Harmon's dream of Fair Tax fails with voters

River Forest said No, Oak Park a resounding Yes

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Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

For well over a decade, State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) had pushed to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if approved, would allow Illinois to enact a graduated income tax in which higher earners are taxed at a higher rate than those who make less. Currently, the Illinois Constitution requires that the state income tax be flat rate. Last year the General Assembly finally put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. With billionaire Gov. J.B, Pritzker nearly singlehandedly bankrolling the Vote Yes campaign, proponents were optimistic. 

But when voters had their say at the ballot box, the so called "Fair Tax" amendment was decisively defeated getting only 45.5 percent of the vote, far short of the 60 percent yes vote required to change the constitution. With 99 percent of the vote counted, 474,161 more people voted against the amendment than voted for it. 

"Obviously I'm disappointed. Illinois had a chance to take a step toward financial stability and property tax relief and didn't take it," Harmon said in a statement sent to Wednesday Journal. "But the voters have spoken. That's the way democracy works. I will work with the governor and my colleagues to figure out our next moves. Clearly we need to look at making sure that our overall tax structure is as fair for working families as we can make it."

The amendment fared well in Oak Park where 72.41 percent of voters voted yes. But it was a different story in River Forest where 52.83 percent of voters voted against the amendment.

The battle over the constitutional amendment was an expensive battle between two of Illinois' richest billionaires who funded expensive and nearly nonstop television ads and direct mail campaigns on both sides of the issue for the last month.

Pritzker bankrolled the Yes campaign putting $56 million of his own money behind the campaign. But hedge fund operator Ken Griffin nearly matched Pritzker dollar for dollar, putting $54 million of his own money into the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, flooding the airwaves over the last month or so.

Supporters of the amendment argued that those who make more money should pay a greater share of their income in taxes while advertisements against the amendment said that it was dangerous to give what they termed "Springfield politicians" any more power to tax. They also argued that a graduated income tax would harm the economy. They also suggested that the amendment would lead to the state taxing retirement income. Nothing in the amendment affected retirement income. Whether to tax retirement income or not is purely a matter for the state legislature and governor. 

With the amendment defeated, the state's leaders must look for other ways to reduce an $8 million budget deficit. An increase in the state's current flat income tax rate of 4.95 percent and/or spending cuts have been mentioned as possibilities.

Harmon, now the State Senate president, is hoping for more support from the federal government, a more realistic possibility with Joe Biden as president.

"At the same time, this underscores yet again the need for help from Washington," Harmon said. "The unfortunate reality is that the government of the United States of America has yet to help the 50 states of this great country cope with the economic fallout caused by this global health crisis and Washington's inability to have a national containment strategy. I hope the new administration will be better for all of us."

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Reader Comments

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Gregg Kuenster  

Posted: November 12th, 2020 3:49 PM

Property tax will be increased. Families are losing their homes. Small business are being eliminated by property taxes.. Income Tax will be increased. The math is forcing these two necessary increase tax actions. Pay the Debt = Raise Income Tax and Raise Property Tax. The Debt is being multiplied but no politician State or Local will cut their piece of the pie to save the residents. Stop Increasing the Debt = Stop paying large salaries to employees hired before 2011. A constitutional amendment is a Red Herring. It is not a math solution.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: November 12th, 2020 9:55 AM

The problem I had with the amendment was in the false advertising for it. For example, it was said that this would make millionaires and billionaires pay more. The plan was to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. While some of those families might be millionaires many are not. For example, if you have a younger doctor who is married to a school teacher your combined income could be above the $250,000, but you might still have $100,000 in student loans. Alternatively, a retired person could have $3,000,000 in his IRA and Pension funds and not be subject to this tax at all. Where is the fairness in that?

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: November 12th, 2020 9:11 AM

So the low life rich and their backward enablers make sure that the parasitic Illinois rich continue to skate on the backs of the poor and middle class. Herr Rauner and his ilk must be so relieved. I've even heard some of them think they're Christians.

Gregg Kuenster from Active CPA  

Posted: November 12th, 2020 4:06 AM

Tax Facts are Elementary. No Constitutional Amendment is needed or COULD to solve the simple math Illinois State Debt Problem. It is simple addition and subtraction. It is not complex at all. In 2009, Illinois Legislators cut Illinois Pension benefits IN HALF for employees hired after January 1, 2011. Any public employee hired after 2011 does not add to the Pension Debt ? Period. Stop complaining about public employees hired after 2011. Do not ignore the Simple Math Problem. The only State, Local and Educational employees accruing at the old (higher) rate were hired before 2011. Less than 50 percent of employees were hired before 2011. Freezing salaries (or firing) those hired before 2011 can be done without a Constitutional Amendment. That one action (freezing salaries of high compensated pre 2011 employees) could stop the Pension Debt Accrual at once. Presto. Problem Solved. MATH. However, there is no political will to freeze wage increases for State and Local Judges, State and Local School Administrators, State and Local Government Administrators and Department Heads whose careers started before 2011. Add in Politicians. Not Gonna Happen. These people are running things. They are not going to point the finger at themselves. So what will happen? The State and Local Government Debt problems will be solved slowly but surely by an increase in State Income Tax and Local Property Tax. To recap there are only two solutions to this simple math problem. 1 - Pay the Debt = Raise Income Tax and Raise Property Tax 2 - Stop Increasing the Debt = Stop paying large salaries to employees hired before 2011. A constitutional amendment is a Red Herring. It is not a math solution.

Ed Kantor  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 7:32 PM

For years the state has said that the reason that we can't change the public pension problems (read generosity) that we face was because changing these pensions would require a constitution amendment. But when they want to take more of our tax dollars they have no problem getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot. So I propose that we have a constitutional amendment on the next ballot to lower the pension amounts for all these public unions that are bleeding the state dry. Who will be the first elected official to have the courage to do that?

Jay Butler  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 6:01 PM

Sad that his only answer is to "hope" for more help from the federal government. Obviously we need to fix the unsustainable pension commitments made by our representatives trying to buy votes with our children's money. Oh sorry, that requires putting the interests of the governed ahead of the legislatures personal interests!

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 1:22 PM

Point of clarification: The amendment did not require 60% yes vote to pass. Due to the low drop-off rate (voters skipping the question), the amendment needed only 53% to pass. Both sides can be proud of that participation rate, which looks to be the best in Illinois' CA history.

Nick Polido  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 12:03 PM

You Go Don! Maybe you should dust off that 45 billion dollar request from last April that included 10 billion for pension relief.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 10:35 AM

That moment when our State Senator finally realizes no one believes his lies.

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