Don’t Be Fooled: Billionaires Are Fighting the Fair Tax Because They Don’t Want to Pay Up

The Illinois Fair Tax proposal would benefit the working class, communities of color and women by finally taxing the super-rich. That’s why wealthy people are trying to kill it.

Amisha Patel

With ear­ly vot­ing under­way from now through Elec­tion Day on Nov. 3, Illi­nois res­i­dents have the chance to fix our upside-down tax sys­tem by mak­ing the rich pay more. And boy, are the bil­lion­aires mad.

Known as the Fair Tax, this con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment — on the bal­lot as a ref­er­en­dum — would final­ly get rid of a tax struc­ture in Illi­nois that bur­dens low-income peo­ple, and women of col­or in par­tic­u­lar, by forc­ing them to pay more in tax­es than the wealthy as a per­cent­age of their income. Illi­noisans have suf­fered for decades under regres­sive and inad­e­quate tax poli­cies. After years of orga­niz­ing to make our tax sys­tem more fair, vot­ers now final­ly have a chance to make this vision come true. When enact­ed, the Fair Tax is expect­ed to raise about $3 bil­lion in addi­tion­al rev­enue annu­al­ly, all from the state’s wealth­i­est 3% of residents.

In 2015, Grass­roots Col­lab­o­ra­tive — where I serve as Exec­u­tive Direc­tor — released an analy­sis show­ing that while Illi­nois is the country’s 15th wealth­i­est state, it was 43rd in spend­ing on edu­ca­tion, health­care and human ser­vices. Illi­nois tax pol­i­cy has led to ever-wors­en­ing income inequal­i­ty, land­ing square­ly on the backs of poor women in the state. This is uncon­scionable. We need a tax struc­ture that ensures the rich­est res­i­dents pay more in state income tax, so that we have the resources that women and their fam­i­lies need.

The Insti­tute on Tax­a­tion and Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy recent­ly released a study look­ing at how Illi­nois’ cur­rent flat tax struc­ture amounts to a mas­sive racial­ized wealth trans­fer from the poor­est work­ers to the ultra-rich. They found that if the grad­u­at­ed rates pro­posed in the Fair Tax had been in place for the last 20 years, the wealth­i­est 3% would have paid $27 bil­lion more in tax­es over that peri­od. And, Black and Lat­inx work­ers mak­ing under $250,000 would have paid $4 bil­lion less. Our cur­rent flat tax is a legal­ized racist wealth trans­fer to the rich, and has result­ed in deep­ened pover­ty through wealth extraction. 

Yet, as expect­ed, a crew of right-wing bil­lion­aires is fun­nel­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars into an oppo­si­tion cam­paign, spread­ing lies and con­fu­sion in order to pro­tect their own wealth. With hedge fund man­ag­er Ken Grif­fin as the ring leader, joined by Richard Uih­lein, Sam Zell, Craig Duchos­sois, Muneer Sat­ter and more, the Illi­nois wealthy elite have con­tributed over $50 mil­lion to fight the mea­sure. Over 93% of con­tri­bu­tions report­ed so far have come from Griffin.

One of the main lies these elites are push­ing is that pass­ing the Fair Tax will mean seniors’ retire­ment income will be taxed. Not only is that untrue, but it is in fact these very bil­lion­aires who have used their wealth to fund attacks on pen­sions and retirees for years. This bal­lot ref­er­en­dum is shap­ing up to be a fight of bil­lion­aire lies ver­sus the peo­ple. To win, we must cen­ter Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties, women and families. 

Pass­ing the Fair Tax will help allow Illi­nois to rebuild its crum­bling social safe­ty net and equi­tably fund ser­vices such as edu­ca­tion and health­care. This cam­paign has sig­nif­i­cant nation­al impli­ca­tions on our abil­i­ty to raise pro­gres­sive rev­enue, at a time when states across the coun­try are fac­ing mas­sive eco­nom­ic dev­as­ta­tion due to the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, and deep racial­ized austerity. 

To win, we need 60% of vot­ers on the ques­tion to vote yes, or the sup­port of 50% plus-one of all total vot­ers. Grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions, advo­ca­cy groups and labor unions from across the state have orga­nized to win this change to the tax sys­tem for over a decade. Now, with the pan­dem­ic mak­ing door knock­ing risky, we’re focused on dig­i­tal field strate­gies like tex­ting, vir­tu­al phone banks and dig­i­tal ads tar­get­ing Black and Lat­inx voters. 

Our focus on vot­ers of col­or is crit­i­cal. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty estab­lish­ment con­sis­tent­ly ignores the needs of Black, Lat­inx and Indige­nous vot­ers — not only dur­ing elec­tions, but in gov­ern­ing. Grass­roots Col­lab­o­ra­tive and our allies have been engag­ing in deep orga­niz­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Illi­noisans about the role of gov­ern­ment, so that we can move peo­ple past dis­cour­age­ment and toward see­ing elec­tions as oppor­tu­ni­ties to have their demands met, par­tic­u­lar­ly when fol­lowed by con­tin­ued civic engage­ment and actions to hold elect­ed offi­cials account­able. Our pro­gram has focused on vot­ers who may not come out to the polls if it weren’t for our con­ver­sa­tions. And our dig­i­tal cam­paign cen­ters Black and Lat­inx vot­ers, and women in particular. 

To win the Fair Tax, and to win oth­er bold demands, we must con­tin­ue to resource a larg­er grass­roots infra­struc­ture, because we are the trust­ed mes­sen­gers to our peo­ple, and because we can hold Illi­nois Gov. JB Pritzk­er account­able to make sure increased rev­enue from the Fair Tax leads to greater racial equi­ty, and cen­ters Black com­mu­ni­ties in particular. 

Pass­ing the Fair Tax would demon­strate that it’s pos­si­ble to win rev­enue fights at the bal­lot box, and will pro­vide crit­i­cal lessons for the future rev­enue cam­paigns that will be instru­men­tal to rebuild­ing our economies while fight­ing the com­ing post-pan­dem­ic austerity. 

This year is full of unique chal­lenges, and peo­ple are over­com­ing these chal­lenges in cre­ative ways. For exam­ple, our orga­niz­ing in Peo­ria, Illi­nois around the Fair Tax has cen­tered mutu­al aid and PPE dis­tri­b­u­tion as key strate­gies in talk­ing about the role of gov­ern­ment and the need for the wealthy to pay their fair share. Across Illi­nois, peo­ple are build­ing com­mu­ni­ty and new cir­cles of sup­port to care for each oth­er. Togeth­er, we have a shot at beat­ing the bil­lion­aires, but we need all hands on deck. 

If you want to help build sup­port for the Fair Tax, you can join us by mak­ing calls through a vir­tu­al phone bank, talk­ing to your neigh­bors, tex­ting your fam­i­ly and help­ing reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble before Novem­ber 3. This is our chance to make sure the state’s work­ing peo­ple final­ly stop pay­ing rich people’s tax­es, so that we can raise the rev­enue we need to rebuild our com­mu­ni­ties. Let’s seize it. 

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

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