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House GOP blasts Pritzker's plan for graduated income tax

Long speaks against idea

State Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator
State Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Illinois House Republicans struck the first blow Tuesday in an election-year debate over the state’s tax structure, uniting against the idea of converting the flat income tax rate into a graduated one.

Minority Leader Jim Durkin and all but one of this 51 GOP House members signed onto a resolution denouncing a tax-system revamp to impose higher rates on higher levels of income.

Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator, was among those signing the resolution.

“Illinois’ struggling economy cannot handle the burden that this tax structure would cause,” Long said in a press statement released Tuesday afternoon. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in La Salle County in 2016 was $51,684.

With the proposal by Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, households could pay more than $400 extra per year in income tax.  We are saying no as a caucus to this proposal and any more tax increases on Illinois residents.”

Durkin called a progressive income tax “debilitating” and a license for a Democratic-controlled Legislature to spend “frivolously.”

“We must change the customary practice of the General Assembly: Spend now, pay later,” the lawmaker from Western Springs told reporters at a state Capitol news conference.

The resolution, one of at least two Republicans have introduced, would carry no weight of law even if it were approved by the House, where Democrats outnumber Durkin’s team 67-51.

It deals with a subject that’s been broached by Democratic nominee for governor, J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire who is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh called the resolution a “political stunt” to distract from Rauner’s “failure as governor.”

The Illinois individual income tax rate is a flat 4.95 percent. Although he has not specified the rates he prefers, Pritzker has suggested a higher rate for higher levels of income — the idea being that those bringing home a bigger paycheck can afford to pay more in taxes.

He hasn’t suggested bringing in more revenue with the rates. But Durkin scoffed at a Democratic plan that could be revenue-neutral.

“They are not going to pass a progressive tax without having more money to spend. It’s in their DNA,” Durkin said. “That’s how they operate, and giving them more ability to raise taxes on individuals at different rates is going to be a disaster.”

The lone House Republican who has not signed on as a co-sponsor of Durkin’s resolution is Arlington Heights Rep. David Harris. Harris, who is not seeking re-election in November, said he wants to hear his constituents’ views before deciding his position.

The soonest Pritzker, if elected, could propose a change would be in January, after the current Legislature finishes its two-year term. And disposing of a flat-tax structure would require voter approval to amend the state constitution.

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