PI Original Angela Caputo Friday October 24th, 2008, 5:12pm

Poll Finds 66% Support Progressive Income Tax In Illinois

While conservatives have attempted to cast the prospect of a progressive income tax as class warfare, a new poll suggests a majority of people in Illinois think it's a pretty sensible idea.

The survey (PDF) by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 66 percent ...

While conservatives have attempted to cast the prospect of a progressive income tax as class warfare, a new poll suggests a majority of people in Illinois think it's a pretty sensible idea.

The survey (PDF) by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 66 percent of respondents favored raising income tax rates on the wealthiest Illinois residents. Another 29 percent oppose the idea and 5 percent declined to take a position either way. The poll was conducted between Sept. 23 and Oct. 17 and included 800 voters.

As the results of the other tax-related questions show, instituting a progressive tax was by far the most popular revenue generating proposal:

To raise the state portion of the sales tax rate:
Favor 17.0%
Oppose 78.1%
DK/NA 4.9%

To expand the sales tax to cover services, for example, dry cleaning, haircuts, accounting, and so forth:
Favor 28.4%
Oppose 67.6%
DK/NA 4.0%

To expand legalized gambling in Illinois:
Favor 46.6%
Oppose 46.9%
DK/NA 6.5%

To sell or lease state assets, such as the lottery and the Illinois toll road system, to private investors:
Favor 37.8%
Oppose 52.2%
DK/NA 9.9%

A progressive income tax rate isn't exactly a revolutionary proposal.  Despite the conservative rhetoric. Illinois is one of only seven states in the nation to impose a flat income tax rate. In another 33 states, the highest earners face a bigger tax burden.

Aside from putting a strain on the government, the regressive tax policy has also widened the state's wealth gap. Currently, Illinois is among the 10 least equitable states in the nation, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports. In 2006, for example, the wealthiest 1 percent of Illinoisans took home 21 percent of the state's entire gross earnings, while the bottom 50 percent of workers, combined, earned 12 percent.

The idea of instituting a progressive tax gained some traction last spring when State Rep. Mike Smith (D-Canton) introduced a resolution to amend the constitution and increase the tax rate to six percent on households earning more than $250,000 a year. Currently, all Illinois residents pay three percent. The legislature fell short of the 3/5 majority needed to pass the measure. But a vote of 52 yeas to 60 nays was encouraging, said Chrissy Mancici, budget director at the Center For Tax and Budget Accountability.

The plan would have generated an additional $3 billion annually for schools, infrastructure, and a tax relief fund. That kind of money would come in handy at the moment as state officials grapple with a $1.4 billion budget gap. Considering that personal income topped $10 billion this year, the state would have had a much easier time balancing it's budget under a more progressive tax system.

"If you set the scale and actually taxed the wealth in Illinois, you'd be able to fix Medicaid and the pension problems," Mancini said. "The Paul Simon study shows us that the public will is there ... It's going to take (lawmakers) in Springfield to go out on a limb to pass it."

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