Politics & Government

New state Rep. Nathan Reitz will be a pivotal vote on the graduated income tax

State Rep. Nathan Reitz discusses progressive income tax

State Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, who replaced Jerry Costello II in the House in May 2019, discusses his goals as a new state representative and his thoughts on a proposal to have a progressive income tax system in Illinois.
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State Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, who replaced Jerry Costello II in the House in May 2019, discusses his goals as a new state representative and his thoughts on a proposal to have a progressive income tax system in Illinois.

When the state House of Representatives votes on whether to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot that would allow for a change to the state’s income tax system, many eyes will be on the chamber’s newest member.

State Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, could be a key vote as Democrats try to garner enough support from the party’s caucus in order to place the proposal to remove the requirement for a flat income tax in the state.

Reitz was appointed earlier this month to replace Rep. Jerry Costello II, D- Smithton, in the 116th District. Costello was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to be the director of Law Enforcement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

In order for the constitutional amendment to make the November 2020 ballot, it would need 71 votes in favor in the Illinois House. Democrats hold 74 seats in the chamber, but two suburban Democratic state representatives — Jonathan Carroll, of Northbrook, and Sam Yingling of Grayslake — have said they’re not ready to support the graduated income tax plan, according to the Chicago Tribune.

All of the Republicans in the House Chamber have committed to voting “no” when the proposed amendment comes up.

That leaves the governor’s office and other proponents of a progressive income tax with an even narrower path to accomplishing one of the governor’s top priorities: changing the state to a progressive income tax system which would require the state’s top earners pay more in taxes. The governor has said it would help fill a $3.2 billion structural budget deficit.

The state Senate earlier this month voted 40-19 along party lines to place the amendment on the ballot.

Conservative vote replacement?

Costello, who often prided himself as being the most conservative Democrat in the House, had said he was against a progressive income tax in the state. Replacing Costello in the House opens up the possibility of gaining a vote for the constitutional amendment.

In an interview, Reitz, the former shift supervisor at the Dynegy-owned Baldwin Power Plant, wouldn’t give a definitive answer on whether he would vote differently than Costello on the issue.

“Right now I’m still looking at everything and at the end of the day I have to do what’s best for all the people in my district, and lowering taxes on the middle class is definitely my focus right now and will always be my focus,” Reitz said.

Reitz is the son of Dan Reitz, a former state representative who voted for a state income tax increase in 2011 and then later resigned. Costello was then appointed to the seat.

Nathan Reitz’s appointment this month was followed by a call from the Illinois GOP for the younger Reitz to follow in Costello’s footsteps and oppose a graduated income tax system.

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Nathan Reitz, Democrat from Steeleville. Joe Bustos jbustos@bnd.com

Reitz, who does plan to run for election to the seat in 2020, conceded he has been lobbied on the progressive income tax issue.

“I’ve spoken to several people and told them I have to do what’s best for the people in the 116th district,” Reitz said. “They will be the people that ultimately have the decision to bring me back to Springfield in two years. If the fair tax is something that needs to happen to make that a possibility, we probably need to sit down and look at it.”

Legislative lobbying

Pritzker Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said the governor has been meeting with lawmakers to convince them to support the plan the governor’s office has called the “fair tax.” Under rates that have been proposed, 97 percent of people would pay the same or less in income taxes. People making more than $250,000 would see an increase.

“The governor believes the fair tax is the best way to put the state back on firm fiscal footing while protecting the middle class,” Abudayyeh said. “He’s making the case to lawmakers from every part of the state because he knows lawmakers want to do what’s best for their constituents.”

If Reitz votes “yes” when the constitutional amendment came up, he would probably receive criticism back in his district, said state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, whose senate district contains Reitz’s House district.

“I would expect that if Rep. Reitz were to vote ‘yes’ on that, he would get a lot of blowback,” Schimpf said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do, I haven’t had a conversation but I do know the governor’s proposal to change from a flat tax rate to a progressive tax rate is extremely unpopular in my district.”

Schimpf said he was lobbied to vote certain ways when Republican Bruce Rauner was governor.

“Sometimes I would agree with him, sometimes I disagreed with him,” Schimpf said. “Ultimately I voted my district, and that’s what we should all be doing, voting what’s best for our district regardless what pressure we get from the second floor.”

State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment in the House, argues constituents in Reitz’s district would be helped by a progressive income tax as it would bring in more money for poorer school districts.

“No doubt his district would benefit,” Martwick said.

Martwick said there would be property tax relief and there would be income tax relief for Reitz’s constituents.

“It’s not massive, but it’s something,” Martwick said.

Still unclear is when representatives may vote on the progressive income tax amendment as proponents work to get the 71 votes needed. Martwick said many members are meeting with him to discuss details of the bills and to make sure they get the best for their constituents.

“We’re close to 71. I’m confident we’ll get to 71,” Martwick said.

Southern Illinois values

As Reitz mulls over a vote on the graduated income tax, he has worked on issues to show his southern Illinois values.

The first bill he co-sponsored dealt with Second Amendment rights. The legislation, among other things works to ensure the World Shooting Complex in Sparta is not impacted by recently passed gun restriction laws, and restructures the validity of concealed carry licenses by stating that licenses may expire five years from the expiration date of the prior license rather than five years from the renewal application date.

“I’m sponsoring a commonsense, pro-gun bill to defend Southern Illinois from the one-dimensional Chicago assault on legal gun ownership,” Reitz said.

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Nathan Reitz, Democrat from Steeleville. Joe Bustos jbustos@bnd.com

On Wednesday, Reitz presented his first bill to the full House chamber, which passed unanimously.

The legislation, if it becomes law, would require the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Board of Higher Education to create the Agricultural Education Pre-Service Teacher Internship Program and award grants to pre-service teaching students who are involved in the program.

“The goal of my first bill is to expand access to agricultural education by investing in those with an interest in teaching it,” Reitz said. “I am committed to working with the education advocates, the agriculture community, as well as other stakeholders that share Southern Illinois’ most core values.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.

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