Tom Kacich: Jakobsson stepping up in defense of tax plan
There's a new Naomi Jakobsson out there, forceful and feisty when it comes to defending her proposal to bring a graduated income tax to Illinois.
Last month, the veteran Democratic state representative from Urbana traveled to Charleston to push her plan to dump Illinois' flat-rate income tax in favor of a graduated income tax, something that would require a constitutional amendment. Jakobsson found a favorable audience on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.
But the conservative Illinois Policy Institute is a different story. It has consistently spoken out against shifting to the graduated, or progressive, income tax although it hadn't specifically targeted Jakobsson's plan. Until Friday.
That was a day after Jakobsson, in an unusually angry statement in a press release, went after the IPI, saying it "is blanketing the state with diatribes" against the progressive income tax amendment and that their "statements are comprised of empty rhetoric interspersed with outright lies."
While the IPI has been saying that a progressive income tax "would increase the tax rate on 85 percent of Illinois taxpayers," Jakobsson said her plan would mean lower income tax bills for 83 percent of Illinoisans.
"The 'tipping point' at which the rate would go over the present 5 percent would be at $106,000 per year," Jakobsson said in the news release. "At the high end the rate would rise to 7.2 percent for a family earning $500,000 per year and continue to 8.5 percent for a family earning $2 million per year."
Her tax schedule also would yield about 15 percent more revenue for the state, which Jakobsson has said could go to education and social services that have been cut in recent years.
The truth is, though, that no one knows what a progressive income tax would look like until the Legislature writes one up. And that won't happen until voters approve a constitutional amendment authorizing the shift away from the current flat tax.
The IPI says that asking legislators "to figure out the exact tax rates later on is sort of like buying a car and letting the dealer decide the interest rate on your auto loan once you've walked off the lot."
Imagine, IPI budget and tax analyst Ben VenMetre wrote, "if Illinoisans pass one of Jakobsson's proposals without rates and leave it up to Springfield to decide the tax structures."
And while Jakobsson has argued that wealthy Illinoisans wouldn't leave the state because most are in the Chicago area and that it is a "wealth creation area," the IPI claims capital and labor are increasingly mobile and that people and businesses "are better able to vote with their feet and locate in the most competitive" states.
"Some will accuse me of waging 'class warfare,'" Jakobsson wrote. "My answer is that the war is already well on. While many higher income individuals cheerfully and willingly pay their taxes, others of them have retained a mercenary army of lobbyists to fight against all efforts at a fairer tax system, and in fact to increase even further the disparities in our tax system. Springfield is their battlefield. It is time for the rest of us to realize this and fight back."
That kind of fiery rhetoric isn't the sort of thing we're accustomed to hearing from the mild-mannered, six-term lawmaker who has announced that she will retire in January 2015.
"It was time to get my truth out there," she said in an interview. "It came to a point where I thought there was a lot out there, including in (The News-Gazette) against this that I said it's time to fight back."
Jakobsson said she's willing to campaign around the state — including debating the IPI — to get a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot.
Her resolution to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot has 29 co-sponsors, all of them fellow Democrats. But she's going to need more support in the House and the Senate to get the measure on the ballot. She has until early May to round up those supporters.
It's a long shot, and even if she wins that battle, the next step would be to persuade voters all over Illinois that a progressive income tax would be a good thing.
Jakobsson said the constituents she's heard from in her Democratic district back the idea.
"Most of them are, because most of them get it. Sure, there are some people here in this area who would see their taxes go up, but for the most part I have people who say, 'Yes, it's time to do this,'" she said.
Maps group gets organized
Supporters of the campaign to get another constitutional amendment on next year's ballot — this one in support of having an independent commission draw the boundaries for state legislative districts — will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Panera Bread shop in Champaign's Campustown, at 616 E. Green St.
There also will be a meeting of the The Yes for Independent Maps campaign at the Normal Public Library, 206 W. College Ave., Normal, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Supporters of the proposal have to collect at least 298,000 signatures by early May to get the amendment on next November's ballot, and they're getting a late start in many parts of Illinois.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.