Faith leaders from across the Chicago area gathered in the city Tuesday to host a prayer vigil and call on legislators to pass a graduated income tax rate in the state of Illinois.
“Flat tax structures are inherently unjust, as they disproportionately put the load on those who can least afford it,” said Bishop Wayne Miller, of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Assembled at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, located at 77 W. Washington St., nearly 50 faith leaders, including pastors, bishops, rabbis and imams, signed pledges in support of a “fair” tax, which would implement higher tax rates for those with higher income levels, and lower rates for people who bring in less income.
Illinois currently has a flat income tax rate of 5 percent of a resident's net income. The 5 percent tax rate applies to everyone, regardless of their base income. Advocates for a progressive tax rate say a flat tax disproportionately affects low-income households because people with high incomes pay a smaller percent of their earnings.
Of the nation’s 41 states that tax income, 34 have implemented a graduated tax rate. The rate of tax at the federal level is also graduated.
“The folks here today are taking action to rise up with the folks in the lower and middle income brackets, as together we speak out against the inequities that are pushing all of us down, while benefitting just a few at the top,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Arise Chicago. “We are taking action against the unjust Illinois tax system.”
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Each of the faith leaders participating in Tuesday's prayer vigil signed a letter in support of tax reform legislation currently pending in the Illinois General Assembly.
“As clergy, people of faith, and people of good will, we call upon you, our elected representatives, to institute a system of taxation in the state of Illinois that asks those who have been blessed with great wealth to pay their fair share,” reads the letter, which was signed by more than 250 religious leaders from across the state and will be delivered to members of the Illinois General Assembly next month.
Last May, State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) sponsored a resolution, SJRCA 40, that would amend the Illinois Constitution and remove a provision stating that a tax on income shall be measured at a non-graduated rate. The resolution currently awaits committee assignment. Meanwhile, companion legislation sponsored by State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), HJRCA 33, was referred to the lower chamber’s Rules Committee in June.
The Senate resolution has garnered 27 co-sponsors, while the House bill has 39 co-sponsors.
In order for a constitutional amendment to appear on the November ballot, the state legislature must vote to approve it before May 4.
“Some of our opponents, who are protecting corporate special interests, are ultimately attempting to deny Illinois voters the opportunity in November to make the choice about a fair tax for themselves,” said Kelly Steele, spokesperson for A Better Illinois, a statewide coalition that sponsored Tuesday’s prayer vigil.
According to a 2013 study by the Institute on Economic Policy and Taxation, Illinoisans in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale pay 13.8 percent of their earnings to state and local taxes. Meanwhile, individuals in the top 1 percent pay only 4.9 percent of their income to state and local taxes.
In that study, Illinois was ranked fourth on a list of state's with the most regressive overall tax system.
Also, a survey of 300 Illinois voters in May revealed that 77 percent of respondents supported a constitutional amendment that would install a progressive tax in the state, according to A Better Illinois. Also, 92 percent of individuals polled agreed that “the tax system in Illinois is broken and needs to be fixed.”
“We know there’s something wrong when people can run for public office and say, ‘I am so rich that I am beyond corruption,’” said Rev. Phillip Blackwell, senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. “Flat tax has become a flat Earth policy.”