So why are billionaires spending millions to stop us?
The answer is simple. The reason why Ken Griffin, one of the richest people in Illinois, is joining Sam Zell, Richard Uihlein and his other wealthy friends to spend millions to defeat the Fair Tax Amendment on the November ballot is because they have a sweet deal and they want to keep it.
That deal — Illinois’ unfair, flat rate tax — allows Griffin and other wealthy Illinoisans to pay the same income tax rate as school cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and grocery store clerks. This is the same Ken Griffin who said “the number should’ve been 125,” after his friend Rahm Emanuel closed 50 schools in 2013.
But the time for that deal is coming to an end. Illinois voters have a chance on the November ballot to scrap the flat tax and adopt a progressive income tax, known as the Fair Tax.
Illinois is one of just a handful of states with a flat income tax rate. Under this fundamentally unfair system, the top 1 percent of Illinoisans pay just 7 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while middle and lower-income workers pay nearly double: 13 percent.
That regressive tax system is responsible for the chronic underfunding of our schools and other public services.
The Illinois Constitution — the same Constitution that mandates the flat tax — directs the state to provide the majority of funding for public schools. But in reality, the bulk of funding comes from local property taxes, giving Illinois the eighth most regressive tax system in the nation.
This reliance on property taxes also means that the poorest school districts with the greatest needs, like Chicago Public Schools, have the least amount of resources available.
If approved in November, the Fair Tax amendment would change all that by rewriting the disastrous clause in the state constitution that requires the flat rate. The new Fair Tax would apply only to those making more than $250,000 a year, or just 3 percent of Illinois’ population. Everyone else would see no change in their state income taxes, or receive a tax cut.
I repeat: Everyone else would see no change in their state income taxes, or receive a tax cut.
In 2017, after a decade-long fight, Illinois adopted a new evidence-based education funding formula designed to allocate resources to school districts based on what they actually need to serve students. Our public schools, however, are still woefully underfunded. The Fair Tax is expected to raise an extra $3 billion to begin plugging the budget hole for Illinois public schools.
Will the Fair Tax solve all of our problems overnight? Of course not. But it will begin to address the stark inequalities that our public schools face.
There are a number of falsehoods about the tax amendment being put forth by a well-funded, right-wing misinformation campaign. It’s similar to the misinformation campaign behind Donald Trump’s run for re-election, and part of the same system that let him pay just $750 in federal income tax in both 2016 and 2017.
One of the biggest lies being spread about the Fair Tax is that it will tax retirement income. This is unequivocally false. Both the AARP Illinois and the Illinois Alliance of Retired Americanssupport the Fair Tax amendment.
Securing our future
With just over a week until November 3, we must remain vigilant and not take the passage of the Fair Tax for granted. It needs to garner 60 percent of those voting on it to pass.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to level the playing field, and bring more resources to our students, their families and our classrooms. Without the Fair Tax, the uber wealthy continue their sweet deal, and our state will be regressing for years to come.
I can’t even imagine that.
Everything we’re experiencing in this moment is connected to a tax system that is unfair and places more burden on working class families. This vote is about securing the future of our state for our children.
Let’s stay united, and make history — together.