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Taxing Plan

Taking money from the rich and turning it over to the not-so-rich is a notion as rooted in the folklore of Robin Hood as the language of economic textbooks.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is the latest marksman with such a target in his sights: bringing more money to the state's public schools.

The Democrat is backing the "Taxpayer Action Amendment," a March 16 straw- ballot referendum that would impose a 3 percent surtax on the adjusted gross income of residents topping $250,000 a year.

The plan would raise $1.15 billion annually, Mr. Quinn contends. Half that new revenue would be given to all Illinois property owners in annual tax rebates of a bit more than $200. The other 50 percent would go to Illinois' 896 school districts, in amounts equaling roughly $277 per student, proposes Mr. Quinn, who is the measure's lead proponent.

The referendum, which is on the ballot in about 39 counties, townships, and other municipalities (an area that includes roughly 5.6 million of 12.4 million state residents) is only advisory, meaning it will have no direct impact on state law, said Claude Walker, a spokesman for Mr. Quinn.

But the lieutenant governor hopes a strong showing would prompt lawmakers to make the changes through a constitutional amendment during this legislative session, Mr. Walker said. If the lawmakers took that action, the proposed amendment could then go before voters in a referendum—one with real constitutional impact—in November.

The signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has pledged not to raise taxes, would not be required for the amendment to take effect, Mr. Walker said. The governor's office did not return a call for comment on the measure.

Mr. Quinn, who was elected separately from the governor, has argued that Illinois taxes millionaires at a lower rate than do neighboring states. "For too long, Illinois' unfair tax laws have protected a few thousand millionaires," Mr. Quinn said last fall in a statement announcing his effort, "at the expense of millions of wage earners who live from paycheck to paycheck."

But James L. Tobin, the president of National Taxpayers of Illinois, a Chicago-based watchdog organization, opposes the proposal.

"It's a tax increase on the most productive people in Illinois," said Mr. Tobin, who is also skeptical that the money would be directed toward improving schools' academic performance. "It will chase the most productive people out of Illinois."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 25, Page 15

Published in Print: March 3, 2004, as State Journal

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