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Voters want millionaires to kick in for education

5/20/2015
May 19. 2015 | State Journal-Register
by Dan Montgomery


This week, Illinois legislators have an important decision to make: allow the continued free fall of education funding, or break with the status quo and pass a simple and popular reform that will bring $1 billion in new funding to schools.

The “millionaire’s tax” (HJRCA 26) — a 3 percent surcharge on income over $1 million — would bring much-needed relief to a cash-strapped education system that is putting our kids at risk.

This initiative doesn’t create an undue burden on everyday taxpayers, but relies instead on the simple proposition of fairness, asking more from those who can afford it. Economists of all stripes now agree our most vexing national problem is the growing gap between the incredibly wealthy and the rest of us. While the millionaire’s tax would not entirely rectify that, it’s an important start.

Gov. Bruce Rauner often talks about giving voters a choice in their future. Do most Illinoisans really want such an approach? The answer is a resounding yes. At the polls in November, while 1.8 million voters cast their ballots for Rauner, more than 2.2 million voted for the millionaire’s amendment. Yes, asking millionaires to pay their fair share was more popular than the governor.

There aren’t many things that can win a 60 percent majority of voters, but this did. Yet, Rauner is opposed to tax fairness, dismissing the will of the people.

Similar laws have been passed in California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland. Illinois is not unique in its need for additional funding for schools, but we are falling behind the curve in enacting ways to alleviate the problem.

Rauner has failed to propose any solution to our state’s finances. Instead, he has spent his time trying to whack unions and make life harder for average families, avoiding any talk of revenue or school funding. Last week, his proposal to hurt unions’ ability to represent middle-class workers failed a crucial state House vote. Despite doling out $400,000 in political contributions to pressure their vote the night prior, not one legislator of his own party supported it.

It’s time for the governor to listen to Illinois voters and put their priorities before his personal agenda.

Illinois simply does not have time for posturing and rhetoric. When I walked into a middle-school classroom in East St. Louis, I found 12 tattered science books for 28 students. In central Illinois, I met teachers in tears because there was only a single piece of bread for each poor child in the school’s breakfast program. I’m angered to read there are still 140 schools in Chicago without a library.

When we see this level of deprivation, our conscience tells us we must do more.

The state of Illinois sends fewer dollars to school districts than nearly any other state, and it hasn’t increased the minimum level of per-pupil spending since 2010. As many Illinoisans are having a hard time making ends meet, it’s only fair to ask those who have far more than the rest of us to help.

The millionaire’s amendment isn’t a complete solution, but it’s an important step toward fixing Illinois’ terrible record on school funding.

As this proposal comes to a vote this week in Springfield, legislators should remember that there are 2.2 million Illinois citizens who want it and, more importantly, there are 2 million children who need it.


Dan Montgomery is a high school English teacher and president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 100,000 education and public-service professionals statewide.

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