Another Illinois governor has drawn the attention of the feds.

Four of the last 10 Illinois governors have gone to prison. But this latest probe is different, because it drives at the core of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s policy agenda: making Illinoisans pay what he thinks is “fair.”

WBEZ reported Wednesday that Pritzker, his wife and brother-in-law are under federal investigation for what the Cook County inspector general called a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers.

The inspector general’s report found that now-Illinois First Lady M.K. Pritzker ordered the removal of five toilets from one of the family’s Chicago mansions shortly before an inspection, in order to declare the home uninhabitable. An email between contractors showed M.K. wanted to reinstall one of the toilets after the inspection to service J.B.’s “hangout/meeting area.” This dance allowed the Pritzkers to reap more than $331,000 in property tax breaks.

That scandal broke in the final weeks leading up to the gubernatorial election last year, when the Cook County inspector general’s report was leaked. What WBEZ’s latest reporting exposed is that the scandal is far from over. Pritzker and his wife are the subjects of a federal criminal investigation.

In suburban Chicago this week, Democratic state Rep. Terra Costa Howard held a packed town hall event about Pritzker’s progressive income tax proposal, which he calls the “fair tax.” Ralph Martire, of the union-backed Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, held court.

Martire claims tax hikes do not change behavior — Pritzker’s proposed $3.4 billion tax hike would not harm the state’s economy or drive wealth out of Illinois. It’s a common claim among those backing the governor’s plan.

Maybe this federal investigation will change their minds. If high taxes don’t affect behavior, how does one explain “toilet- gate”? The governor’s family took outlandish steps to hide their wealth and lower their tax burden.

The hypocrisy reveals reality: Illinois’ middle class will be tapped for future tax hikes when revenues don’t come in as expected under Pritzker’s plan. The governor has offered no compelling response to that concern.

In an interview on his first 100 days in office, Pritzker was asked by ABC 7’s Craig Wall if he could guarantee Illinoisans making less than $250,000 would not see further tax hikes.

“As you know, we currently live in a system in which the taxes can be changed at any moment so there’s certainly no guarantees, but what I will tell you is that I am fighting for the plan that I put forward,” Pritzker said.

No guarantees.

When they return to Springfield at the end of April, state lawmakers will face serious pressure from the Pritzker administration to eliminate the most important taxpayer protection in the state: a constitutionally mandated flat income tax. In exchange, Pritzker is offering a political promise of “fair” taxation.

Lawmakers must keep this question in mind when deciding whether to put Pritzker’s “fair tax” amendment on the ballot:

Why should Illinoisans trust an alleged tax cheat to judge the fairness of their tax bill?

Austin Berg is a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute. He wrote this column for the Illinois News Network. Austin can be reached at aberg@illinoispolicy.org.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please be civil. Don't threaten others. Don't make obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist, sexist or otherwise demeaning statements. Be respectful of others even if you disagree with them.
Please be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Please be proactive. Report abusive posts.
Please share updates or more information. We value your input and opinion.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK. Thank you!