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Double state taxes for the rich?
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/3/2008 10:22 AM | Updated: 4/3/2008 6:19 PM

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SPRINGFIELD -- A state lawmaker wants voters to decide if people making more than $250,000 a year should have their Illinois income tax doubled, with the billions of new dollars paying for education, roads and tax breaks for everyone else.

If successful in Springfield, the question would be put to voters in November. If voters endorse it, the current 3 percent state income tax rate would double to 6 percent for individuals and joint tax filers making more than a quarter-million dollars.

Colleagues have already dubbed downstate Democrat Rep. Mike Smith's plan the "Robin Hood referendum." State tax data shows 107,000 people in the state made more than $250,000. That's roughly 5 percent of all tax filers.

"Let's take from the rich and give to the poor," said state Rep. Joseph Lyons, a Chicago Democrat.

Supporters hope the other 95 percent -- who'd pay nothing more and could see upward of $300 in state tax breaks -- would swamp polling places to vote for this.

"I'm not sure who would campaign against this other than those 107,000," Smith said.

But some suburban lawmakers were quick to oppose the plan. Not surprisingly, the greatest concentration of top earners is in the Chicago and suburban region. Cook County had 45,146 tax filers reporting income over $250,000 in 2005.

The numbers in the other suburban counties were: DuPage County, 15,054; Lake County, 12,846; McHenry County, 5,449; Kane County, 4,558; and Will County, 2,693.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said the low, flat income tax is "one of the last good economic tools" in Illinois.

"We should not get sucked into class warfare," said Dillard, who estimated his own income would fall short of the $250,000 threshold.

Dillard was among the Republican lawmakers who, also on Thursday, unveiled their own economic plan that calls for rolling back state taxes on gasoline and businesses.

Illinois now has a flat, 3 percent income tax regardless of how much someone makes. The state constitution requires a flat rate regardless of income, so an amendment would be needed to create an upper-bracket tax.

Under this tax plan, the increase would generate nearly $3 billion annually to be split equally among education funding, state-sponsored construction and tax relief in the form of doubling the personal exemption for those making less than $250,000 annually.

The proposal comes as lawmakers are again considering plans that raise income taxes and expand sales taxes to come up with billions of new dollars for school funding. They're also considering new casinos and other gambling expansion to finance road, bridge and school construction.

But Smith said he believes those plans are hopelessly stalled, and putting the income tax before voters is a better option. A proposed constitutional amendment also would skip Gov. Rod Blagojevich's desk and go straight to voters.

Blagojevich has repeatedly vowed not to raise the state income or sales tax. He did, however, recently agree to a higher Chicago and suburban sales tax to bail out mass transit agencies.

Of the 40 states with an income tax, Illinois is one of seven charging all taxpayers a flat rate. Indiana similarly has a flat, 3.4 percent income tax rate.

Wisconsin has four tax brackets ranging from 4.6 percent to 6.75 percent, Iowa's tax rates cover nine brackets ranging from 0.36 percent to 8.98 percent, and Missouri's 10 income tax brackets range from a low of 1.5 percent to a high of 6 percent.

To make the November ballot, the proposed tax question would need House and Senate approval by May 4. Smith said he hopes for initial approval in the House as soon as next week.