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Battle For The Amendment

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The advertisements will soon start flying through the airwaves, over the cable and on your favorite social media channel.   It is all in the battle for a constitutional amendment this November that would change the way Illinois’ income tax system works.

Voters will decide whether Illinois should change the constitution and create a graduated income tax system.  It would replace the current flat tax that has one rate for individual taxpayers and another for businesses. This would create a system for individuals that would increase the level of taxation as the taxpayer goes up the income scale.

This past week, Governor J.B. Pritzker put more than $50 million of his own money toward the effort to support the amendment. Putting his money where his mouth is will likely get traditional Democratic groups in Illinois on board his pro-amendment campaign.

Opponents kicked off their campaign Tuesday.   A coalition of Illinois’ major business groups such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Farm Bureau held a televised news conference around the state to show that various segments of business are unified on this effort, which they have termed  “a progressive tax.”

They say it will hurt businesses, reduce employment during an economic downtime and allow a free-spending legislature to start taxing retirees.

But you can hear the drumbeat coming. This is all about bait and switch. They are going to call it a fair tax. But what it is the elimination of the constitutional protection of a single rate,” said Steve Rauschenberger, a former Republican State Senator who now advises manufacturing groups.

Supporters meanwhile, are calling theirs “a fair tax”. Vote Yes for Fair Tax chairman John Bouman issued this comment after the business leaders were done speaking. 

“It’s no surprise that wealthy special interests like the unfair old way of taxing income in Illinois, because it’s given them a sweet deal for way too long,” he said, adding “ “Working people overwhelmingly support the Fair Tax amendment because everyone who makes under $250,000 will get a tax cut or pay no more.

Their campaign theme so far plays up the fact that only the wealthier would see an increase in their  taxes.   Although opponents say its way to get into the pockets of all taxpayers more easily down the road and to get some quick cash immediately if it passes.

“This is simply a big giant bag of cash that’s being left at the back door of the State House and (Chicago) City Hall. That’s all this is,” said Todd Maisch President of the Illinois Chamber.

Each camp has their own website and while neither has indicated how much money they are going to spend, Illinois voters will likely hear the pros and cons from both sides until the last vote is cast.  

To change the constitution, 60% of the voters would have to say yes.  This promises to be an uphill climb, when the average voter is likely to be confused as they are inundated with competing messages.

Bill Wheelhouse is a reporter with NPR Illinois in Springfield.

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