New polling found Illinois’ proposed progressive income tax ballot initiative may be off to a rocky start in terms of public opinion.
A We Ask America poll of 800 likely Illinois voters shows support for changing the state’s flat income tax to one that would allow lawmakers to tax higher earners at higher rates stood at 51 percent as of the last days of May. While 51 percent would be just enough for the measure to succeed in November 2020, it has dropped eight percentage points since February.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently told the Daily Herald that groups like Ideas Illinois, which funded the poll, have spread misinformation about what his income tax proposal would do.
“They keep trying to come up with words to make it seem like something it’s not,” he told editors and reporters at the newspaper.
Ideas Illinois spokesman Jason Heffley said the group's “blank check” messaging is the better description.
“Only a Springfield politician would try to convince middle-class families that opening the tax code to be easily changed by [House] Speaker [Michael] Madigan and his pals is not a blank check,” he said.
Think Big Illinois, a progressive nonprofit with ties to Pritzker, has spent $5 million to promote the amendment.
“Illinoisans across the state want a tax system that forces the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, lifts the burden off middle and working-class families, and brings much-needed revenue into our state,” said Quentin Fulks, executive director for Think Big Illinois, adding in March that his organization “remains committed to fighting for a fair tax system that works for everyone.”
A March poll from the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale showed the progressive income tax proposal had two-to-one support.
Ideas Illinois said its polling language was effective in moving the needle in the argument, pointing to the Champaign-Urbana area as the only area where they spent money advertising, using the “blank check for Springfield” language. The polling showed support for the ballot initiative sank to 44 percent, down from 58 percent in February.
The numbers could become more meaningful in the months leading up to the election. The progressive tax amendment can be enacted by getting either 50.01 percent of the total number of ballots cast in the election to support the measure or getting 60 percent, three-fifths, of those who vote on the question to support the change. Because not everyone who votes in the election will vote on the constitutional amendment, Pritzker would have to muster more than 50.01 percent support from the electorate, something known as “drop off.”
The 2016 “lockbox amendment” had a 14.5 percent drop off, meaning that of the 5.62 million people who voted in the election, some 4.81 million checked a box for or against that particular amendment. That amendment was ultimately approved.