Illinois Republicans on Monday demanded that the General Assembly vote on removing from the fall ballot Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposed graduated income tax structure, saying the state's pandemic-pillaged economy can't sustain higher taxes.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady said that lawmakers in special session this week in Springfield should consider dumping the plan to alter the state Constitution and discard the current flat-rate income tax. Right now, it's up to voters in the fall election.
The discarded 4.95% tax rate would be replaced with graduated rates that take a bigger chunk of salary as incomes rise, which the Democratic governor calls a “fair tax” and Durkin called a “cash grab" that will destroy the state's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People looking to buy a house or locate a business in Illinois will look elsewhere, driving down the real estate demand,” Durkin said. “It will hit our farmers who have sacrificed so much and are already dealing with massive supply chain disruptions and depressed commodity prices. It will cripple our manufacturers who provide so many jobs.”
Democrats who control the General Assembly, which hasn't met in the Capitol since early March because of the coronavirus, scheduled a three-day session after establishing extraordinary safety precautions.
The agenda includes approving a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, dealing with legislation that would extend necessary laws set to expire, and craft relief packages for families and small businesses damaged financially by the pandemic.
Pritzker didn't give odds that Democrats would consider a vote but reiterated his stance that the extra revenue the income-tax switch promises is even more necessary because of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus.
“If the GOP wants to keep people from voting on this, keep people away from the ballot box, that says something about the lack of confidence in their position,” Pritzker said.
After closing schools and non-essential businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19, Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order March 21. That has been extended through May 30.
There have been 96,485 cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 2,294 reported Monday. There were 59 additional deaths announced for a total of 4,234.
Pritzker maintains the graduated tax rate would generate $3 billion extra in a tax year while 97% of taxpayers earn salaries that would require paying only the current rate or less.
If approved, it wouldn't take effect until January and would generate about $1 billion for next year's budget, Pritzker said. But given the estimate that the pandemic has blown a $7 billion hole in the budget for this year and next, Democrats say it would be welcome.
But Republicans say things have changed since Pritzker proposed the tax hike a year ago.
“Never more has our state and its economy been challenged as it is today," Brady said. "The people in Illinois are speaking out about the real focus of what we need to be doing and that's defeating the virus and rebuilding the economy.”
Durkin said Republicans wanted the question removed because the November ballot is already absent important issues, such as putting legislative district mapping into the hands of a disinterested party instead of party leaders — an issue with bipartisan support but that majority Democrats haven’t allowed to advance.
State law does not specify a deadline for removing a question that's been certified for a particular election, according to Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.