Editorial | Whom do you trust?

Editorial | Whom do you trust?

The unimpressive track record of the state's elected leadership can't help but play a big role in the fight over amending the Illinois Constitution.

The political back and forth on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposed progressive income tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution has begun in earnest.

Just as legislators are taking the initial steps toward putting this controversial proposal on the November 2020 ballot, proponents and opponents have gone into full spin mode over its alleged vices and virtues.

Television advertising, pro and con commentaries and debate in a variety of forums have become routine. By Election Day, appeals from both sides will border on the hysterical over a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit rising tax rates on rising levels of income, forever changing Illinois' tax landscape.

One side, led by Pritzker, opines that the amendment is a cure-all for Illinois' financial problems. The other contends just as vehemently that it represents another nail in the state's coffin, one that will harm the state's business climate by alienating job creators and killing jobs.

But there's another question hanging over this issue that surely will affect the voters' decision: Do the people of Illinois have enough trust in the state's political class to vote for such an open-ended proposal on state income taxes?

Pritzker and his acolytes promise to raise taxes only on the rich — those making more than $250,000 a year. But will they — and can they — when the rich represent such a small percentage of state taxpayers and the broad middle class is where the money is?

Further, by passing this amendment, what will Illinois taxpayers be signing up for — a rigid proposal that allows progressive tax rates on rising levels of income or a vague statement that permits legislators to impose multiple taxes on the same income?

The latter issue came up last week when Pritzker revealed the language for his proposed amendment.

His amendment reads: "The General Assembly shall provide by law for the rate or rates of any tax on or measured by income imposed by the state."

It would replace the following language: "A tax on or measured by income shall be at a non-graduated rate. At any one time there may be no more than one such tax imposed by the state for state purposes on individuals and one such tax so imposed on corporations."

Eliminating the second sentence of the previous paragraph raises the prospect in some people's minds that the amendment would permit "taxation of certain kinds of income a second or third time."

"If somebody decides there's a need for another income-tax increase, I think it's going to look a lot like a 'special assessment for public safety.' It's going to be a 'special tax dedicated to education.' It's going to go under that guise," Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Tod Maisch told legislators.

State Sen. Don Harmon, one of the leading proponents of the progressive tax plan, rejected that interpretation. But his explanation was characterized by one Springfield commentator to be "clear as mud."

Besides, whatever Harmon says about the meaning of the amendment is irrelevant because courts interpret the meaning of legislation, primarily based on its language. So if this amendment eliminates language that prohibits multiple taxes on the same income, it's hardly unreasonable that the courts might interpret that excision as permitting multiple taxes on the same income.

Is someone trying to pull a fast one here under the guise of what's portrayed as a benign language change? That question goes straight to the heart of the trust issue.

Frankly, there's no reason why the people of Illinois should have any trust in the judgment or credibility of the state's elected leadership. It has shown itself over the past two decades to be, collectively, incompetent and untrustworthy.

If that sounds unduly harsh, consider the state of the state of Illinois. It's effectively a bankrupt shambles. Now, the same kinds of people who wrecked it are promising to solve the problems they caused with this tax hike proposal.

Perhaps they can and will do that. But they bear a heavy burden of proof.

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