COMMENTARY: A CHANCE TO CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY OF OUR STATE
by Quentin Fulks, Executive Director, Think Big Illinois
It’s difficult to keep track of the accomplishments that came out of the final weeks of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first legislative session—a historic infrastructure plan, marijuana legalization, a bipartisan balanced budget.
But perhaps no legislative action has the potential to change the lives of our working families and alter the trajectory of our state like the passage of the fair tax amendment does. In passing the fair tax amendment, legislators have given Illinoisans the opportunity to head to the ballot box in November 2020 to decide if they want a tax system that works for our state.
Simply put, our current tax system is not working. It isn’t working for the middle and lower-income families who have to pay a disproportionate share of their income in taxes.
Illinois currently faces a $3.2 billion budget deficit, and until we address this structural deficit, our state will never be able to move forward toward the fiscal sustainability and success our residents deserve.
We have three options to fix this budget crisis –raise income taxes on all Illinoisans by 20%, cut spending on social services by 15%, or implement the fair tax.
If we raise taxes on all Illinoisans, the income tax rate would go up to nearly 6%. That means an Illinois family making the median income would see their income taxes go up by hundreds of dollars a year, a huge amount of money for so many Illinois families.
And we’ve already seen what happens when we slash spending to our social services. Our public school system ends up decimated, without the resources it needs to help our children succeed. Our healthcare system isn’t able to give the services it needs to the people who need them.
These options don’t work, and they have not worked when we’ve tried them in the past. They only left our working families struggling even more under the weight of increased taxes and all our residents facing the devastating impact of underfunded social services.
It’s clear the fair tax is the only option to put our state on the best foot forward, but we understand how difficult it is to ask Illinoisans to fundamentally change the current tax system.
It’s even more difficult when opponents are willing to rely on false, baseless attacks and reckless fearmongering to make their claims.
One of their favorite assertions, which time and again has been proven false, is that wealthy Illinoisans will leave the state if they’re finally forced to pay their share. But the data shows that the people leaving the state are middle and lower-income families, especially people of color, who left after years of mismanagement and destruction of the state.
In fact, opponents of the fair tax are the very people who stood by Bruce Rauner’s side as he led that destruction — going to war with our unions, gutting our social services, and holding our budget hostage.
Forgive me when I don’t believe they’re genuine in now suddenly caring about the best interests of our working families.
Taxes are complicated, and deeply personal to Illinoisans and their families.
There’s no solution that is going to magically solve all our problems or make everyone happy.
But, it’s clear that the fair tax is the best option for our state. It will truly change the trajectory of our state, setting us on the right track for generations to come.
Quentin Fulks is executive director of Think Big Illinois, a nonprofit progressive advocacy group based in Chicago.
This commentary was published in Crain’s Chicago on July 10, 2019.