- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March 30, 2014

(Springfield) State Journal-Register

Extension of temporary tax hike a bitter but necessary pill

“More than ever, this General Assembly will be charged with keeping a tight lid on state spending and finding new ways to make state government more efficient. Neither bigger state government nor innovative new tax giveaways will get Illinois where it needs to be financially.”

Those were the words of a State Journal-Register editorial in February 2011 after the Illinois legislature approved a 67-percent personal income tax hike that was billed as a temporary but necessary sacrifice by taxpayers to help pull the state out of dire fiscal straits.

Gov. Pat Quinn, in his budget address to the General Assembly Wednesday, acknowledged what many Illinoisans already figured was coming - that he supports extending the tax hike.

Republicans say it’s another broken promise by a tax-and-spend Democrat. Quinn says it’s an honest and responsible plan to address Illinois’ debt and avoid savage cuts to programs and jobs.

Quinn is correct that the tax must be extended. We know it, lawmakers know it and the taxpayers know it, even though they don’t like it. A new poll shows most Illinoisans want the tax to sunset, but they don’t want to give up major state programs, such as education and services to the poor.

Everyone had a hand in the state’s troubles - from the state employees who received raises and pension benefits during tough economic times, to the lawmakers who agreed to those benefits to curry votes, to past governors who deferred critical pension payments so they instead could hand out generous pork projects, to the voters who eagerly accepted the pork and the jobs that usually went with it.

Now it’s time to pay for those decisions. The state has made some progress - cutting the backlog of bills by about $5 billion and having fewer workers, for example. But allowing the income tax to roll back would create a $1.6 billion hole in the budget. The only way to plug that large a gap is to eliminate programs, slash school funding and potentially put scores of workers on the unemployment line, or extend the tax hike.

However, it should be noted that extending the tax, which has to be approved by the legislature, still doesn’t solve all of the state’s problems. Republicans are correct to be wary of new programs proposed in Quinn’s $36.8 billion spending plan. In fact, all lawmakers, regardless of party, should be wary of taking on new financial burdens at this time.

Illinois taxpayers have yet to hear Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner outline a specific plan to either replace the temporary tax with new sources of revenue or provide details about what $1.6 billion in cuts would look like under his administration. His statement after Quinn’s budget address offered little insight.

To Quinn’s credit, he said what needed to be said - that Illinois still needs the revenue from a tax increase that was promised to be temporary. Now it’s up to lawmakers to decide if they can go along with that and what they can do to ensure taxpayers get more bang for their buck.

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March 30, 2014

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