A lobbyist for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce told a local business group Friday that the recent income tax increase would likely be the top issue in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
“We believe the income tax will be the dominant issue this year and next,” said Todd Maisch, the state chamber’s executive vice president and chief lobbyist.
Speaking at the monthly First Friday luncheon sponsored by the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, Maisch said the 2014 gubernatorial campaign “will be a referendum on the tax increase.”
At the behest of Gov. Pat Quinn, the General Assembly voted to raise the state income tax rate from 3 to 5 percent in 2011 over a four-year period. At least one lawmaker, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, has called for making that increase permanent as a way to solve the state’s pension funding problem.
Maisch said the tax debate could take one of two forms. He said lawmakers could push for a progressive income tax similar in form to the federal income tax, in which those with higher incomes theoretically pay a higher tax rate.
Or, he said, legislators could consider a tax increase as part of a move to expand the state’s tax base. He said the state chamber will be ready to oppose that idea.
“We will be prepared to have that discussion,” he said.
Maisch said neither option is overly palatable to the business community. He took a particularly dim view of any proposal to initiate a progressive income tax.
“We would be very vocal about what would be a small business tax increase,” he said.
The Illinois Constitution, which mandates the state income tax be flat, would have to be amended to create a progressive income tax.
Maisch said there are a number of people poised to unseat Quinn next year, including state Sen. Bill Brady, who almost beat the governor in 2010. Other potential GOP candidates include state Sen. Kirk Dillard, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner.
Maisch said potential candidates on the Democratic side included Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley, the son and brother of Chicago mayors.
Maisch predicted that the gubernatorial primaries might be decided well before the actual voting early next year.
“It’s very early, but the window to get stuff done has narrowed,” he said. “The next three or four months may determine who the candidates are going to be well before anything that happens in 2014.”
Maisch said key issues during this legislative session included pension reform, concealed carry, medical marijuana and hydraulic fracturing. He said legislatioin that regulates fracking, as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known, was the best pro-business bill passed this year — though he questioned whether the controversial method of mineral extraction will happen soon, despite broad public and legislative support.
“The environmental groups will draw it out as long as possible,” he said, adding the ability of fracking into the New Albany Shale formation could push Illinois into the forefront of petroleum-producing states even more than it already is.
“We’re getting close to the magnitude of what you see in Texas and North Dakota,” Maisch said.
Also Friday, Maisch presented state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, with the Champion of Free Enterprise award.
“Kyle speaks to the real interests of employers,” Maisch said.
McCarter pledged to continue fighting for business interests in Springfield.
“I got involved in this business because I got tired of being abused as a small business owner,” he said. “The last thing I want is the government taking away the rewards I get for the risks I take.”