Editorial | Don't keep voters in the dark

Editorial | Don't keep voters in the dark

When it comes to tax plans, Pritzker and Madigan need to be more specific.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker continues to defy political convention by touting his plans to raise income taxes if he's elected.

But as bold as he has been in announcing his general intentions, the billionaire businessman continues to shy away from the specifics voters need in order to judge his candidacy.

Pritzker, who is running on a costly platform that includes universal health insurance, has forthrightly suggested a two-tiered approach to income taxes in Illinois.

Legislators increased the state's income tax to 4.95 percent last year, overriding Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the measure. But Pritzker has indicated that the state needs even more revenue.

So he has said that, if elected, he'll concentrate first on increasing the 4.95 percent rate, although he has not said how much he would increase it. It probably would be in the area of 1 percent, lifting the state rate by another 20 percent to 5.95 percent.

Pritzker also has said he would prefer the higher number to be temporary, put in place until the voters approve a progressive income tax in November 2020 that he said will focus on upper-income earners.

A progressive income tax levies increasing rates of taxation on increasing levels of income.

A recent proposal by the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability suggested maintaining the current 4.95 percent rate on incomes up to $300,000. At the same time, the center's plan would impose dramatically higher taxes on incomes over $300,000.

While embracing that concept, Pritzker has refused to embrace, at least publicly, any specifics. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has joined Pritzker in the campaign for a progressive income tax, also has declined to explain what he has in mind.

"We can only determine what the rates are by virtue of a negotiation with the Legislature at the time, what the priorities are in the budget, and then we've got to make it transparent to the voters who ultimately get to vote on them," Pritzker said.

So Pritzer's position is that he'll have no idea what the rates will or should be until he talks to Madigan, while the speaker indicates that he'll have nothing to say until he talks to Pritzker, assuming Pritzker wins in November.

If that's not vague enough, Pritzker's Monday statement on taxes to a business group adds to the rhetorical disconnect.

Pritzker stated the obvious — specific rates will be set by the Legislature. But he also said the rates will be based on budget priorities and made "transparent to the voters, who ultimately get to vote on them."

Pritzker has it backward.

If and when Illinois voters get the opportunity to vote yea or nay on a progressive income tax amendment, they will vote on replacing the current flat tax with one that allows establishing different rates on rising levels of income.

Voters will not vote on specific rates, just whether to give legislators the authority to set increasing rates on increasing levels of income.

If the amendment passes, members of the House and Senate will be able to set any rates they wish unencumbered by the language of Pritzker's proposed constitutional amendment.

That's why it's important that the public have some idea what Pritzker and Madigan have in mind. If the proposed amendment becomes part of the Illinois Constitution, the specific rates and income levels will be what they want them to be.

Even more important is that it's very likely that Pritzker will win the fall election. Illinois is a solid Democratic state, and Rauner is a wounded Republican who could well be a post-election lame duck.

Pritzker already has outlined an aggressive social agenda that involves billions of dollars in new spending on top of the state's already massive pension debt, budget deficits and unpaid bills. To drive home the sincerity of his intentions, Pritzker specifically stated that he has no intention of moderating his positions in a way that would appeal to independent or Republican voters.

Given the unusually forthright nature of his rhetoric, voters ought to take him at face value. But to make a sensible judgment, they need more than just a promise to raise taxes.

By how much? And on whom?

Pritzker's proposed increase in the current flat tax will affect all taxpayers. His proposed progressive tax constitutional amendment represents a shotgun blast that will hit some hard and others not so much.

That's why he needs to add some real transparency to his rhetoric embracing transparency.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion