The argument for self-interest | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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The argument for self-interest

Vote yes on the Fair Tax to cut your taxes!

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If Democrats only played the game of politics like Republicans, the Fair Tax Amendment would probably pass by an overwhelming majority.

Man, if Democrats played the game like Republicans, they wouldn’t even call it the Fair Tax Amendment.

They’d call it the—Cut Your Taxes Amendment!

Alas, my beloved Democrats don’t play the game like Republicans. Republicans play nasty, and Dems play nice. And that’s why an amendment may be defeated by the very voters whose taxes it would cut.

OK, let's break it down . . .

Government’s not free. It costs money to pave roads, put out fires, pay pensioners, run schools and hospitals, and so forth.

To raise that money, the state taxes your income. But we have law baked into our constitution mandating a flat tax.

That means broke-ass Reader writers—yours truly—pay at the same rate as gazillionaires like Ken “Kenny G” Griffin, the far-right hedge-fund operator who’s the richest man in the state, with a fortune of roughly $15 billion.

For years, lefties have argued that it’s unfair to tax the Kenny Gs and Benny Js of the world at the same rate. And that it’s far more effective and socially equitable to create a higher rate that Kenny G can more than afford.

Governor Pritzker got the General Assembly to put on the ballot a referendum that, if approved by at least 60 percent of the voters, would raise the tax rates on people like Kenny G. And cut them on me!

The Democratic brain trust called it the Fair Tax—on the grounds that the way to move the masses is to appeal to fairness and decency. As though that’s ever happened anywhere at any time. 

If nothing else, they figured it would pass because it’s an election year and, well—who’s going to be paying attention to something as boring as the Fair Tax referendum when Donnie’s on the ballot? Except for policy wonks like me and Eric Zorn.

And then two bad things happened. One—state treasurer Michael Frerichs opened his mouth and inserted his foot. And, two, Kenny G opened his wallet and doled out almost $50 million to the Unfair Taxers, aka the anti-Fair Tax movement.

Let’s deal with Frerichsgate first . . .

It was June. The Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce was having its monthly meeting, featuring Frerichs. The conversation turned to the Fair Tax.

Apparently, trying to find some common ground with the Chamber crowd, Frerichs opined that the Fair Tax might move the state closer to slapping a graduated income tax on retirement income, like pensions. Currently, the state does not tax retirement income of any kind.

“One thing a progressive tax would do is make clear you can have graduated rates when you are taxing retirement income,” Frerichs said. “And, I think that’s something that’s worth discussion.”

Oops. This, my friends, is what people in sports call an unforced error. Like, to give you one recent example, when Markieff Morris threw the ball out of bounds in the closing seconds of last Friday’s Lakers/Heat game for no apparent reason, other than—hey, let’s throw the ball out of bounds and see what happens.

A mistake that would have been compounded if, in the postgame interviews, Morris felt compelled to weigh in on the need to tax retirement income in Illinois.

Anyway, Frerichs’s comments were dutifully quoted in the Daily Herald newspaper. Then they were picked up by the Illinois Policy Institute—a right-wing outfit—under the headline: Be scared, geezers, be very scared!

That wasn’t the real headline, but you get the idea.

And so, the matter sat, ’cause—it was the pandemic. We had other things on our minds. There were protests in the streets. 

Then in September, Kenny G donated $20 million to the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike Amendment. A few weeks later he kicked in another $26.7 million.

Suddenly, the Unfair Taxers had enough money to air a commercial featuring Phyllis, a senior citizen from Park Ridge who warns that the amendment might give “Springfield politicians” new “powers to increase income taxes on anyone, including retirees.”

None of which is true. The referendum has nothing to do with taxing retirement income. It doesn’t even mention retirement income.

The anti-referendum crowd sorta just, you know, made it up. Like Trump made it up when he said he had a cure for COVID-19 that he’s going to give to everyone—for free.

’Cause that’s how Republicans roll. They just make stuff up as they go along. On the grounds that—if the public’s dumb enough to believe made-up stuff, why not just keep on making stuff up?

Now Fair Taxers are starting to panic—as in, holy shit, that dumbass Phyllis commercial may kill the Fair Tax by getting geezers to vote against their own self interests.

That brings us to the real diabolically evil part of this tale. If the Fair Tax goes down, Pritzker will have to raise taxes to pay our obligations for things like pensions. Only instead of having a higher rate for Kenny G, we’ll all be hit at the same rate.

So instead of paying less, I’ll be paying more. Thanks for nothing, Phyllis.

And Kenny G will be laughing all the way to the bank—’cause the $47 million he donated to kill the Fair Tax will probably be offset by the money he saves by not paying a higher rate.

Hey, no one said Kenny G was dumb.

And then you watch—in a year or two, Kenny G and his rich right-wing pals will finance a campaign to cut pensions. ’Cause these guys hate pensions almost as much as they hate paying taxes.

And so, retirement incomes really will be affected. And the Unfair Taxers will have successfully scared pensioners into cutting their own throats.

So, Dems, my advice is to switch your message. Instead of appealing to fairness, appeal to self-interest.

Vote yes to cut your taxes!

Is the message accurate? It’s a helluva lot more accurate than the Phyllis commercial.  v

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