Answer Man

Answer Man: Changing constitution will be a taxing proposition

Q. I’m confused: They’re now talking about making Illinois residents pay an extra 3 percent in income tax if they earn over a million, but that this change would require a constitutional amendment. Since when did this become a constitutional issue, which would require 60 percent approval?

— R.J., of Maryville

A. It’s been that way ever since 1970, when the state adopted the fourth — and current — version of its constitution.

In Article IX (Revenue), Section 3 (Limitations on Income Taxation), it specifically states: “A tax on or measured by income shall be at a non-graduated rate.”

In other words, our constitution mandates that, unlike the federal income tax, all residents must be taxed at the same rate no matter how much or how little they earn. That’s why no amendment was needed in 2011 when the Legislature passed and former Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill to increase the tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent. Even though the rate jumped by two-thirds, everyone still paid the same percentage. It remained a non-graduated tax.

This new proposal would change the playing field. While the average Joe would continue to pay 3.75 percent, the rich will chip in an additional 3 percent for anything they earn over a million. This would institute a graduated tax (the more you make, the more you pay), so a constitutional change is required.

“Right now, we’re handicapped because the constitution says there has to be a flat tax and, you know, that’s great for the rich, but it’s unfair to the middle class and the working poor,” said Sen. Kwame Raoul, of Chicago, who sponsored an amendment to create a graduated system back in 2013.

As you know, a constitutional provision also has become a major bone of contention in the attempt to get government pension costs under control. Under Article XIII (General Provisions), Section 5 (Pension and Retirement Rights), it states, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The wrangling goes on over if and how this provision can be changed.

Q. Why is it that at the end of some radio commercials the announcer begins to talk so fast no one can understand him?

— Z.K., of Maryville

A. It’s the same reason many TV advertisers flash all that impossible-to-read text on the screen for a few nanoseconds: It is designed to legally cover the butts of advertisers when they’re pitching drugs, car lease deals, credit card rates, etc.

See, life was so much simpler in the 1800s. You could set up a table on the sidewalk and claim your miracle elixir cured everything from anemia to zits. Before people got wise, you simply bolted town.

Then the government stepped in and started requiring companies to give the messy little details about medications, car sales, home mortgages, etc.. Thus began the days of fine print and its radio equivalent, fast talk. Let me give you a f’rinstance:

Let’s say your company has developed a drug to cure cancer. You, of course, want an advertisement that creates a picture of a simple pill that can vanquish a dreadful disease and everyone lives happily ever after.

Unfortunately, testing has shown that your medication may cause side effects ranging from insomnia and fever to depression and suicide. That’s where the fast talk comes in. The Food and Drug Administration requires that all advertisements for prescription drugs must include a). at least one approved use for the drug, b). the generic name of the drug — and c). the risks of using the drug.

But the FDA does not regulate how this must be done. It doesn’t mandate equal time for the pluses and minuses or the same tone of voice. So, since ads are expensive, drug companies will devote the bulk of their commercials to promoting a world filled with beautiful flowers, chirping birds and happy people.

Then, near the end to fulfill the legal requirements, you have someone in a boring monotone rattle off all those nasty potential side effects as quickly as possible. These can be made even more annoying by using a computer to speed up the announcer’s delivery. Finally, you end the ad with a friendly reminder to talk to your doctor about this particular drug. I assume the hope is that potential customers will tune out the bad stuff, which you’ve disposed of as quickly and boringly as possible.

It’s not just drugs. Most companies that offer you some sort of financial deal usually will assault you with loads of verbal disclaimers, too. For example, if a credit card company is giving an unbelievably low interest rate, it is obligated to tell you that the rate may last for only a year and that not everyone will qualify, among other details. Cable companies may have a fantastic price for Internet service, but, if you listen closely, you learn that you have to bundle in several other products. Car dealerships are notorious for listing details of leasing or financial arrangements that can put you to sleep faster than Lunesta.

There are usually no hard-and-fast rules when these disclaimers must be used. If it affects health or safety, the Federal Trade Commission may step in, although it usually won’t pursue legal action even though it has said that those impossible-to-read TV warnings are “not likely to be adequate.” In other cases, a TV network may require them in case, for example, children might injure themselves imitating something they see in the commercial. Voila: “Do not try this at home.”

Personally, I often find these funny in a morbid sort of way. I mean, after hearing that a drug could cause chronic diarrhea, an erection lasting six weeks, and an inexplicable craving for Lucky Charms, do I really want to ask my doctor about it? And do I have to be warned that you really can’t run a car on a snowboarding course as a recent commercial using special effects showed one doing?

But as long as companies face lawsuits, sometimes on the most dubious of grounds, you’ll continue to hear that fast talk. Just remember — you should not choose a lawyer by advertising alone and that those huge settlements they flash on the screen may not be indicative of what you might win.

Today’s trivia

How did actress Ruth Elizabeth “Betty” Davis choose the name Bette in the early 1920s?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: When Jodie Foster was 13, she had to undergo a psychological evaluation by the California Labor Board to ensure she was emotionally capable of handling the role of Iris, the teen prostitute in the 1976 movie “Taxi Driver.” She obviously passed, but older sister Connie still acted as a stand-in in some of the film’s steamier scenes.

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