As the General Assembly attempts to pass a budget before the May 31 adjournment deadline, taxpayers should remember two things: Those who say Illinois can weather the fiscal tsunami it’s facing without raising taxes or experiencing draconian cuts are not being realistic about the state’s problems. And those who say there aren’t more cuts to make aren’t trying very hard.
As the General Assembly attempts to pass a budget before the May 31 adjournment deadline, taxpayers should remember two things:
Those who say Illinois can weather the fiscal tsunami it’s facing without raising taxes or experiencing draconian cuts are not being realistic about the state’s problems. And those who say there aren’t more cuts to make aren’t trying very hard.
Since 1998, 11,275 state employees have come off the state payroll, a 13.5 percent reduction, according to a 2007 state comptroller’s report. Illinois has the fewest state employees per capita in the nation, according to a 2008 comptroller’s report.
Despite that, state government continued to spend beyond its means. The unpleasant truth no taxpayer wants to hear is that the state’s means are not enough to provide the services they have enjoyed, and those means haven’t been enough for years or even decades.
The state had a structural deficit before the economy tanked in September. Even then, it was a deadbeat at paying its Medicaid bills and its workers’ pensions. Even then, it had an embarrassingly inequitable school-funding system. Even then, there needed to be a lot more revenue to address such issues. Because of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a reckoning didn’t happen in better times. Today, a tax increase is needed simply to balance the budget.
The state should increase the income tax from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. That increase should expire on July 1, 2011. Part of it should go toward making a bigger pension payment than Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed.
A recession isn’t the best time for tax increases. It’s also the worst time to toss people off Medicaid and other state health and human service programs. More than half of the working people in this state already do not have employer-provided health insurance. It won’t be the first time taxes have been raised in tough times. Republican Gov. James Thompson signed a temporary income tax increase during 1983’s severe downturn.
Deep cuts in health care and education will be needed to balance this budget without a tax increase. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, broke it down for us this way:
* The governor has proposed $28.5 billion in spending, up 2.4 percent overall from last year, with small increases for education and health care coupled with cuts to corrections, public health and elected officials’ budgets.
* About $11 billion will be spent on education, aid mostly given directly to school districts and universities.
* Another $11 billion goes for health and human services. These are also mostly direct grants; no state employees are involved.
* Only $6 billion goes for the operation of state government. And the state has a $12 billion budget deficit.
So the deadbeats you think are leeching off the government won’t be the only ones losing services. It will also be your neighbor, who just lost his job, and your kid, who will be in a classroom packed to the brim because her school had to lay off teachers.
Some will argue that Illinois is already a high-tax state. It’s not true. Our tax system is regressive, but Illinoisans’ state/local tax burden ranks 30th highest nationally, according to the nonpartisan Tax Federation. Given two terrible options, this page prefers the one allowing Illinois to continue to fund essential services and provide a decent social safety net.