Television advertisements running across Illinois foreshadow a war over the income tax that has not yet been formally declared.
Pro-progressive-income-tax Think Big Illinois and anti-progressive-income-tax Ideas Illinois are throwing roundhouse punches over a proposed state constitutional amendment expected to be on the November 2020 ballot.
Think Big is backing the proposed progressive-income-tax measure because it insists voters should decide the issue.
"A yes vote by the Legislature would put the fair tax on the ballot, so you get a chance to decide. Tell your representative. We deserve a vote," the Think Big narrator states.
Besides, Think Big advertisements re-assure taxpayers that most of them will pay nothing extra if the current 4.95 percent flat tax is replaced by multiple rates targeting varying levels of income.
"Wonder who's paying for these ads attacking the fair tax? Take one guess," the Think Big ad sneers. "Yup, you're right. They're paid for by the same millionaires who would be forced to pay more if Illinois makes our tax system fair."
Think Big's ads are matched in stridence by Ideas Illinois.
One of its ads questions why the state should trust billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker to enact what Pritzker calls a "fair tax" when he and his family members are under federal investigation for allegedly cheating on property taxes.
"J.B. Pritzker says his tax plan is all about fairness. Can we trust him?" the narrator asks as news clips about Pritzker's reported federal investigation cross the television screen. "That's not fair. That's fraudulent. Maybe even criminal. Don't let him cheat us again. Say no to his unfair jobs tax."
Some might suggest political ads are getting ahead of political reality.
After all, the Legislature has yet to vote to put Pritzker's beloved proposed progressive-income-tax amendment on the ballot.
Then again, maybe the ads' omniscient tone is exactly right — that the legislative charade under way in Springfield only obscures the fact that this is a done deal — that supermajority House Democrats will join their counterparts in the Senate to put the measure on the ballot.
The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn May 31. Other than passing his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, moving forward with the progressive-income-tax plan is the governor's No. 1 priority. In his mind, it's the key to solving all of Illinois' financial problems.
"A fair tax will change the arc of Illinois' finances forever," Pritzker said in his February budget address.
Passing it is not only key to his ambitious tax and spending plans, it's crucial to other ambitions this newcomer to politics has — whether they be re-election as governor, running for the U.S. Senate or even seeking the presidency.
So Pritzker must get it on the ballot, and he will because he and legislative Democrats are all for it. They're not unanimous in wanting to be seen as voting for it, but their mouths all water in anticipation of the many billions of dollars in new revenue the amendment could, if passed, generate.
Earlier this week, a House committee voted along party lines to move the measure to the House floor.
There were comic aspects to the pre-vote debate. Particularly noteworthy was the comment of state Rep. John Carroll, D-Northbrook, who voted for it while expressing opposition to it. He called the measure "way too important" not to get a vote in the full House.
Once there, other Democratic legislators will defend a vote to put it on the ballot by stating the issue is way too important not to let the public decide it in November 2020.
But what about other important issues Democratic legislative leaders refuse to allow voters to address — like an end to partisan redistricting and term limits? Shut up, says Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Democrats need 71 votes to put the amendment on the ballot, and they can wait until May 2020 to act. There's no good reason to do so, particularly with the campaign already underway.
With a 74-member supermajority, House Democrats have more than enough votes. Even more important, Madigan has embraced the progressive-income-tax amendment. If he wants it, everyone knows Madigan will get it.
What remains to be seen is when legislators will pass a package of tax rates as a companion bill to the amendment, which only authorizes, but does not set, multiple higher rates.
Proponents insist only those making more than $250,000 a year will pay more. Inevitably, higher rates will be imposed on lower levels of income because, as other states with progressive rates have repeatedly demonstrated, that's where the money is.
But that's a real debate for another day. In the meantime, the progressive-income-tax dog-and-pony show is approaching an end that already has been written.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.