Dear J.B. Pritzker,
I totally understand the campaign politics of not wanting to say what you think the income tax rates should be under a graduated tax structure. I also get why you won’t say what ought to be the income level at which people will begin paying a higher income tax rate than they do now.
Actually, nearly everyone understands your political calculation. It’s elementary. You don’t want to give the other side any ammunition to attack you.
I greatly dislike your reticence, but I understand it. And as we all know, Gov. Bruce Rauner has a particular fondness for twisting words, particularly when it comes to stuff like this.
Back in December 2015, House Speaker Michael Madigan was asked what the income tax rate should be. It had automatically rolled back almost a year earlier and the state was in the throes of what would become a two-year standoff over what that rate should be and what anti-union measures Rauner could extract in exchange.
Madigan said a “good place to start,” would be where it was before the last tax hike had partially expired. “And starting there,” he said, “you can go in whatever direction you want to go.”
Rauner immediately pounced on Madigan for wanting to increase taxes and he’s repeated that line ever since, even though Madigan didn’t really say that. It’s still to this day one of the governor’s favorite attacks.
I also get why you wouldn’t answer Mary Ann Ahern’s question last week: “What does someone make who is middle class?”
If you laid out an estimate, Rauner would immediately twist it into making some point about how the middle class is gonna get whacked under your idea. Again, I don’t like what you’re doing, but I get it.
But, my dude, you need to come up with some sort of answer other than the evasive stuff you’ve been spouting whenever anyone approaches you on this general topic. It’s just painful to watch you dodge and weave and bob and duck for sometimes minutes at a time.
You’re a smart guy and you do your homework, so you probably know all the statistics by heart about the relatively fragile economic realities of many middle-class folks, or the barriers to reaching middle class status from the lower rungs of the income ladder.
Let’s face it, though, you were raised with money. You’ve never had to borrow money from your brother to take a bus to work. You’ve never had to worry about not being able to pay for health insurance. You’ve never had to decide which household bills to hold off paying because of an unexpected expense. You’ve never had to figure out how you’re going to pay off your student loans while trying to save to pay for your kids’ college bills, or debate whether to beg your boss to let you leave work because your child is sick, or even whether you can afford to buy a car.
Instead of constantly and blatantly dodging the kabillion questions about your tax idea and the middle class, how about using the question as an opportunity to show you can at least empathize with people who are working hard to stay in the middle class or struggling mightily to get there, and/or perhaps pivot against a wealthy governor who made huge promises to middle class taxpayers and hasn’t come through?
Or, at least just say something like this: “The dollar amount can range and depends on where you live, but if you’re working and worried about paying your mortgage and bills, good schools for your kids, affordable healthcare and safe streets, you’re middle class.”
Short and sweet. By the way, I stole that line from my blog commenter who goes by the name “Wordslinger.” He’s got an annual award named after him for a reason.
You kinda/sorta almost got there a couple of weeks ago when you unveiled your higher education plan, but it was so long and meandering. You’ve yet to succinctly state that you understand what the middle class is and what those folks deal with.
The last five polls have given you an average lead of 18.2 percentage points. Barring utter catastrophe (and these things do happen), you’re probably going to be our next governor. But if your non-answers on this general topic are any indication of how you intend to govern, I guarantee you’re gonna have a rough time.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.