Tax The Rich, Trap The Poor and Empower Trusted Officials
My internal monologue on the debate for Illinois’ up and coming tax amendment came to a screeching, throat curdling outcry of annoyance after receiving a piece of direct mail. The patriotic cardstock displayed a simple three-step instruction on how to send in my ballot. But it didn’t lack trickery in its own right. As someone with a background in persuasive writing, I know it is tailored to deceive many. Hence my audible clamor in the mailroom — mask on, of course.
Since the current administration inflamed anxiety into the hearts of millions about voting in this years’ election, I’d say most of us are on high alert to fill out and return our ballots to the strict guidelines. Let’s face it; politicians are the ones who commit voter fraud. And also voter oppression. The last thing the American people need is a fact-checking app on the back of voter instructions to ensure the president doesn’t steer them wrong. Because of this, the instructional ‘how-to’ delivered by our beloved postal service was a helpful gesture at first sight. But it wasn’t void of confusing copy that ultimately had scuzzy politician written all over it — leading voters into passing a law that allows them ample circulation to run away from structural spending reform.
“What do you call it when a powerful man threatens you and your family with an ultimatum — an offer you can’t refuse?”
Illinoisans have a significant decision to make in this year’s election that doesn’t pertain to any particular candidate. But it could change the state’s constitution. The ‘progressive’ move is known as the ‘Fair Tax’ amendment, which will change the taxing structure from a flat tax rate to a graduated tax rate in Illinois. But when words like ‘progressive’ and ‘fair’ get tossed around by elected officials, it reminds me of looking at a decent book cover or a well-designed shampoo bottle.
In a world where the American people can trust politicians, and when the definition of the word ‘fair’ actually means to achieve things without unjust advantages, the ‘Fair Tax’ amendment could be a progressive move. But it could also be a move to trap the poor, tax the people, and send legislation on their way with a “blank check’’ signed by Illinois’ blissful vote.
This tax proposition is supposed to fairly collect financial contributions from Illinois’ top 3% of income grossing brackets; in theory, pulling the state out of its massive fiscal hole. The progressive tax structure isn’t unique to Illinois; in fact, the effort to collect revenue through a graduated tax system is the majority of the way states in America operate. It should take the tax burden off middle and lower-income brackets and stretch the tax rates evenly, based on a person’s (or as Illinois likes to phrase it, the “millionaires and billionaires”) annual income. This move helps resuscitate much needed state funding so that our politicians can put it back into things like education systems, public safety (police), and social services. If the vote doesn’t pass this year, for Illinoians, the flat tax system stays in place. But for Governor Pritzker, that means all residents will see a flat tax increase from 4.95% to 5.95% and a property tax increase from 5% to 6%.
So, for the most part, this vote seems like it should be a no brainer. Tax the rich and alleviate the poor! Right? Millionaires will finally pay their fair share in taxes! Afterall, Pritzker is a millionaire himself. But, as a child raised to believe that if something sounds too good to be true, I should read the fine print to prove that it is.
The problem with the “Fair Tax” amendment, plain and simple, is trust. And considering the curated wording of the mail I received yesterday — it only sways my decision to vote against the amendment even more. Not only does the campaign letter tell me to vote ‘yes’ to the amendment, as if it were part of the official instruction, but it’s also unethically vague. The tax hikes with this graduated system will start at income levels of $250,000. Far more than I make in a year, but still, a far reach from a millionaire or billionaire as the paper suggests. The stark range between these income brackets leaves me with a furrowed brow regarding what is actually fair. And since I can’t find statistics on household incomes over $200K in Illinois, I’ll leave my winded rant of skepticism on that matter here for you to evaluate instead.
By voting ‘yes’ to the amended copy of the Illinois constitution, we’re giving our Springfield politicians the ability to raise taxes ‘no holds barred.’ This amendment allows the general assembly to pass tax increases on a simple majority vote for all six income brackets simultaneously. And this is just the beginning, according to the tax foundation which says, “The enacted tax rates are merely a starting point; should voters permit a graduated-rate income tax, there are compelling reasons to believe that rates may climb even higher and that more taxpayers would be subjected to higher rates.”
If you think that because you aren’t part of the 3% raking in an annual income of at least $250K and that this tax increase isn’t relevant or doesn’t apply to you — you’re mistaken.
To be clear, this is not a law to de-incentivize tax increases. That will continue to happen just as it did in 2017 when the “Illinois General Assembly voted to override then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a record-setting permanent income tax hike.” In this episode of abundant greed, personal income tax increased for every Illinois resident, totaling an overall increase of 32%.
With a graduated tax policy, extreme tax hikes like these shouldn’t happen. Instead, the budget shortages should come from wealthier incomes at a rate that stops at 7.99% for the millionaires and billionaires at the current proposal. But what happens when the graduated tax rates proposed don’t cover the shortages for Pritzker’s 3.4 billion dollar inquiry? The tax increases for the wealthy could, along with everyone else, increase. But why does that matter if the delegation of tax rates is reasonable to all different income levels? Well, for starters, who decides what is reasonable? This amended document was proposed after lawmakers made changes, removing protections for limitations — and they were very last-minute changes.
As one of the highest taxed states in America, the wrath of 2020 isn’t to blame for the incredulous debt Illinois has to offer its residents. Whether this state has a revenue problem or a spending problem is another debate in itself. But voters are flying blind to the polls to stick it to the rich without asking: Who’s protecting the people’s pockets in due time? Without limitation protections, will the burden of Pritzker’s $2 billion shortage from the proposed ‘fair tax’ this year fall on the families of essential workers after all? Increasing their taxes and burying them under the seam of inevitable economic strife?
Take a look at the last state to adopt a progressive tax structure, “Connecticut — saw large increases in the state’s poverty rate when the incidence of poverty was falling in most U.S. states.” The report explains that the glacial pace of aggregate economic activity is an effect of this tax structure, resulting in no progressive move forward for the lowest income households. “Even when large swaths of the population get a tax break, disposable income (adjusted for the cost of living) still falls because of a decrease in production that results in lower aggregate output. Individuals at the bottom of the income distribution have less incentive to move up the income ladder because additional income is taxed at a higher rate. The progressive income tax traps individuals at the bottom of the income distribution.”
Now, more than ever is the time to look into every policy on a voter ballot. I couldn’t describe the value of time any better than when my friend, Michael Coyne, wrote, “Voting at home is the best. I get to sit at home, have a cup of coffee, and actually figure out who would be a great water reclamation district commissioner instead of just panic voting only Democrat because I don’t want to take up too much time.”
The way it stands now, whether we vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the fair tax amendment, all residents of Illinois will pay for the state’s consistent debt one way or another. But if we vote ‘yes’ this year, lawmakers will, without mercy, help achieve any sitting governor's goals. To invest in core government services with an economically harmful lack of accountability.