By a 14-3 vote, the DuPage County Board approved a resolution this week opposing efforts in the Illinois General Assembly to amend the state Constitution to allow a progressive state income tax.
“We were elected to represent the voters of DuPage County,” Tonia Khouri (R-Aurora), chairwoman of the County Board Economic Development Committee, said before the vote.
She said that while the state of Illinois is experiencing financial difficulties, the DuPage County Board is responsible to “DuPage taxpayers.”
Khouri was the point person on the proposal, moving it through her committee with several public hearings and sending it to the Legislative Committee, where it was cleared Tuesday for a vote before the full board.
Khouri said she thinks the progressive tax would lead to higher taxes on businesses and some residents in the county.
“We have a responsibility, not only to the owners (of the businesses), but also to the employees themselves who depend on those jobs,” she said.
The action is a response to proposals in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow implementation of a graduated income tax to replace the flat tax that has been mandatory since the drafting of the Constitution in 1970.
A three-fifths majority of both houses of the General Assembly is needed by to place the referendum question on the November ballot.
General Assembly Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the proposed amendment, Democrats are almost unanimously in support, and the DuPage County Board was also split along partisan lines.
“The state’s problems cannot be solve by cutting (spending) alone ... the state needs revenue,” County Board member Liz Chaplin (D-Downers Grove) said in opposition to the resolution.
Chaplin also said that the business of addressing the state income tax was “not germane to county business ... let the voters decide.”
Chaplin’s Democratic colleagues on the board backed her up completely.
“Nobody here is anti-business,” Tony Michelassi (D-Aurora), said, but he agreed with Chaplin that the matter was one best addressed by the General Assembly.
He also pointed out that the board had taken no action to keep Office Max in Naperville before it left and took the company’s 1,600 Illinois jobs to Florida.
Michelassi accused some of those opposing a referendum on the issue of merely seeking a “credential for future office” and pointed out that some polls showed up to a 77 percent approval rating among the public for the graduated tax.
The Republican majority on the County Board saw the issue differently.
Jim Zay (R-Carol Stream) said his family had been in business in DuPage for 50 years and had seen sales go from $4 million to $1.5 million in recent years, with the number of employees dropping from 30 to 17.
“If you think it’s wrong, you should stand up and say it,” he said. “This is not a business-friendly state ... it is totally germane to DuPage County.”
While many supporters of a progressive income tax have made the case that it could help ease the property tax burden on homeowners, Sam Tornatore (R-Bloomingdale) wasn’t buying it, calling the argument a “fairy tale.”
Public comment at the meeting stretched out well over an hour, with supporters and opponents of a referendum about equally divided.
Roberta Borrino and Diana Hoke of the Roselle/Bloomingdale League of Women’s Voters spoke out in favor of the referendum and against the county resolution.
Borrino said that it was “just for the public to decide” and that lower income earners would spend most of what they had to spur growth in the economy. “Put in the hands of the people who spend it,” she said.
Former Downers Grove Village Trustee Bruce Beckman said the issue should be fully vetted and that “the place to do it is on the ballot in November.”
Carol Stream resident Carol Davis said she was a modest wager-earner, but nonetheless spoke out against what she saw as class warfare, and opposed a referendum on the ballot.
“I have never gotten a job from a poor man,” she said.
Gerard Schilling of Naperville was emphatic in his opposition to a progressive tax, saying in his 37 years as a resident, he had seen repeated raises in taxes and fees.
“You name it, they hit us with it,” she said.
Hugh Hamill owns a jewelry business in Downers Grove, but said his next address would be in Tennessee, where there is no state income tax.
“You would have to be galactically stupid to live in the state of Illinois,” he said. “This will be the death of this state.”