Everything You Need to Know About the "Fair Tax"
Release: October 16, 2020
Do you still have questions about Illinois’ proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution, often referred to as the “Fair Tax”? Over the past several months, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (“CTBA”) has been compiling some of the most frequently asked questions about the Fair Tax and has created this FAQ to help voters understand this ballot initiative.
Debunking the Myth that Tax Policy Causes Out-Migration
Release: October 14, 2020
On November 3, 2020, voters will have the chance to ratify an amendment to the Illinois Constitution which would allow the state to use a graduated rate structure for its income tax. Ratification of this amendment would permit implementation of Public Act 101-0008 (“P.A. 101-0008”) which was signed into law on June 5, 2019. If implemented, this legislation which is frequently referred to as the “Fair Tax” by proponents, would replace the state’s current flat rate income tax with a graduated rate structure that: is tied to ability to pay; in normal economic times would raise around $3.5 billion in new revenue annually; and would effectively help eliminate some of the long-term structural flaws that have consistently made Illinois’ overall tax system one of the most unfair and poorly performing in the nation.
Many of those opposed to the Fair Tax have tried to mislead Illinoisans into voting against ratifying the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution this November, by relying on arguments that have emotional appeal but are not supported by either evidence or the vast body of research. One such specious argument consistently made against the proposed Fair Tax is that the change to a graduated rate income tax structure will cause a mass exodus of middle-income households and millionaires from Illinois.
This claim, however, is exposed for the baseless canard it is when evaluated against the body of research covering the relationship—or as it turns out lack thereof—between tax policy and migration, as well as the relevant data from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), U.S. Census Bureau, and the Illinois Department of Revenue (“IDOR”). People (including millionaires) move for many complicated, interrelated reasons, least of which is because of tax policy.
Implementing the “Fair Tax” Will Help the Illinois Fiscal System
Release: October 1, 2020
On November 3rd, 2020, Illinois voters will have the opportunity to ratify the proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would eliminate the mandate that state income taxes be assessed using only one flat rate.
This is a crucial moment for Illinois since it has historically been, and currently remains, one of the most unfair taxing states in the nation. From a textbook standpoint, an “unfair” tax system is a regressive tax system—that is, one that imposes a greater tax burden on low- and middle-income families than on affluent families, when tax burden is measured as a percentage of income. It is unfair because such a system fails to allocate tax burden in a manner that correlates with ability to pay, thereby worsening the substantial growth in income inequality that has occurred in the private sector over the last four decades. But building fairness into a state tax system is difficult, given that every tax—or fee for that matter—which is available to fund public services provided at the state or local level is regressive except for one: the income tax. The income tax is the only tax that can actually be designed to comport with ability to pay and hence create some tax fairness, because it is the only tax that can be designed to assess higher tax rates on higher levels of income, and lower rates on lower levels of income.
Unfortunately, Article IX, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution mandates that the state income tax be imposed at one flat rate across all levels of income. Hence, Illinois is constitutionally prohibited from utilizing the income tax to play the essential tax policy role of offsetting the natural regressivity of every other tax and fee imposed at either the state or local level. In fact, Illinois’ inability to build some fairness into its tax system through implementation of a graduated rate income tax has played a major role in driving the ongoing deficits in the state’s General Fund, while also hampering private sector economic growth. The good news is a genuine opportunity for meaningful reform of the Illinois income tax now exists. That is because on June 5, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Public Act 101-0008 (“P.A. 101-0008”) into law. If implemented, this legislation will create a new, graduated rate income tax structure, frequently referred to as the “Fair Tax” by proponents, to replace the state’s current flat rate income tax.
To learn more about how the Fair Tax not only ties income tax burden to ability to pay, but also raises new revenue in a manner that will effectively help eliminate some of the long-term structural flaws that have consistently made Illinois’ overall tax system one of the most unfair and poorly performing in the nation, please read the new CTBA Report, “Implementing the “Fair Tax” Will Help the Illinois Fiscal System Respond Better to the Modern Economy While Promoting Tax Fairness.”
Illinois FY 2021 Enacted General Fund Budget Analysis
Release: August 19, 2020
If the Illinois FY 2021 Enacted General Fund Budget proves anything, it is that no matter how much things change in the world at large, the structural revenue problems in the state’s budget remain the same. Consider that, not even accounting for the impact of COVID-19, Illinois would nonetheless still have a General Fund deficit—meaning the state would not have had enough current revenue to cover some spending on public services this year—even if the pandemic never happened.
Despite the poor performance of the state’s revenue system over time, many commentators and editorial boards still try to blame the state’s historic, recurring deficit problems on overspending for services. The data, however, have simply never supported that canard, which is explained at length in this Report. The long-term structural deficit in Illinois’ General Fund—which will certainly become worse over the next few years as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy is projected to drive revenue down significantly in all 50 states—is a real cause for concern.
A structural deficit like the one in Illinois’ General Fund, which is demonstrably driven by an underperforming revenue system, cannot be eliminated without raising taxes. In fact, Governor Pritzker has worked with the General Assembly to pass a tax reform package—known as the “Fair Tax”—predicated on replacing the flat rate individual income tax Illinois currently imposes with a graduated rate income tax. Recognizing the difficult political battle that will be waged over the Fair Tax, Governor Pritzker introduced two different General Fund budget proposals for FY 2021. But all of that happened before COVID-19 devasted the economy and drove down tax revenue in all 50 states, including Illinois.
So, as expected, the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly worsened the state’s fiscal condition. That said, the analysis in this Report makes it clear that, even if the coronavirus had never happened, the fiscal shortcomings that plague Illinois’ General Fund are long-term, material, and structural, and cannot be resolved without comprehensively reforming the state’s tax policy.
Fully Funding the Evidence-Based Formula: 2020 Update
Release: August 4, 2020
Fully Funding the Evidence-Based Formula: 2020 Update” is an update to the “Fully Funding the Evidence-Based Formula: Four Scenarios” report from 2019. The updated 2020 report highlights three different funding scenarios, identifying for each scenario how long, and how much money would be required to fund an adequate and equitable education as identified by the Evidence-Based Funding Formula.