(The Center Square) – The fight is on over whether or not Illinois voters should approve a change of the state’s flat income tax to a tax with higher rates for higher earners.

The group “Vote Yes for Fairness” put out a series of 15-second video ads supporting the proposed constitutional amendment voters will decide on this November.

“The seven ads highlight how our current tax system is broken and fundamentally unfair, forcing our essential workers like nurses and grocery store clerks to pay the same tax rate as millionaires and billionaires,” the group said in a statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week gave the group $51.5 million.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce joined with other groups virtually across the state Tuesday to oppose the amendment. He said the governor’s spending is telling.

“We don’t need to spend dollar-for-dollar because this is frankly an unpopular idea once voters figure out what’s really going on,” Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said. “So this is an unpopular idea. If the proponents were certain they had this in the bag would they have written a $51 million check? I don’t think so.”

National Federation of Independent Business of Illinois’ Leadership Council Chairwoman Cindy Neal said supporters of the progressive income tax “don’t get it,” especially in the wake of economic impacts from COVID-19 shutdowns.

“They don’t understand that if this tax is passed in November it will place irreparable harm on our employers and many businesses that haven’t already shutdown perhaps will have to shut down due to this outrageous progressive income tax,” Neal said.

While the Pritzker-backed group has said the progressive tax is a fair tax because it would tax lower incomes lower rates, Technology and Manufacturing Associaton’s Steve Rauschenberger disagreed.

“This is all about bait-and-switch,” Rauschenberger said. “They’re going to call it a fair tax, but what it is is the elimination of the constitutional protection of a single rate. That’s why in 1970 in the constitutional convention it was installed to protect the taxpayers because it makes the legislature vote to raise taxes on everybody.”

“Contrary to what they say, the Fair Tax will only affect small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year in profit, while at least 97% of Illinoisans will see no income tax increase or a tax cut,” Vote Yes for Fairness Chairman Quentin Fulks said.

Raschuenberger said the reality is increased costs on businesses will hurt employees and consumers.

“To absorb the tax increases small businesses who are the backbone of employers in the state of Illinois would have to reduce workforce, freeze salaries, reduce benefits, cut hours and increase the costs of goods sold,” he said.

Others have said that it pits Illinoisans against each other without addressing the state’s overspending.

“What does it tell you when politicians push through a constitutional amendment to increase our taxes but they refuse to propose one to fix the public pension fiasco,” Neal said. “The state does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”

Fulks said opponents are protecting “the millionaires and billionaires.”

But other groups joined in opposition Tuesday, including the Illinois Farm Bureau. President Richard Guebert said farmers have taken hit after hit in the past few years and a progressive income tax will hurt their operations.

“Farmers and those of us in rural communities are doing our best in these difficult times,” Guebert said. “Now is not the time for this tax.”

“We have members … when they get behind an issue they do bring dollars to the table that we can get the message out how important it is for this constitutional amendment to be defeated,” Guebert said.

Voters get the final say on the statewide ballot this November.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.