higher earners pay a higher percentage rate.