Mad Flatter: Why Quinn's Income Tax Ransom Won't Fly

Gov. can't fight Madigan and the tax code

By Edward McClelland
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 7:15 PM CDT
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Gov. Pat Quinn Visits Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq

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Quinn needs to level with the people.

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Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address was a 20-minute-long ransom note. Give me a one-point tax increase, he said, or I’ll ruin the future of every little boy and girl in Illinois.

To ruin that future, Quinn would cut $1.3 billion from education spending.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s response? Stuff it, Pat.

“The people of Illinois, they don’t want tax increases,” Madigan said. “They’re hurting. People are out of work. You should admire the governor for standing up in these times and say, ‘Look if we wish to maintain the fiscal integrity of this state, then we ought to do this tax increase.’ That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

That’s because in Illinois, raising the income tax is politically impossible -- because you can't just soak the rich.

Unlike most states, Illinois has a flat tax. That means we all pay the same rate. Oprah Winfrey pays 3 percent of her income to the state. So does the guy who stuffs your Italian beef sandwich at the lunch counter. Quinn can’t just raise taxes on Oprah and her charity-ball crowd. He has to raise everyone’s taxes.

Here in Illinois, we like to think of ourselves as progressive. But our tax system hits the poor harder than almost any state in the union. When the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy compiled a list of the most regressive tax states, Illinois came in sixth, right behind Texas. One reason: low income taxes mean high sales taxes. Chicago’s 10.25 percent is the highest of any big city in the nation.

“While most of the ‘terrible ten’ most regressive states achieve membership in this club by having no income taxes at all, two of them -- Pennsylvania and Illinois -- achieve this dubious honor through their use of a flat-rate tax,” the report said.

So don’t just blame Quinn for failing to balance the budget. Blame our tax system, too.

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