ROCK FALLS – State Rep. Mike Smiddy believes that a better tax base could help solve several problems in Illinois. With that in mind, he supports a petition movement to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot to allow the switch to a graduated income tax.
The 71st district Democrat from Hillsdale was featured at a town hall meeting sponsored by Rock River Open Forum on Thursday night at the Rock Falls Public Library.
The fair tax movement is spearheaded by A Better Illinois, a diverse coalition that believes the flat-tax system hurts the middle class and small businesses.
“I support getting the fair tax amendment on the ballot,” Smiddy told a group of 17 at the meeting. “I want to let the people decide first, and then have legislators come up with the parameters.”
Illinois is one of only seven states that still have a flat-tax system. Smiddy thinks a fair tax is one based on income.
“A graduated tax would also help with property tax relief,” he said. “Such a heavy reliance on property taxes is an antiquated way of generating revenue.”
Todd Gillette of Rock Falls wondered what was happening with the temporary state income tax increase. In January 2011, a bill was passed to raise the income tax on individuals from 3 percent to 5 percent. The rationale for the tax was that it was needed in the short term to pay down a backlog of state bills. The tax is set to expire Jan. 1, 2015, but continued budget shortfalls are fueling talk that it will be extended.
Smiddy said the graduated tax movement is related to the temporary increase talk.
“When this sunsets in January 2015, it leaves a $7.2 billion hole in the budget,” Smiddy said. “By creating a better tax base, we might be able to subsidize that.”
Other issues on the table were related to economic development.
“Are we closer to opening the Thomson prison?” Rod Weber of Sterling asked. “I moved here in 1971, and it was booming – that’s why I moved here. This area’s taken a beating.
The area must be revitalized, and there have been some positive developments in the last year, Smiddy said.
“It started with the riverfront development grant,” Smiddy said. “The prison is more of a federal issue, but we are getting closer to getting those 1,100 jobs.”
Also on the federal front, Smiddy said progress is being made in talks about getting a four-lane U.S. Route 30.
“Sen. [Dick] Durbin is really pushing the project with the transportation director,” Smiddy said. “The road would be widened from Fulton and Clinton to I-88.”
When asked about his stance on a minimum wage increase, Smiddy said it is something he will take a close look at, given that the average age of a minimum wage worker in Illinois is now up to 29.
“I’d have to know what the numbers were before I could say yes or no,” Smiddy said. “But we need to recognize where we live and ensure that people have a living wage.”
Because Smiddy has no Democratic challengers, he said he’ll worry about the election after the March 18 primary. Two Republican challengers will face off in the primary. Both are products of the Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s office. Jeff McKinley of Orion, is an assistant state’s attorney, specializing in juvenile abuse and neglect cases. The other GOP challenger is Jim Wozniak, an East Moline resident, who worked as a felony prosecutor.