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John Bouman

Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law: John Bouman photographed at the offices of Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Chicago, IL. March 9, 2015. Photo by Andrew Collings.

The tax system in Illinois is unfair and inadequate.

The state’s flat income tax requires no more of a millionaire than it does a mom and dad struggling to stay in the middle class. And it doesn’t raise enough revenue to fund our shared priorities, like good schools, social services, and responsibly paying the state’s bills.

The fair tax constitutional amendment now before the Illinois General Assembly offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to allow voters to decide whether to reform our tax structure.

Changing the constitution to allow for higher income tax rates on wealthy people and lower rates for working people will bring our state in step with most of the nation and our neighbors. Illinois voters deserve the chance to vote on this issue.

The governor has proposed a fair tax plan that would lift the tax burden from working people, with 97% of all Illinois taxpayers getting a tax cut under the plan or paying no more than they do now. It’s an even better deal for folks in the Quad-Cities area: Among the residents of Rock Island, Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties, more than 99% of taxpayers would get a break or pay the same.

Even so, by allowing for higher rates on those who make the most, particularly those who make a million or more, fair tax reform would raise more than $3 billion a year.

The resulting revenue could be used to fund public education more adequately and equitably from pre-K through college.

It could help alleviate local property taxes by increasing the state share of school funding and adequately supporting health care and social services.

It could help support crucial priorities like mental health care and drug treatment programs to fight opioids -- problems in every Illinois community that don’t go away when state government doesn’t do its share, but are left to localities to fund solutions or deal with the consequences.

And it could help the state responsibly pay its bills, putting Illinois on firmer fiscal footing today and for generations to come.

The fair tax reform emulates most other states that have modern tax structures based on the ability to pay, yet takes a measured approach that keeps proposed top rates in-line with surrounding states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Springfield’s two-year budget impasse left Illinois in a mess. We have a huge budget gap. We need to make new investments in schools, infrastructure and human services so our communities can thrive. And we have to pay the bills we owe.

The only alternatives to fair tax reform are drastic across-the-board cuts that would harm our kids, seniors and communities, or big across-the-board tax increases that would further burden our state’s working middle class. Both are unacceptable.

This is the moment for real change. The Illinois Senate has already approved the fair tax constitutional amendment with the required three-fifths majority. Now the House must do the same.

Every state representative should support cutting taxes or holding even for 97% of filers, raising $3 billion for schools and other important priorities, and finally making millionaires and other wealthy people pay their share. They should vote yes for fair tax reform, placing the amendment on the 2020 statewide ballot and giving every Illinois voter the chance to put our state on a new and better path.

John Bouman is chairman of the Responsible Budget Coalition, an alliance of more than 300 advocacy groups, human service providers and other organizations concerned with state budget and tax issues.

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