Supporters of a graduated income tax amendment conceded defeat Wednesday just hours after saying they wanted every vote counted before conceding the amendment had failed.
But while there are still ballots outstanding to be counted, Vote Yes For Fairness chairman Quentin Fulks said Wednesday the fight is over.
"We are undoubtedly disappointed with this result, but are proud of the millions of Illinoisans who cast their ballots in support of tax fairness in this election," Fulks said in a statement. "Illinois is in a massive budget crisis due to years of a tax system that has protected millionaires and billionaires at the expense of our working families, a crisis that was only made worse by the coronavirus pandemic."
He said the state must now address a multi-billion dollar budget gap "without the ability to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share."
With over 97% of precincts reporting, the "no" votes on the amendment were polling 55% compared to 45% for "yes" votes. There was a nearly 500,000 gap between the two.
Opponents of the amendment issued statements Tuesday night saying the defeat of the amendment is good for the state. The Vote No on the Progressive Tax Coalition thanked voters "for preserving jobs and defeating the Springfield politicians’ tax increase."
Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch said the issue came down to trust.
"It is clear that the majority of the electorate doesn’t trust their state government with their precious tax dollars," he said. "Illinois politicians arrogantly demanded a blank check from Illinois taxpayers and the voters rejected their plans."
To be become part of the state Constitution, the amendment needed to be approved by 60% of the people voting on the amendment or get over 50% of the total votes cast in the election.
The loss is a major setback for Gov. JB Pritzker who made approval of the amendment a cornerstone of his administration. The amendment was a major part of Pritzker’s agenda as he campaigned for governor. He pushed to have lawmakers approve placing it on the ballot a full year before the election.
Pritzker’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. During a coronavirus briefing earlier Tuesday, he repeated that a tax increase on all taxpayers -- which he said would be regressive under the current system -- will be necessary along with deep budget cuts if the amendment failed.
Pritzker also put significant amounts of his own fortune behind the effort in a campaign that was described as a battle of billionaires. Illinois’ richest man, Ken Griffin, contributed significant amounts of money to the campaign to defeat the amendment.
Voters were asked if the state should change from a flat tax system to one where different rates are charged at different income levels. The higher a person’s income, the higher the tax rate that person would pay. It is the system used by the federal government and most states that have a state income tax.
Lawmakers would have approved tax rates if the amendment had passed. Proponents said those rates would have resulted in 97% of taxpayers paying the same or less tax. Only those making more than $250,000 would have had a tax increase.
The new tax rates were estimated to raise an additional $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion for the state. Proponents said that revenue was badly needed for the state to cope with its ongoing financial problems, including pension debt and a large bill backlog.
Proponents called the graduated income tax the "Fair Tax" because they said it would force millionaires and billionaires to pay their "fair share" of state taxes.
Opponents largely ignored that argument and played to voter cynicism about state government. They conducted an expansive campaign in which they said graduated rates would make it easier for lawmakers to raise income taxes on all income levels in the future, particularly the middle class, despite a study that showed lawmakers reluctant to raise income taxes regardless of the system their states used.
Opponents also raised the specter of Illinois beginning to tax retirement income which is exempt from state income taxes. Ads said the amendment would give lawmakers "new power" to tax retirement income even though they already have that power.