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National Editorial & Columnists

Ballot question earns 'F" for its shaky grammar

Key specifics lacking about 'millionaire tax'

House Speaker Michael Madigan
Madigan is a key backer of the so-called "millionaire's tax" referendum.
House Speaker Michael Madigan D-Chicago Madigan is a key backer of the so-called "millionaire's tax" referendum.

A bit of hay is being made over a grammar error that will appear on the ballot this November.

It seems that no one caught the improper use of the word “their” in the text of the proposed ballot question.

The measure asks, “Should the Illinois Constitution be amended to require that each school district receive additional revenue, based on their number of students, from an additional 3% tax on income greater than one million dollars?”

Of course, to be grammatically correct, the word “its” should be used instead of “their” because “each school district” is singular.

I can see 100 copy editors I’ve known clucking their tongues in unison and shaking their heads.

My old high school English teacher, Miss Finch, will probably enter the voting booth, red pen in hand, ready to correct the ballot and hand it back to the election judge marked “F.”

Illinois is a place where legislators talk about raising literacy standards – but don’t practice them.

Of course, the problem with this ballot question goes far beyond grammar.

First of all, the question doesn’t specify what sort of income should be taxed.

Are we talking about gross income? Or are we talking net income?

Are they talking about corporate income or personal income?

The measure doesn’t specify.

And, of course, those things are important.

Lots of businesses may take in more than $1 million in annual income, but could still be losing money.

For example, a farmer may sell more than $1 million in corn, but after he pays his landlord his rent, spends money on seed, fertilizer, herbicides, machinery, and interest on loans, he may well end up in the red.

Lots of other small business people find themselves in the same predicament.

But would this proposal add another cost to doing business for already struggling firms?

We don’t know, because it doesn’t specify whether it is a tax on gross income or net income.

But one thing we do know is that the more we tax folks who create jobs, the fewer jobs there will be.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder's column is underwritten by the Illinois Policy Institute.

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