“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is a man who was born rich and will die rich.
The heir to Hyatt hotel fortune would have us believe he wants to rewrite the state constitution to raise income taxes just on swells like himself—and nobody else.
It’s a cynical argument.
What Pritzker and his legislative supporters really are trying to do is eliminate a constitutional protection.
If you are like me, you’ve heard the “fair tax” commercials many times by now. But, we all know that you have to take advertising, particularly political advertising, with a grain of salt.
However, that doesn’t mean we always do.
Recently, I installed two toilets in my house that are advertised to be “clog free.” Within a week, my three daughters managed to stop up both—twice.
Unfortunately, when we are misled by political advertising, there isn’t a plunger to make the mess go away. If the progressive tax passes, it will be stinking up the state for a long time.
While I’ve spent most of my career in Illinois, I’ve also been a reporter in Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Nevada. Two of those states have progressive income taxes, and two have no income tax at all.
In itself, a progressive income tax is not unworkable, but in the context of Illinois, it would be devastating.
Before anyone’s income tax is raised, Illinois needs meaningful and permanent property-tax relief.
Illinois already has the highest property taxes in the nation, and there is no serious proposal in Springfield to reduce them. Add on an increase in income taxes, and the overall tax burden for middle-class families would be overwhelming.
But aren’t the commercials saying that only rich people will have to pay more under this plan?
Yes, politicians are asking you to trust them. Can you think of anything that Springfield politicians have done during the past 30 years that reason to trust them?
I can’t think of anything, either, and I’ve spent many years covering them.
Just taxing wealthy people won’t generate enough money to fund the programs that Pritzker and his cronies in the legislature want. That means tax hikes will inevitably metastasize deep into the middle class.
Fitzgerald noted 93 years ago that the very rich are “different than you and me.” It doesn’t matter if they call themselves “liberal” or “conservative,” they all embrace tax-avoidance strategies.
Earlier this month, our billionaire president called gaming the tax system “sport.” As we all know, Pritzker sloughed off $330,000 he owed in property taxes onto other people by removing toilets from one of his mansions and calling it “uninhabitable.”
Despite his current rhetoric that only rich folks should have their taxes hiked, he hasn’t been reticent to engage in a bit of chicanery of his own to make taxpayers who are earning a lot less than he is pay more.
He ought to practice what he preaches.
And tax avoidance goes well beyond toilets.
A few years back, I worked for a man who had five homes scattered from California to Paris. How hard do you think it would be for a rich fellow like that to simply change his official state of residence to someplace else and not pay a dime to our state? Not hard at all.
And for others, the answer to higher taxes will be to move. After all, when the tax burden exceeds the cost of moving, little incentive remains to stay.
When either of these things happen, someone will have to make up the difference, and the way the proposed constitutional amendment is written, it offers no protection to the middle class. Our taxes will go up, too.
If Pritzker really didn’t want to tax middle-class people, his constitutional amendment would say just that—but it doesn’t.
For decades, our Springfield lawmakers have exhibited little financial restraint, making Illinois the fiscal basket case of the nation. Now, the political power brokers are looking for a way out of the mess they’ve made.
The Illinois Senate has already endorsed putting the amendment on the 2020 ballot, and the House is expected to vote on it this month. Since House Speaker Mike Madigan wants it to pass, it will.
And then, it will be the voters who decide.
Don’t be misled by slick commercials; the so-called “fair tax” opens the door for middle-class tax hikes.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. He can be contacted at email@example.com.