Taxpayer victories are all too rare in Springfield. But those Illinoisans concerned about how much they send to state government and where that money goes have something to celebrate.
The progressive income tax is dead … for now.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and 49 other Republican state lawmakers have signed a resolution pledging opposition to a progressive income tax in Illinois. This cuts into the supermajority support needed to pass a progressive tax constitutional amendment out of the House. While often sold as a tax on the rich, Illinois’ state spending problems mean middle-class families would be whacked by a progressive tax structure, where rates rise with one’s income.
It’s a big win. The petering out of the progressive tax proposal offers Illinoisans protection from potentially billions of dollars in income tax hikes.
But how did it happen? And how can Illinoisans push for more?
One major lesson from this fight: the accountability brought about by grassroots action matters. The Republican caucus really can be the taxpayer advocate it claims to be, especially when it’s clear Illinoisans will hold members to their word.
This lesson began last summer. In the seven days leading up to the income tax hike, Illinoisans sent more than 37,000 emails through the lawmaker contact tool on illinoispolicy.org. Nine of the 15 Republicans who voted for that tax hike didn’t even attempt to run for re-election. And another lost his primary race in March.
In the past month, more than 12,000 Illinoisans signed on to a petition opposing the progressive tax through the same tool.
But Republicans are the minority in Speaker Mike Madigan’s House. And Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker is campaigning on a progressive tax hike. That means in order to make sure the progressive tax doesn’t rear its ugly head again, bipartisan support for Durkin’s resolution is crucial.
Pressuring Democratic members to sign on should be the No. 1 priority for Illinoisans interested in keeping their income taxes from going up.
Of course, the future of Illinois depends not just on beating back bad ideas. It depends on passing the good ones into law. A flat income tax doesn’t fix Illinois’ problems, it just stops them from worsening.
Here’s a solution that deserves attention: a spending cap.
A state spending cap is sorely needed for two reasons. First, it ensures Illinoisans are getting a state government they can afford. State spending has consistently grown faster than state incomes — 25 percent faster from 2005 to 2015. Instead of reform, that spending yields calls for more debt and tax hikes. Better budgets and more certainty for Illinoisans means slowing the growth of state spending.
The second key reason is that right now, lawmakers can’t even figure out how much money they have to spend. Try as they might to offer accurate projections, state officials consistently produce revenue estimates that don’t match one another or the actual amount of revenue the state ends up generating. This broken process contributes to unbalanced budgets year after year. The General Assembly hasn’t even bothered adopting an official revenue estimate since 2013.
But a spending cap would provide a magic number to lawmakers – a set amount of money they can spend in a given year. No more, no less.
There’s no excuse for partisan politics when it comes to getting Illinois’ finances in order. Thankfully, the spending cap has bipartisan support, with state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, filing a constitutional amendment tying state spending growth to economic growth. State Sen. Steve Landek, D-Bridgeview, has also signed on, along with three Senate Republicans.
Taxpayers have won the defensive battle against a progressive tax hike.
Now it’s time for some offense.
AUSTIN BERG is a Chicago-based writer with the conservative Illinois Policy Institute and is writing for the Illinois News Network, a project of IPI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.