Opponents of the graduated income tax amendment blasted the Pritzker administration Friday after Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said an income tax hike of 20% across the board could be needed if the amendment doesn’t pass.


House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Stratton’s statement is a sign the amendment is falling flat with voters.


"Lt. Gov. Stratton threatened Illinois citizens with at least a 20% across the board income tax increase if their cherished tax increase hike amendment fails in November," Durkin said. "Intimidation and scare tactics used yesterday against Illinois citizens, employers, employees, retirees are a clear sign of desperation by the governor, lieutenant governor, Speaker Mike Madigan, because their tax hike amendment is failing and the election is around the corner."


The graduated income tax amendment would change Illinois’ income tax system from one where everyone pays the same rate to one where different rates are charged at different income levels. Those with higher incomes would pay a higher tax rate.


Illinois lawmakers have approved the rates that would be applied if the amendment is approved. Gov. JB Pritzker, who made the graduated tax a major component of his campaign for governor, has said that 97 percent of all Illinois income tax payers will pay the same or less under those rates. Only those with incomes above $250,000 a year will pay more.


Pritzker has warned that the state needs additional revenue to pay for state services or steep cuts will be necessary to state programs. Stratton made her comment Thursday during a virtual rally held in support of the amendment.


"To adequately address the budget crisis under our current tax system, lawmakers will be forced to consider raising income taxes on all Illinois residents by at least 20% regardless of their level of income," Stratton said.


She said such an increase would drive middle and lower income taxpayers out of the state because they could not afford it.


The income tax rate for individuals is now 4.95 percent. A 20% increase would push the rate to 5.94%.


"Based on yesterday, here’s the message in no uncertain words: if you do not pass my tax hike amendment, we will annihilate you with a 20% tax increase when we return to session," Durkin said. "It speaks volumes that this tax amendment is failing and the Democrats are desperate."


Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said Democrats who control the General Assembly should instead be looking at ways to cut the state budget. He said Pritzker asked agency directors to identify possible cuts of 6.5% last year, but none of those were incorporated into the budget. Lawmakers ended up approving a budget that relies on borrowing up to $5 billion from the federal government.


When asked, though, neither Demmer nor Durkin identified where cuts to the budget should be made nor how much.


At an appearance in Chicago on Friday, Pritzker said the Republicans need to detail what they plan to offer as an alternative.


"They’ve come up with no solutions. They only want to attack anybody else’s solutions," Pritzker said. "Fine, tell us what you’re going to cut because they have not proposed anything."


Pritzker said his administration has saved money, including negotiating a contract with state employee unions that $750 million.


Pritzker denied that Stratton’s comments amounted to a threat. For months, he said he’s been saying Illinois has three options; cut 15% from the budget, raise taxes by 20% across the board or move to the graduated income tax that would raise money by taxing the wealthy.


He refuted Durkin’s statement that Democrats would annihalate the middle class with a 20% tax hike.


"They’re the ones that are proposing annihilating the working class and the middle class in Illinois because they have no solution," he said.


Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr