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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: September ‘promises’ are just taxing, tiring spin to lure voters

Are you tired of the spin?

With early voting underway, heavy hitters on both sides of the income tax amendment are lobbing haymakers at voters, laced with the only tiniest kernels of truth.

In my mailbox Tuesday was a glossy mailer, paid for by the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike Amendment. The front featured the Capitol building and an inconsistently capitalized lie: “Constitutional Amendment gives Springfield Politicians new power to raise income taxes on Anyone.”

The statement isn’t sourced — because it’s conjecture. The political argument is tax brackets make it easier for lawmakers to raise rates on smaller population segments while avoiding political blowback, or to lower rates to curry political favor, but the actual legal authority to change the tax rate is already established and wouldn’t be amended.

The mailer asserts “the day after the election, the politicians could hike taxes on anyone, including middle-income families.” But that’s already possible.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton made a similar threat Thursday. Without setting a timetable, Stratton warned voters to prepare for — if the amendment fails — a 20% hike in the flat income tax rate, from the current 4.95% to 5.94%.

Her actual phrasing was “lawmakers will be forced to consider” a spike, but it smacks of the executive branch writing a check the legislature isn’t obligated to cash. Graduated or flat, tax rates don’t change without lawmaker votes. While it’s folly to pretend the Democrats running the Statehouse oppose increasing revenue, the fiscal 2022 budget is impossible to predict with any certainty.

“I believe the people of Illinois are too smart to be fooled by these outrageous scare tactics,” said Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, in response to Stratton’s remarks. But her doomsday projections aren’t rooted in any more reality than the Coalition’s fear-mongering.

The mailer correctly states the amendment doesn’t require lawmakers to control spending, but no one is pretending it does. It further notes the amendment doesn’t “dedicate any of the new tax revenue toward critical needs such as health care, education or public safety.” True, but if it’s OK for one side to promise lawmakers will behave one way with respect to raising taxes, isn’t it fair for the other to say passing the amendment delivers more power to fund critical needs?

Regardless of the Nov. 3 outcome, the next legislative session will feature blistering budget debates. No matter how we fund the state, arguments over government spending reductions and additional program investments are inevitable. If they can’t or won’t cut, lawmakers will take more of our money. If not from taxes, then from fees.

From any corner, September promises regarding May specifics are just spin to gain influence. It’s transparent and tiring.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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