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.”