2020 Lane Reports

Integrity is on the ballot in the graduated-tax vote

Friday, October 30, 2020 11:00 am
by Marc J. Lane

crains chicago

Illinois’ high-stakes tax measure pits hope against fear—and its fate turns on trust.

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Illinois voters are about to weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a graduated income tax structure to replace the state’s current flat tax.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, America’s wealthiest officeholder, has spent more than $56 million of his own money to drum up votes for his signature initiative while Ken Griffin, the highly successful hedge fund manager, has donated $20 million to the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike Amendment. The Chicago Federation of Labor, SEIU Healthcare and other unions throughout the state support the Governor; the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Business – Illinois, and the Technology and Manufacturing Association side with Mr. Griffin.

Whichever way the battle of the billionaires goes, the voters’ decision will reflect who they trust and, consequently, who they believe.

Supporters of the governor’s “fair tax” argue that the state’s regressive tax system is a key driver of income inequality and social injustice, only aggravated by COVID-19, and that the disproportionate burden the flat tax imposes on low- and middle-income workers stifles consumer spending and impedes the state’s economic growth. But the amendment’s opponents claim it would hand Springfield a blank check to raise taxes on Illinois families and job creators, forcing businesses to flee the state.

Whether Illinois keeps its flat tax or moves to a progressive tax system depends on whose arguments prove to be more credible. Would the proposed amendment equitably shift the burden of funding government away from those who can least afford it while ensuring that critical programs such as education and human services are funded? Or would the amendment lead the General Assembly to increase taxes without limit or constraint while putting essential services at risk?

Integrity is on the ballot and for good reason. House Speaker Michael Madigan, Former Sen. Terry Link, Sen. Martin Sandoval, Sen. Thomas Cullerton, former Rep. Luis Arroyo and even Gov. Pritzker himself are just the latest state politicians to have found themselves caught up in federal corruption probes. Warrants, raids and wiretaps can only lead the electorate to conclude that greed and personal privilege are unchecked in Illinois government, and that the official decisions of policymakers are driven mostly by self-interest.

As voters continue to see public servants breaching the public’s trust with impunity, they may eventually give up on government. So let’s counter growing voter indifference and apathy, and demand that our lawmakers take common-sense steps to hold themselves accountable to the people they serve.

For starters, the General Assembly should require legislators to more fully disclose their outside income. It should ban legislators from serving as lobbyists and shut the legislator-lobbyist revolving door. It should strengthen the authority of the Inspector General and establish an official censure process. It should set term limits for legislative leaders, and establish a process to strip leaders and committee chairs of their positions.

Our elected officials owe us no less.


Marc J. Lane is a Chicago attorney and financial adviser and vice chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation.

Reprinted from Marc Lane's October 8, 2020 editorial which appeared in Crain's Chicago Business. Crain Communication Inc.'s permission is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright © 2020 by Crain’s Communications Inc.


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