By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – It’s time for the Labor Movement in Illinois to start gearing up to win voter approval of the Fair Tax Amendment that would end the state’s regressive flat income tax, the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council was told recently.
The first part of the job may well be convincing Labor’s own members to support the tax plan, which would raise income taxes for the state’s wealthiest people and give low- and medium-income workers either a tax cut or at least no increase.
Just as importantly, tapping the highest earners would give the state new revenue to finally get its decades-old financial problems under control.
“This is the only possible way for us to avoid a working-class tax increase,” said Eddie Caumiant, southern Illinois regional director for AFSCME Council 31, a tireless campaigner for workers’ causes in Springfield.
“Taxes will go up in the state of Illinois – that is going to happen,” he said. “And because we now have a flat tax in the constitution, when they have to raise the income tax again it means all of us (will pay more), unless we get the Fair Tax Amendment passed. That’s the real truth. The rest of it is just noise.”
FAILURE WOULD BE A DISASTER
Scot Luchtefeld, the Council president from Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 101, said the effect of failing to pass the Fair Tax Amendment to the state constitution in the November 2020 election would be disastrous for Illinois’ working people following the failures of prior Governor Bruce Rauner.
“That fair tax is so vital. If we don’t get that, well, we may think we have problems now, but we don’t,” he said. “Because the state would not be able to do what they said they were going to in the departments. All the departments would get their budgets cut, and we can’t afford that because they were cut already with Rauner.”
But Caumiant warned that the Fair Tax will be a tough sell for many voters, including some union members already angry with the gasoline tax increase to pay for an ambitious capital spending bill funding infrastructure improvements.
“When your organization gets to really talking about it, it won’t be fun,” he said. “You’re going to have members who are very angry about it and very difficult to deal with. So please, gird your loins and be ready for those fights and dialogues, because we’ve got to fix roads in this state and we’ve got to shore up our financial house.”
CAPITAL BILL A LABOR OPPORTUNITY
The projects in the capital bill itself are a great opportunity for Labor that will pay off for Illinois residents, he said.
“They include huge swaths of roadway, they include buildings being built all over the place that have long been necessary for various state and municipal agencies,” he said, also noting a high-tech project for southern Illinois making high-speed internet available, and overdue improvements to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
He credited Governor J.B. Pritzker, who so far has done what he said he would do and remained faithful to the Labor Movement.
“Elections have consequences, and we are bearing the fruit of this one in a very positive way thus far,” Caumiant said.
But it will take the Fair Tax Amendment to complete the job by putting Illinois on an even keel financially without overburdening its workers.
“That’s our salvation for the state – forever,” Caumiant added. “If we don’t do it, we are in serious trouble and will continue to be. This is our moment. We have a guy who is willing to put his political capital on the line to get something this big and this transformative done. We’ve got to seize it – there is no other time but now.”
Caumiant noted that Pritzker already agreed to a new contract for AFSCME workers after Rauner refused to negotiate for his four years in office. It was ratified by 99.8 percent of the members’ votes.
“What a difference elections make, right?” he said. “J.B. is not a cakewalk and not perfection, but everything that’s happening in the state is 180 degrees different from what we’d been dealing with of late. The contract was not a give-away. We did our part, J.B. did his.”
A CASINO FOR SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
Marcia Campbell, a leader in the Illinois Federation of Teachers, told the Council that southern Illinois will especially benefit from the decision by Pritzker and the Legislation to license a new casino in far southern Illinois.
“That’s going to lead to some huge economic development down there,” she said. “That’s really important – it’s going to create some jobs, and it’s going to help the tourism down there. It’s a beautiful area anyway, but it needs a big item to draw people down there.”
The casino will be in Williamson County, site of Marion and Crab Orchard Lake, to be developed by Walker’s Bluff Winery in a $300 million project bringing an estimated 700 full-time and 1,100 part-time jobs, plus hundreds of construction jobs.
Groundbreaking is expected around Labor Day with completion in early 2021. Owners Cynde and Dave Bunch worked for eight years to win approval for the license.