DuPage committee opposes graduated income tax in state

The DuPage County Board’s Economic Development Committee Tuesday voted 4-1 to oppose the drive to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a graduated, progressive state income tax.

“Our responsibility is to DuPage County,” Committee Chairwoman Tonia Khouri (R-Aurora) said.

Laurie Nowak (D-Bartlett) was the lone dissenting vote on the issue. She said that 70 percent of Illinois residents were in favor of a progressive tax.

“We’re looking at it with tunnel-vision, rather than a wide-angle lens,” she said.

Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly have legislation pending to put a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters to give the state Legislature the authority to implement a graduated tax, effectively ending the state’s mandatory flat tax that has been in effect since the Constitution was drafted in 1970.

Democrats generally support the effort and have a majority in both houses, but the three-fifths majority needed to get it on the ballot makes the margin for victory slim, with Democratic defections putting the effort in peril.

Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, argued in favor of giving legislators the authority to move to a gradual tax, arguing that merely reducing revenue was not going to get the state out of the fiscal hole that experts say includes being about $100 billion shy of fully funding state pensions and between $7 billion and $9 billion in debt.

He pointed out that since 2000, Illinois had reduced spending on core services — health, education, public safety, social services.

Connie Beard of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce opposes giving the General Assembly authority to move to a progressive tax, citing the still-soft economy and the negative effect higher taxes would have on growth.

She called the proposal “fairly radical” and stressed that by approving the measure, voters would effectively be handing the General Assembly a blank check to set fiscal policy.

She also said that with Illinois having Baby Boomers steadily dropping out of the workforce and exemptions taxing lower income earners less, the problem that Illinois faces is that there are not enough taxpayers.

“The more you tax something, the less you get of it,” she said.

Missey Wilhelm, president of the Wheaton League of Woman’s Voters, is in favor of the progressive tax, and stressed that 77 percent of Illinois residents support the idea.

“Let the people decide,” she said.

County Board member Grant Eckhoff (R-Wheaton) said that with supporters of the progressive tax reluctant to tie the issue to pension reform, it seemed like their position was, “give me what I want now, and we’ll talk about what you want later.”

County Board member Liz Chaplin (D-Downers Grove) supports putting the question on the ballot, but board member Brian Krajewski (R-Downers Grove), who voted with the majority in opposition to the progressive tax, cited his years as a tax specialist to business and maintained that the progressive tax would definitely harm growth in Illinois

“We have a high corporate tax rate,” he said, “and we’re in competition with our neighbors.”