Local religious leaders advocate changing Illinois flat income tax to bracketed system

Robin Opsahl, City Editor

Religious leaders in Evanston are urging state legislators to change the current flat income tax to a graduated tax system considering deficits to social services due to the budget crisis.

The First Congregational Church of Evanston held a town hall meeting last Saturday, hosted by the Community Renewal Society, a progressive Chicago-based faith organization, asking attendees to reach out to their legislators in support of a bill calling for a referendum on a constitutional amendment to be placed on November’s ballot. The constitutional amendment would change Illinois’ current flat income tax — which requires all taxpayers pay the same percent of their earnings — to a graduated income tax, in which the amount residents are taxed varies on the amount of income they earn.

Illinois is on its tenth month without a budget, and social services in the state have been struggling to continue providing programming.

Rev. Ann Rosewall of the First Congregational Church of Evanston said the issue is urgent because the deadline to get the constitutional amendment question on the ballot is May 7. She said churches need to be leading discussions on this issue because they are often the providers of the social services being affected as well as places people in need turn to when their services shut down.

“Because of the budget cuts there are fewer and fewer mental health services people in need can turn to,” Rosewall said. “So they turn to pastors, and we are not necessarily trained as psychiatrists.”

The First Congregational Church of Evanston is a part of Interfaith Action of Evanston, a non-profit organization made up of area churches that provide services such as warming shelters, food kitchens and other services to community members in need. Rosewall said that in providing these services and in advocating for policy change, she and other religious leaders need to be active in advocating for this change.

“We are obliged by people who share a community and we are obliged as a community of faith to care for those who are struggling,” Rosewall said.

Currently, all Illinois residents pay a flat 3.75 percent state income tax rate, after a temporary increase to 5 percent expired in January of last year. Federal income tax is currently on a bracketed system. City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that city proceedings would not be impacted by any changes to the income tax system in an email to the Daily. However, the Illinois General Assembly can choose to change how cities get money from the state at any time, he said.

Rev. Bret Lortie, senior minister at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, said he agrees with the governor that the budget proposed by state Democrats is not a balanced budget, but says that increasing revenue is a better solution to the problem than decreasing spending. Lortie said Illinois lawmakers need to think about not just how social services are being affected during the budget crisis, but what’s necessary to adequately provide for people in need in the state for years to come. Income tax is still an issue outside of the state budget crisis, he said.

“(The budget crisis) is just making a hard problem an impossible problem,” Lortie said. “Figuring out how to adequately fund social services is something we need to be thinking about before those services are shutting down.”

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