Once again, lawmakers in Springfield stand at a crossroads as we deal with yet another budget crisis.
At the end of this year, 2011 tax rates are set to expire, threatening to drive Illinois off a fiscal cliff. So far, the political debate regarding the state's potential response has boiled down to just two options: permanent extension of an unfair, regressive flat tax or another round of draconian cuts to vital services on which Illinois citizens and businesses rely.
I'm fighting in the General Assembly to give the voters of Illinois a third option on the ballot this November.
Last month, I introduced a fair tax rate structure that would not only shore up our finances and keep our state's vital services running, but also provide 94 percent of Illinois residents with a tax cut.
The rate structure is a compliment to the Fair Tax Act, which I introduced last year. The Fair Tax Act would give the citizens of Illinois a vote in November as to whether or not they would like to modernize our constitution to allow lawmakers to tax minimum wage workers and middle class families at a lower rate than millionaires.
A fair tax, with lower rates for lower incomes and higher rates for higher incomes, would give nearly every Illinoisan a tax break -- from a minimum wage worker to a person earning nearly $205,000 a year -- without the need to continue Illinois' unfair, regressive flat tax ad infinitum. Meanwhile, services like education, health care and public safety would not need to face another round of massive budget cuts that put Illinois citizens and our state's economy at risk.
Make no mistake -- letting our state free-fall off the fiscal cliff has real consequences. No matter how hard some partisan politicians try to minimize the effects to serve their personal political agendas, be sure these massive cuts will hurt all our communities and our entire state's economy.
Driving Illinois over the fiscal cliff means cutting another 13,400 teachers from the classroom. It means denying 95,000 kids access to early childhood education. It means the release of 15,000 inmates from our prisons. It means laying off thousands of corrections officers and cutting our state police by 30 percent. It means telling tens of thousands of college students they won't get a MAP grant to help afford a college education. It means sending our state's finances into a downward spiral and taking our fragile economic recovery down with it.
But by keeping our state's regressive flat tax in place, none of our constituents will get a tax cut, even though many families need that relief. That's simply not fair.
There is a third and fairer way, a better path to move our state forward -- the fair tax.
The fairer way would give a $272 tax cut to the minimum wage worker. The fairer option would provide $303 in savings for those making the state's median income of $55,371. The fairer alternative even provides those earning $200,000 a year with a $90 tax break. That's what my plan does.
My plan puts an end to the constant budgeting-by-crisis in Springfield and at the same time provides a tax cut to 94 percent of Illinois residents.
Perhaps as important as any other consideration, our proposal puts this decision to the voters of Illinois. The opposition to a fair tax has been bankrolled by out-of-state special interests, including the billionaire Koch brothers, and has run a shameful and dishonest smear campaign to keep this proposal off the ballot.
Ultimately, the citizens of Illinois should be allowed to give a tax cut to minimum wage workers and middle class families without giving large tax breaks to millionaires if that's what voters decide is the best policy. No out-of-state special interest should be able to deny our voters the option to choose for themselves at the ballot box.
I urge my colleagues in Springfield to join me. Let's give Illinois voters that choice to adopt a fair tax on the ballot this November.
Illinois Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, represents the 39th District. He is the sponsor of the Fair Tax Act.