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Headlines about the happenings (or non-happenings) at the Illinois Statehouse this past year have been dismal as the state enters the 11th month of the fiscal year without a budget. While the budget stalemate is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, lawmakers are moving forward with important efforts to improve Illinois’ future fiscal health by advancing measures that would reform the state’s personal income tax.
The majority of states and the federal government tax lower levels of income at lower rates and higher levels of income at higher rates, but due to a state constitutional prohibition, Illinois can only apply a single rate to all taxable income. According to ITEP’s tax inequality index, Illinois has the fifth most unfair tax system in the country, requiring more from low- and middle-income taxpayers than from high-income earners. If Illinois were able to adopt a graduated rate structure instead, it would greatly improve tax fairness, as well as improve the ability of its income tax to keep pace with income growth and the rising costs of critical services like education and roads.
Both the House and Senate are expected to take up several bills next week that could change this for Illinois. One set of bills would put the question to voters in November whether the Illinois Constitution should be amended to allow for a graduated income tax. The second set of bills establish what the rate structure would look like should the constitutional measure pass in the fall. The proposed rate structure (see below) would cut the current marginal tax rate of 3.75 percent to 3.5 percent on income below $200,000 for married filing jointly ($100,000 for single) and introduce two new brackets with higher marginal rates on income over $750,000 ($500,000 if single).
An ITEP analysis of the proposal estimates that 99 percent of Illinoisans who file income tax returns would receive a tax cut, with only a small fraction of the state’s top earners paying a higher income tax rate. The result is a more progressive tax—one that requires less from those with less and more from those with more. Additionally, this rate structure is estimated to generate in the ballpark of $2 billion in additional revenue, which the state desperately needs in the short-term to regain its financial footing and in the long-term to keep up with the rising costs of services.
The Illinois House is expected to vote on the bills this coming Tuesday, May 3rd, with the Senate following course on Wednesday, May 4th. While holding one’s breath for a budget deal is not advisable, here’s to hoping we can heave a collective sigh of relief for a fairer and more sustainable income tax when picking up Illinois papers next week.