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The only game in town next year?

Monday, Feb 11, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Two “dark money” groups are stepping up to separately promote and attack the new governor’s agenda.

“Think Big Illinois,” a brand new 501(c)(4) organization which doesn’t have to disclose its donors, will be supporting Gov. JB Pritzker, whose 2018 campaign slogans included “Think big.” The organization will be headed by Quentin Fulks, who served as Pritzker’s deputy campaign manager.

“A $15 minimum wage is the first in a series of progressive policies Think Big Illinois will advocate for in the coming months,” a press release says.

The group appears to be the likely conduit for Pritzker and others to fund a public push for the progressive income tax if it makes it onto the 2020 ballot. Both legislative chambers first have to approve the proposal with three-fifths majorities, and then voters get a crack at it. Neither step is guaranteed.

Defeating that progressive income tax proposal at the ballot box is now the main goal of another dark money not-for-profit group which has been around for years. The Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity launched a new website last week called “Ideas for Illinois.” The website is fairly innocuous so far, but the people who run it say their ultimate goal is to become the prime conduit for opposition to the governor’s progressive income tax if and/or when it reaches the ballot.

The coalition was founded by Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz and former Illinois Manufacturers’ Association honcho Greg Baise in 2004, and has since raised $30 million for various projects. Gidwitz is now an ambassador, so he’s been replaced by his brother Jim. Day-to-day operations will be handled by Jason Heffley, who ran Republican Erika Harold’s attorney general race last year. Mike Zolnierowicz, who was Gov. Bruce Rauner’s first chief of staff and left during the first round of staff purges to work with Baise, will oversee the operation.

It’s expected that if Pritzker can get a “fair tax” on the ballot next year he’ll put his money where his mouth is to pass it. And as we saw last year, the man can spend money faster than anyone outside the Pentagon.

Baise will try to tap into the resulting reaction of fear and loathing by upper income types to try and counter Pritzker’s spending. It’s a pretty good bet that the money will be there. The top task of wealthy Illinoisans for the past decade, including Bruce Rauner’s election, was stopping a graduated income tax from being imposed here.

Gov. Pritzker ran on a promise of taxing the wealthy, so he likely interprets his 16-point win over Rauner as a mandate to get that done.

Baise’s group, however, ran some election day polling which asked voters: “Do you support a progressive income tax – that is, a tax system that imposes a lower tax rate on low-income earners, while those with higher incomes pay a higher tax rate?” According to the We Ask America poll, 53 percent of Illinois voters supported the tax.

Now, you may or may not agree with the poll’s wording. A slight change here and there and maybe the idea would’ve received more support (or less). The Pritzker campaign tested dozens of ideas before settling on the billionaire candidate saying he only wanted to raise taxes on people like him.

A state constitutional amendment requires the support of three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election, so 53 percent likely wouldn’t be enough. And Colorado voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment just last year to increase taxes on people with incomes over $150,000 by a 53.5 to 46.4 margin.

The opponents’ attack will include the easy layup of exploiting Illinoisans’ distrust of their state government, particularly its inability to balance its budget over the years despite tax hikes. A hefty dose of messaging against the unpopular House Speaker Michael Madigan will undoubtedly be part of their play.

Baise and his associates do not want to get involved in Republican Party-type issues and just focus on beating back the progressive tax.

If President Trump is on the ticket next year, not a whole lot of money will be funneled into Republican state legislative races here because it would be so fruitless. And there are no statewide races except for US Senate. But a progressive income tax ballot question could very well open up a whole lot of wealthy wallets, so, if nothing else, they have a decent business plan.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments »
  1. - Josh - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:23 am:

    The rates and bracket must be disclosed befor I vote yes for a progressive income taxes.


  2. - Fax Machine - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:28 am:

    Hillary and JB both got about 55% in their respective statewide tallies, but in that were a lot of financially secure people (Lake & DuPage Countiers for example) who were voting against Trump & Rauner so I do not see this reaching the 55% mark which it probably would need to get a majority of those voting in the election.


  3. - anon - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:30 am:

    Josh - I am not sure that is enough to quell the unease about the amendment really being a massive tax hike against the middle class (and above). The amendment itself may need to cap rates or some other limitation.


  4. - The Captain - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:33 am:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a special election for Secretary of State in 2020.


  5. - Fax Machine - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:36 am:

    @The Captain - it’s more likely than a special election for Comptroller given Susana’s performance in the Mayor’s race.


