Wednesday, Feb 24, 2021

* Greg Hinz

Illinois lawmakers probably ought to take another whack at passing a graduated income tax amendment but should specifically tie much of the proceeds to paying off old pension debt.

That was the suggestion today from the new speaker of the Illinois House, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, as he came under strong questioning [during a webcast event hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago] about how the state should handle $144 billion in unfunded pension liability for state workers and educators. […]

Welch did not say what share of a new amendment should be promised to pensions. But he did predict that given the state’s fiscal problems, the income tax issue isn’t going to disappear.

“If we don’t change (the current flat tax) . . . we’re going to be talking about this in another five years,” Welch said. Adopting a graduated tax like most other states have is “one of the structural changes we need.”

I reached out to Welch’s spokesperson Sean Anderson, who said the House Speaker was “simply highlighting the unfairness” of the state’s tax system and that Welch “doesn’t think anything should be taken off the table.”

Asked if Welch was prepared to move legislation this spring, Anderson said “I think he’s prepared to have a conversation with his caucus and with the governor on the best way to move forward, given the budget, given the deficit.”

Considering that the Fair Tax seemed to drive Republican turnout last year and that many House Democrats were actively running away from it by the fall, I’m thinking they’re gonna need a much different approach than last time, if this is actually anything beyond some public spitballing during a webcast. Tying it to debt might help, I suppose, but people would rather pay for things they can touch and fixing past mistakes by throwing money at them is never an easy sell. And maybe applying it to annual income over a million dollars could work, too. Madigan put an advisory referendum on the ballot to do just that back in the day and it got a lot of votes.