Whom are you going to believe in the great debate over Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposed progressive income-tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution?
Don't worry — no immediate decisions have to be made. The vote on Pritzker's amendment won't occur until November 2020, a delay that provides some breathing room in the decision-making process.
But the legislative and political wheels are already turning.
Pritzker and legislative proponents made the amendment language public Tuesday, and the tentative schedule calls for quick action.
Springfield political analyst Rich Miller writes on "Capitol Fax" that "the plan is to move the proposal forward this week and vote on it in the Senate when they return from spring break."
The Illinois Constitution currently provides that "a tax on or measured by income shall be at a non-graduated rate." The proposed language change states that "the General Assembly shall provide by law for the rate or rates of any tax on or measured by income imposed by the state."
"The action we're taking today means we are one step closer to giving voters a choice about whether the wealthy will pay more and 97 percent of families will pay the same or less," Pritzker said.
The governor's 97 percent/3 percent figure is conjecture. He has suggested raising tax rates on individuals with incomes in excess of $250,000.
But his amendment would authorize progressive rates, not establish specific rates. If the amendment passes, the Legislature would choose whatever rates it wants and could change them anytime it wants.
That's why critics of the proposed amendment describe it as a "bait and switch" proposal that would eventually hit the middle class that Pritzker promises to exempt.
"Today is the first step by Springfield politicians to hand themselves a blank check with middle-class families' hard-earned money," said Greg Baise, chairman of Ideas Illinois, an initiative funded by the pro-business Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity.
Baise has long been critical of the proposed amendment. But he escalated his rhetoric against proponents, charging that those who are "set to support yet another massive tax hike should do the right thing and release their full tax returns so voters have a clear picture."
Both sides will be making diametrically opposite arguments in the coming months, using selected statistics to back their positions.
It's a conundrum that will force voters to choose from arguments that appear equally plausible.
Here's just one example.
The Better Government Association this week released a report that purports to show high income earners are not affected by increases in tax rates and will not leave the state because of them.
The BGA's study of the state's 2011 66 percent increase in the state income tax — from 3 to 5 percent — was the subject of a Wednesday column.
The next day, the Illinois Policy Institute, an anti-tax, free-market think tank, issued its own statement charging that the BGA study was "poorly put together" and, as a consequence, misleading.
"BGA incorrectly implies that because the number of filers in low-income brackets decreased while the number of high-income brackets increased, it is due to higher net outmigration of low-income individuals relative to high-income individuals. This ignores the migration rates by relying on raw numbers and is not how outmigration is calculated," states IPI analyst Bryce Hill.
The BGA study cited tax records that "reveal robust growth" in Illinois tax filers with incomes of $100,000 or greater from 2011 to 2014. The BGA also stated the number of filers earning between $100,000 and $200,000 "grew by 16 percent" and those earning more than $200,000 "rose by 29 percent."
At the same time, the BGA said there was a steep drop in the number of low- and middle-income earners.
The BGA's point was that higher income earners are not affected by tax increases, a position that lends support to passing the progressive tax amendment.
But the IPI cited its own studies to show the opposite.
Hill said IRS data shows "higher earners have been leaving Illinois at a faster rate since 2011," that "outmigration — measured as the ratio of in-migrants to out-migrants — got 12 percent worse for Illinoisans making less than $50,000 (a year). Meanwhile, outmigration got 14 percent worse for Illinoisans making more than $200K."
He said IRS data shows "it's prime working age Illinoisans who leave Illinois."
"What the BGA article correctly points out is that families and businesses want certainty and stability. The push for a graduated income tax would not deliver either. Revenues would become more volatile and harder to predict, increasing the size and likelihood of budget shortfalls and when this happens it will be easier than ever for the General Assembly to raise middle-class taxes," Hill said.
Two sets of experts generate two different opinions by relying on similar data.
Get ready for more of the same over the next 19 months.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.