Democratic State Treasurer Michael Frerichs abruptly canceled a news conference he called for Tuesday where he planned to "address misinformation" about the graduated income tax amendment that will be on the November ballot.
In addition to addressing misinformation, Frerichs said in a notice announcing the news conference that he would "reassure citizens that the proposal will not tax retirement income" as opponents of the amendment have been asserting in ads airing against the proposal.
However, just minutes before the news conference was scheduled to start at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Frerichs’ office issued a notice that the news conference was canceled. No reason was given, but the notice included a statement from Frerichs in lieu of the news conference.
"I oppose creating a retirement tax in Illinois, along with the General Assembly and governor," he said. "I encourage others to join me to stand up for working families and retirees so they get a tax cut while we ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. The fact is opponents of the fair tax have actually released plans to tax retirement income and raise taxes on everyone."
Opponents of the graduated income tax have seized on comments Frerichs made last summer to the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce that were reported in the Daily Herald newspaper.
"One thing a progressive e tax would do is make clear you can have graduated rates when you are taxing retirement income," the newspaper reported Frerichs telling his audience. "And I think that’s something that’s worth discussion."
Frerichs later said the discussion had been about the graduated income tax in general and how it would only increase taxes on the top 3% of earners. He said the discussion of retirement income involved people drawing $500,000 or more a year in pension income. He said he was citing the contradictory position of organizations that want to cut pension benefits for retirees and that also oppose higher taxes on the rich.
However, opponents of the graduated tax have hammered home in ads the idea that retirement income will get taxes if the amendment passes. What they don’t say is that the General Assembly could vote to tax retirement income now. It hasn’t because the issue is enormously unpopular with voters.
Illinois is the only state with an income tax that does not tax retirement income. That would not change if the amendment is approved. Illinois lawmakers have approved the rates that would go into effect if the amendment is approved. Under them, only people making more than $250,000 a year would pay more in taxes.
Frerichs said he was going to speak out Tuesday because his name was mentioned "in a politically motivated lawsuit by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI). IPI represents the millionaires and billionaires who do not pay their fair share in taxes."
The IPI filed suit in Cook county Monday contending a pamphlet mailed by Secretary of State Jesse White’s office explaining the pros and cons of the amendment was misleading. The lawsuit cites Frerichs comments as an indication the amendment is a precursor to a tax on retirement income.
Opponents dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous.
State Republican Party chairman Tim Schneider said it was Gov. JB Pritzker who pulled the plug on Frerichs’ news conference. Pritzker has made passage of the amendment a cornerstone of his administration.
"Earlier today, Governor Pritzker put the muzzle on Treasurer Frerichs who was minutes away from telling the people of Illinois the truth: Pritzker has a plan to tax retirement income in Illinois and needs the constitutional amendment to get it done," Schneider said in a statement. "Pritzker can muzzle Frerichs all he wants, but the secret is already out."
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said, "The governor has been very clear that he opposes a retirement tax and the fair tax gives 97 percent of Illinoisans a tax cut, including retirees."
Contact Doug Finke: email@example.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.