FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a bill signing Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

Illinois’ two major income tax hikes were major failures.

That’s the takeaway from Illinois’ 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR. It’s one of the state’s most important financial documents. And in true Illinois fashion, it was published 245 days late – tardier than any other state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s solution to the state’s woes? Another income tax hike.

Voters will decide whether to approve a progressive income tax amendment at the ballot box in November 2020. Assuming the introductory progressive income tax rates passed by the General Assembly never change, it would send an additional $3.4 billion to Springfield.

And if history is any guide, it won’t fix anything.

Key to the CAFR is a measure of fiscal health called a “net position.” A state government’s net position is similar to a company’s net worth. The CAFR revealed that since Illinois first started trying to solve its problems with income tax hikes in 2011, its net position deficit has more than quadrupled to $189.1 billion from $43.6 billion.

Most shocking is what Illinoisans saw in the single year after the record-breaking 2017 income tax hike, which took an additional $732 from the typical Illinois household.

According to Illinois’ previous CAFR, the fiscal year 2017 net position deficit was $141.7 billion. So over one year, Illinoisans saw their state’s net worth drop by 35%, or $47.4 billion, despite shouldering the largest permanent income tax hike in state history.

There’s only one state in the nation with a worse net position than Illinois: New Jersey. In the Garden State, Senate President Steve Sweeney has been shouting from the rooftops about the need for pension reform and government worker health care reform.

“I’m not supporting a budget that includes new taxes without a solution,” Sweeney told Politico in March.

“It has never been a solution when you only raise taxes. It only delays the inevitable.”

Sweeney is a Democrat and moonlights as an ironworker union official – hardly an anti-tax zealot.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot seems to recognize the need for reform as well.

The new mayor is already in a world of trouble. She’s staring down a large city budget gap she can’t close without action from House Speaker Mike Madigan. She’s in heated negotiations with some of the nation’s most extreme labor unions (the Chicago Teachers Union has already set a date for a strike vote.) And her city continues to lose taxpayers to other states.

In the face of this, Lightfoot spoke the truth about the progressive income tax. Voters across Illinois, Democrats and Republicans, should take note.

“We can’t keep taxing the hell out of all of our people who make substantial incomes,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

“That’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not going to work.”

The CAFR backs her up.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration interpreted this comment as a threat. The governor has already spent millions of dollars on TV ads touting the progressive income tax. A Lightfoot spokesperson later walked back the mayor’s statement, saying she still supports the constitutional amendment.

Opponents have already branded the progressive income tax constitutional amendment as the “blank check” amendment in the run-up to the 2020 vote. The reason is clear: when the first round of progressive income tax hikes fail to fix the state’s finances, lawmakers have shown they’ll simply hit up the middle class for more.

Voters will decide whether it’s a solution or snake oil.

Austin Berg is a Chicago-based writer with the Illinois Policy Institute who wrote this column for The Center Square. Austin can be reached at aberg@illinoispolicy.org.

Contributing Columnist

Austin Berg's award-winning work has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, and he has appeared on ABC 7 Chicago and WTTW. Berg was also the writer of the documentary film “Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.”