  6. - Steve - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:49 am:

    The key dynamics on the progressive income tax is who’s going to paying more and how much. Here’s what we know now from the 2016 Illinois numbers: the upper 1% paid 22.8% of state income taxes which is those who made over 500K. Those who make between 100K and 500K were 18.4% of taxpayers and paid 42.1% of income taxes paid. In conclusion , those who make over 100K are 19.4% of taxpayers but paid 64.9 % state income taxes. Illinois already has the wealthy paying most of the taxpayers. You can’t say the rich aren’t paying their fair share under a flat tax.

    https://nalert.blogspot.com/2019/02/blank-check-illinois-lawmakers-file.html


  7. - Perrid - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:49 am:

    @Josh, tax rates change. I agree it would be a good idea to know what they were aiming for, but really all this amendment would do is release the hostages. Right now the people who can afford to pay more aren’t, because the people who can’t afford to pay more are being used as a shield. I’ll vote for that all day long.


  8. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:52 am:

    With Baise leading the way, probably safe to assume there’s some Ricketts money behind him.

    Not sure about Uiehlein. He seems more interested in primaries against GOP incumbents who lack “purity.”


  9. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:53 am:

    ==You can’t say the rich aren’t paying their fair share under a flat tax.==

    Sure you can. Those same rich people are paying the exact same tax rate as everyone else. Why should someone making $500K a year pay the same flat tax as someone making $50K per year?


  10. - Perrid - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 9:59 am:

    Steve, my comment about hostages can stand as a response to you as well. I’ll add that comparing tax paid, instead of how much you have left to spend after taxes, is not a measure of the tax “burden” in regards to fairness.


  11. - City Zen - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:02 am:

    “Do you support a progressive income tax…”

    “…if it means you will pay more in taxes.”

    That should be the wording. Others might pay more than you, but you will pay more. There’s your true barometer. Who knows, maybe we’re all cool with paying more in taxes.

    Fuel and service sales tax proposals imply you will pay more for those things than you do today. This question should be no different.


  12. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:11 am:

    Step one is to get a progressive income tax on the ballot. That’s a hard enough step.

    If it gets on the ballot, If I remember right there was one poll last year or so in which a progressive income tax was supported by 72% of Illinois voters.

    It will be tough no matter what, but let’s have that fight. Let’s expose the people who want millionaires and billionaires to remain taxed at the same rate as everyone else. This fight will pay dividends, I believe.


  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    ===Hillary and JB both got about 55%===

    Meaningless. Look at the minimum wage vote in 2014. Rauner won, but the wage hike passed overwhelmingly. These issues do not break down along partisan lines. For example, see Missouri’s minimum wage vote in 2018.


  14. - CPA - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:15 am:

    I just want to see the rates.

    Call this plan whatever you want, but if I pay more taxes and my Federal AGI is in the 60-80K range i think it’s a rip off.


  15. - OneMan - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:23 am:

    That is why I think (and I have said) you need to the amendment to tie top and bottom rates (like the top rate can only be 3x the bottom rate),

    Making the argument that Springfield isn’t going to be smart when setting tax rates is kind of a no brainer. Also, the whole ‘most of you are going to pay less’ argument is going to make for some funny TV commercials mocking it.


  16. - Arsenal - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:24 am:

    ==Hillary and JB both got about 55% in their respective statewide tallies==

    And they both lost a ton of pro-life and pro-Second Amendment votes. That may not happen in a non-partisan financial referendum.


  17. - Jibba - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 10:46 am:

    It makes no sense from a technical standpoint what the rates will be. The amendment simply allows the rate to be different for different income brackets.

    However, for undecided or hesitant people like Josh and CPA, it may be politically necessary to at least sketch out some likely brackets.

    Perhaps at the same time as the constitutional amendment, a bill can be introduced that outlines initial brackets and rates. It would not likely even be voted on, but it would allow revenue estimates and budgeting and can be referred to by proponents. However, if proponents are seriously thinking of California-type income brackets, they better keep it under their hat.


  18. - ZC - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    It’s gonna be a tough lift no question, and a lot can change in a year, but 2020 looks to be as good a year as any to try and get it over 60%.

    A lot of people are mad at the super-rich right now, and they may only get angrier next year, especially if the economy declines. Frame it as making billionaires pay their fair share, and this may get through.


  19. - PublicServant - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 11:15 am:

    ===Gov. Pritzker ran on a promise of taxing the wealthy, so he likely interprets his 16-point win over Rauner as a mandate to get that done.===

    And that’s the correct interpretation.


  20. - SSL - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    It will a lot harder to get the required voter support without knowing the tax rate structure. In general, people won’t get all fired up to approve a progressive tax unless they know they aren’t voting to increase their own taxes. People like it when others have to pay more tax. Themselves, not so much.

    Maybe when JB said people like him need to pay more, he meant short, portly guys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


  21. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 12:41 pm:

    A teaser rate bracket, to get people to vote to approve it, then in a year change the rates to include more lower income people paying more. Easier then raising the flat tax rate.


  22. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 1:23 pm:

    Everyone paying the same rate is by definition the most fair.


  23. - Jibba - Monday, Feb 11, 19 @ 4:38 pm:

    Anonymous 1:23…

    If a flat tax is the most fair, you enter be talking to your congressman about getting the federal tax system changed, since it has multiple rates and brackets.


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