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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker's backers in organized labor are putting their weight behind his plan to shift Illinois from a flat-rate income tax to a system where higher earners pay higher rates.

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, was among union leaders who joined the Democratic governor Tuesday at a news conference at the Thompson Center in the Loop to pitch the plan, which the Pritzker administration says would generate $3.4 billion in new annual revenue by raising rates on the wealthiest 3 percent of taxpayers while cutting taxes for everyone else.

"When I hear ... the people who are in the 3 percent complain about a tax increase that'll only affect 3 percent but yet give a tax break to 97 percent of this state, it really says something about where their priorities are," said Reiter, whose umbrella organization includes more than 300 unions and 500,000 workers. "Their priorities are not here in the state of Illinois. Their priorities are to take care of themselves."

Following four years of battling the union-weakening agenda of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, organized labor came out strongly in support of Pritzker in last year's election as he campaigned in favor of what he calls a "fair tax."

Currently, all Illinois residents are taxed at 4.95 percent, regardless of income level. Pritzker's plan largely relies on raising taxes significantly on residents making more than $250,000 a year, with those earning more than $1 million taxed at 7.95 percent of their total income.

The proposal drops the personal tax rate for all others to 4.75 percent for the first $10,000 of income. Income between $10,000 and $100,000 would be taxed at 4.9 percent, and the rate would remain 4.95 percent for income between $100,000 and $250,000. The top rates would be 7.75 percent for income between $250,000 and $500,000, and 7.85 percent for income between $500,000 and $1 million.

Pritzker also wants to increase the corporate tax rate from the current 7 percent to 7.95 percent, matching the top personal rate.

Enacting Pritzker's plan would require an amendment to the Illinois Constitution, which mandates a single income tax rate. To make the change, Pritzker will need three-fifths majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate to vote in favor of putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The measure then would have to be approved by voters, which can't happen until November 2020 at the earliest. The tax rates would be set in separate legislation.

Other parts of Pritzker's proposal -- a 1 percentage point increase in the property tax credit, from 5 percent to 6 percent, and a per-child tax credit of up to $100 for individuals earning less than $80,000 and joint filers earning less than $100,000 -- could be enacted without a constitutional change.

Reiter praised Pritzker for "taking on one of the toughest structural problems this state has had." Carole Pollitz, a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, and William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois and legislative chair for the Responsible Budget Coalition, joined Reiter in lauding the governor. Several other labor groups, including the Illinois AFL-CIO; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31; and the state's two largest teachers unions, also have expressed support.

Pritzker, repeating talking points he used last week when launching his tax proposal, said the plan would help the state address its $3.2 billion budget deficit, $8.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills and $134 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He presented two alternatives: across-the-board spending cuts or an increase in the current flat tax rate. The governor so far has ruled out extending the sales tax to consumer services or taxing retirement income, moves that would put Illinois more in line with other states but are politically unpopular.

Pritkzer's plan has been met with unified opposition from Republican lawmakers and large business organizations including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. They argue that raising taxes on the wealthy will push residents and businesses out of the state.

Rather than just criticize his plan, Pritzker said, opponents should offer "a specific counter-proposal." So far, none has been forthcoming.

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