- 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.


March 30, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Senators right to demand answers over refinery spill

It’s not like Illinois senators have never poked their noses into Indiana issues before. Former Illinois Sen. Paul Douglas led the battle to save the Indiana Dunes.

Now senators Mark Kirk, a Republican, and Dick Durbin, a Democrat, are demanding answers on a different duneland issue, the spilling of crude oil this month into Lake Michigan from a refinery at Whiting, Ind. Residents of both states should stand with them.

On Thursday, BP, owner of the Northwest Indiana refinery, raised its estimate of how much oil had spilled to up to 1,638 gallons, and we still don’t know how much, if any, is under the surface. BP had first reported the spill, which is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, on Monday.

Environmentalists are concerned about the spill partly because the refinery recently expanded to double the amount of heavy oil from tar sands that it refines. Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the National Resources Defense Council, said the biggest worry is that the spill could be “a harbinger of things to be come.”

Kirk and Durbin sent a letter asking for a meeting with BP officials and said they are concerned about contamination of drinking water. They said they plan to hold BP accountable for future leaks.

We would have expected Indiana officials to be on the case before this, but they’ve been strangely quiet. Illinois’ senators are to be congratulated for making sure someone is paying attention.


March 27, 2014

Rockford Register Star

Property tax relief? Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan falls short

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address should start a conversation about how to bring true property tax relief to Illinoisans.

The $500 tax refund he proposed Wednesday is insufficient. The idea shouldn’t be dismissed, but it must be enhanced.

Property tax relief ought to include more than a refund or a tax credit. A comprehensive relief package would limit property tax increases when home values are decreasing and contain a plan for turning around the downward spiral of home values that we’ve seen during the past six years.

That $500 looks better on paper than it is in reality because it would replace the tax credit you get when you file your income taxes. The governor’s budget staff says that the typical Illinoisan will get more than double the tax relief under Quinn’s plan than from the tax credit, which puts the real amount of dollars in your pocket closer to $250.

That’s not bad, but it doesn’t offset making the 5 percent income tax permanent.

Property taxes will continue to go up during the five years Quinn proposes to offer the refund, so that $500 will mean less and less in terms of real value to homeowners every year.

A better plan would be to increase the tax credit so that homeowners see a benefit even when property taxes increase.

Overall, Illinois homeowners face one of the highest property tax burdens in the nation - about 20 percent more than the national average. Many senior citizens are being taxed out of their homes. They’re paying more in property taxes than they did on their mortgages and are getting to the point where they can no longer afford to live in the homes where they raised their children. It’s not fair.

But you can’t address property taxes in a vacuum. Your property taxes, for instance, contribute to providing a quality education to Illinois schoolchildren.

One reason property taxes are so high is that state funding of schools is inadequate, the result being that local money must make up the difference.

Look at your property tax bill. You’ll see that more than half of the money goes to your local school district. If the state did a better job of providing for schools, your schools wouldn’t need to take so much from homeowners.


March 26, 2014

(Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Murky budget future of Illinois

There’s a game we taxpayers have been playing with the powers in Springfield for years now.

The governor or some other Person With Power will take to the lectern to talk about accomplishments, needs, and creating a tax mechanism that won’t put too much burden on the middle-class - i.e., the demographic that most commonly votes.

The role of taxpayers seems to be to shake our heads knowingly and pretend as though we believe it.

Pretending to believe is what we did in 2010, when lame-duck lawmakers pushed through a 67 percent increase in state income taxes and said it was going to be temporary.

Even as the tax dawned in January 2011, most people realized the word “temporary” needed to be spoken with air quotes around it.

Pretending to believe is what we did when told the additional revenue from the tax hike would be used to pay off the mountain of debt that was choking the state.

Instead, the money went straight into the other massive debt confronting the state - its underfunded pension system. Although less than it has been during the past few years, the backlog is still smothering the state.

Pretending to believe is what we have done for the past few months while waiting for some word about what would happen to the massive tax hike when it expired this coming January and being told no decisions had been made.

But since the first estimate of a $1.6 billion boost to the state’s pockets, the continuation of this revenue stream was all but guaranteed.

The architect of the “temporary” tax, Gov. Pat Quinn, finally admitted this in his budget address to lawmakers - conveniently delayed until after the March 18 primary election.

The problem in Springfield is not a revenue issue. It is a matter of poor spending of the revenue that has been available and continually allowing the legislature to spend far beyond its means.

It is a matter of not having enough quality jobs and being unable to attract new ones because of a dismal business climate.

It is a matter of relying too much on the taxpayers to clean up the mess made by decades of poor decision-making.

And it looks as though little will change.

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