TAX BAT­TLE RE­SUMES

Pritzker’s push for bal­lot ini­tia­tive on grad­u­ated rates to be met by op­po­si­tion ads

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY TINA SFONDELES, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER ts­fonde­les@sun­times.com | @Ti­naS­fon

Bankrolled by an as­tound­ing $51.5 million con­tri­bu­tion from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a com­mit­tee push­ing a grad­u­ated in­come tax bal­lot ini­tia­tive launched a series of dig­i­tal ads on Tues­day — just as an op­pos­ing group an­nounced grass-roots ef­forts to fight the tax change that would pound high-in­come earn­ers in the state.

The high-stakes aware­ness cam­paigns come four months be­fore vot­ers will de­cide whether the state changes its in­come tax rates to more heav­ily tax those who make over $250,000.

To Pritzker, a bil­lion­aire whose own in­come will be im­pacted by a change in the in­come tax struc­ture, the pro­gres­sive in­come tax has been a fo­cal point since even be­fore he took of­fice.

To the busi­ness com­mu­nity and to mil­lion­aires and Pritzker’s fel­low bil­lion­aires in the state, a bump in the tax rate will take up a big chunk of their earn­ings. And that per­sonal fi­nan­cial hit is worth fight­ing against.

They also claim there’s no rea­son to trust Democrats with tax changes, ar­gu­ing the pro­posal opens the door to fur­ther upticks to pay off the state’s mas­sive debts.

The mes­sag­ing isn’t as sim­ple as one would think. Vot­ers are typ­i­cally leery of tax changes and math ques­tions on a bal­lot — even if 97% of tax­pay­ers will see ei­ther no change to their taxes or a slight dip, ac­cord­ing to Pritzker and the pro-“Fair Tax” group.

With the COVID-19 pan­demic grind­ing much of ev­ery­day life to a halt in 2020, the groups have the ben­e­fit of reach­ing out to tax­pay­ers via tele­vi­sion and In­ter­net ads in an un­prece­dented set­ting that has millions of peo­ple work­ing from home and glued to their screens.

Via Face­book, Hulu, YouTube and sev­eral news sites, Vote Yes for Fair­ness is launch­ing seven dig­i­tal ads on Tues­day. Most are short and to the point, ar­gu­ing that the tax change is “fair” and will help 97% of tax­pay­ers. One 15-sec­ond ad specif­i­cally speaks to es­sen­tial work­ers: “It’s not fair to force our es­sen­tial work­ers to pay the same tax rate as mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires,” the ad reads.

Un­der the pro­posed change, in­comes be­tween $250,000 and $500,000 would be taxed 7.75%. It would main­tain the cur­rent tax rate of 4.95% on in­comes be­tween $100,000 and $250,000. In­come from $500,000 to $1 million would be taxed 7.85%, while in­come over $1 million would be taxed 7.99%. For those earn­ing in­comes of $100,000 or less, the rate would dip down to 4.9%.

Pritzker’s own net worth was es­ti­mated at $3.4 bil­lion last year. He and his wife re­ported $5.5 million in tax­able in­come for 2018. Trusts ben­e­fit­ing the Pr­titzk­ers paid $5.3 million in Illinois taxes at a rate of 6.45% and $29 million in fed­eral taxes.

The pro-grad­u­ated in­come tax group did not spec­ify how much it was spend­ing on the ads but con­firmed that the com­mit­tee will be dol­ing out money for TV ads ahead of the Novem­ber election. The dig­i­tal ads will also be run­ning full steam un­til the election.

Pritzker on June 26 con­trib­uted $51.5 million to the Vote Yes for Fair­ness com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to campaign fi­nance records. He pre­vi­ously kicked in $5 million in De­cem­ber. Pritzker do­nated a record-set­ting $171.5 million to his own gu­ber­na­to­rial campaign.

Vote Yes for Fair­ness spokes­woman Lara Sis­sel­man said the ads are not in re­sponse to crit­i­cal TV ads paid for by the dark money group, Illinois Ris­ing Ac­tion. She said ef­forts by her group have been stalled by the pan­demic.

“We felt the most im­por­tant thing we could do as an or­ga­ni­za­tion was get in­for­ma­tion out to Illi­noisans on the re­sources out there and safety pre­cau­tions they should be tak­ing,” Sis­sel­man said. “If you take a look at our so­cial me­dia chan­nels, you’ll see the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity was COVID-fo­cused over the last 4 months.”

The group also launched Illi­noisVotes2­020.com and Illi­noisVota20­20.com to en­cour­age vot­ers to vote-by-mail in Novem­ber.

“VBM [vote-by-mail] is a key part of our campaign, and this site was the start of our ef­forts, which will even­tu­ally in­clude spend­ing across dig­i­tal plat­forms,” Sis­sel­man said.

On the other side of the is­sue, the Vote No on the Pro­gres­sive Tax Coali­tion planned to hold four news con­fer­ences across the state on Tues­day to an­nounce its grass-roots plans to get its mes­sage out. The Illinois Cham­ber of Com­merce and other pro-busi­ness groups are sched­uled to par­tic­i­pate.

The group is also us­ing the pan­demic as a mes­sag­ing strat­egy.

“Illi­noisans are over­taxed. Fam­i­lies, work­ers, se­niors, and small busi­ness own­ers strug­gle un­der the weight of the high­est over­all tax bur­den in the en­tire coun­try. Now politi­cians in Spring­field want to raise our taxes yet again with a pro­gres­sive tax that will do noth­ing to ad­dress sky-high prop­erty taxes, will cost Illinois even more jobs and hurt work­ers, and will end up rais­ing taxes on the mid­dle class and the work­ing poor,” the group said in a state­ment ahead of Tues­day’s news con­fer­ences. “Illi­noisans can’t af­ford an­other tax hike, es­pe­cially as work­ing fam­i­lies and small busi­nesses strug­gle to re­cover from COVID-19.”

If vot­ers ap­prove the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, the new tax rates would go into ef­fect Jan. 1, 2021.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (left) gives his daily up­date on the coro­n­avirus in March; at right is Todd Maisch, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Illinois Cham­ber of Com­merce.

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