If we amend Illinois constitution for graduated income tax, why not also for pension reform?

It takes special gall to raise taxes for some Illinoisans so soon after they were hit with a massive increase in state income tax rates.

So, give an audacity award to any “progressive” trying to renew the ill-timed and perennial campaign to replace the decades-old flat tax with a graduated income tax.

Rep. Naomi Jakobsso, D-Urbana, has introduced legislation asking voters to approve such a change. This comes just two years after the stIt takes special gall to raise taxes for some Illinoisans so soon after they were hit with a massive increase in state income tax rates.

So, give an audacity award to any “progressive” trying to renew the ill-timed and perennial campaign to replace the decades-old flat tax with a graduated income tax.

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, has introduced legislation asking voters to approve such a change. This comes just two years after the state’s income tax was increased 67 percent for individuals and 46 percent for businesses. Her legislation would end the flat tax rate of 5 percent on individuals and 7 percent on businesses. (That 7 percent doesn’t include a separate, 2.5 percent tax Illinois collects from businesses.)ate’s income tax was increased 67 percent for individuals and 46 percent for businesses. Her legislation would end the flat tax rate of 5 percent on individuals and 7 percent on businesses. (That 7 percent doesn’t include a separate, 2.5 percent tax Illinois collects from businesses.)

It is the same smack-the-rich baloney that helped President Barack Obama win a second term. Jakobsson’s remarkable explanation to the News-Gazette in Champaign was: “We’re a wealthy state and a pretty low-taxed state.”

The flat levy, which taxes everyone at the same rate, is “unfair” and doesn’t produce enough revenue to pay down the state’s unfunded liabilities, she argued. The graduated tax will produce more revenue but not raise taxes for most state taxpayers, she assured us.

That’s highly doubtful. That’s even though her constitutional amendment does not spell out exactly what the rates for each class of taxpayers will be. This, truly, is a pig in a poke.

OK, if we’re going to open up the Illinois Constitution for this kind of nonsense, why don’t we open it up to get rid of the provision protecting public employee pension benefits? To wit: “Membership in any (public employee) pension or retirement system … shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

It hardly does any good to argue with the public employee unions that at the heart of Illinois’ financial crisis sit the unfunded and hugely extravagant pension benefits. In fact, the skyrocketing costs of pensions have gobbled up revenue from the 2011 state income tax increase. The unfunded benefit obligations of the state’s five pension funds now stand at $96.8 billion, and could be much higher.

Yes, yes, I know you pensioners paid into it your entire careers, but if the length of your life as a retiree is normal, you will likely get a lot more back than what you put in. For some, $1 million or more. As for those nasty politicians skimming the pension funds to pay for the state’s operating costs, these are the guys that you and your unions elected. While this theft was taking place, what were your leaders doing about it, other than shoving campaign contributions at the worst offenders?

Any “solution” Springfield politicians fashion that looks like it will “diminish or impair” any of those lavish benefits will be challenged in court by public employees unions and like-minded progressives. Those would be the same progressives who did nothing as those gold-plated pensions have cut more and more into the very programs they believe are desperately needed.

Face it, the only sure way to restore Illinois’ fiscal integrity is a constitutional amendment removing the costly pension provision.

In 2008, Illinois voters had a chance to call a constitutional convention to fix the pension and other problems. But the unions and some in the media, in big business, big government and big good-government groups all joined together to kill the ballot question. Now, some of those same groups are lamenting the financial mess that has resulted.

So, here’s my deal. Let the Legislature pass Jakobsson’s graduated income tax referendum measure as long as it enables a referendum on removing the pension protection clause.

Voters are fed up with the extravagant pensions, not because they hate public employees, but because the pension mess has put every Illinois family and future families in a financial box. (To find out how much it is costing you, visit Illinois Is Broke.)  If the Legislature sends the graduated income tax to a vote, it ought to at least give voters an opportunity to do what the lawmakers won’t: Rescue Illinois from financial chaos.

This column also appeared Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.

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