Members of the Illinois House, the decision falls to you. Will you override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a permanent, 32-percent increase in the personal income tax? Or will you instead insist, first let’s agree on the reforms that many of us promised voters would have to be part of any tax deal?
We ask because if you vote this tax increase into law and then have to admit to your constituents that accompanying “reform” bills are really just diluted eyewash, you’ll look like chumps for Speaker Michael Madigan.
At this writing, an override looks like a terrible risk for you. We say this not because we’re reflexively opposed to tax increases — we aren’t. We say it because Illinois citizens need offsetting fixes from Springfield. Otherwise you’ll own the same old state government and weak Illinois economy, but at a price you’ve just raised by 32 percent.
For years we and other voices have backed a sensible trade-off that, we’d wager, millions of Illinoisans would accept: a tax increase, maybe, but only in return for major reforms that will streamline state government and grow more jobs — that is, more taxpayers — in this state’s much-taxed, much-exploited private sector.
Well, House members, you’re at the precipice of approving a huge tax increase. The governor who said he wouldn’t sign it without significant reforms has kept his word; he vetoed the budget package you and your Senate colleagues approved. The senators overrode his veto Tuesday. Those of you who’ve told voters “no tax hikes without reforms” — or promised that in candidate questionnaires you signed — will you keep your word as faithfully as this governor has? That is:
•Can you assure your constituents you’ve delivered solutions to the problems that cripple Illinois and its economy, that alienate employers, and that drive our young people by the tens of thousands to other states?
•Have you delivered a no-gimmicks property tax freeze to even slightly offset the extra $5 billion or so that you’ll take out of taxpayers’ pockets?
•What about pension reforms? Have you tamed the beast that eats a quarter of the state’s operating budget and crowds out so many priorities? Maybe you arranged for new hires to go into something other than a defined-benefit pension system?
•Did you deliver consolidation of those 7,000 local governments? Surely you grabbed that low-hanging way to reduce citizens’ tax burdens, right?
•The workers’ compensation system that herds employers and jobs out of Illinois — can you say you’ve solved that problem or just nibbled at it?
•You passed term limits? Killed pensions for new lawmakers and other part-timers? Something? Anything?
We ask, House members, because there’s a nasty trick we’ve seen before: Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton — with their combined 86 years in Springfield — like to address these kinds of issues with bills that do Not Much, and then declare themselves problem-solvers. Voters then look around and say, But we’re still in a world of hurt.
So don’t fall for promises of great reforms tomorrow in return for your tax vote today. Yes, we know the potential perils of junk bond status. But we also know that without reforms, this increase will further damage Illinois and push even more people to other states.
Ask yourselves, House members: Would this tax increase create jobs here? Grow Illinois’ economy? Stop our young people from taking their careers to Texas, Florida, Colorado, California …
Some of you voted for another tax increase on the notorious night of 1/11/11. Remember all those promises from Democratic leaders? Remember how they designed it to be temporary? Remember how they later tried to blame Rauner for, um, letting their temporary tax hike expire? That increase took $31 billion from taxpayers and hurt Illinois’ job climate. The legislators who supported the hike of 1/11/11 had to own that vote.
So, House members, if you’ve delivered solutions — on property taxes, on pensions, on work comp, on government bloat in Illinois — then maybe you should vote to override Rauner’s veto.
Because if you can boast of real reforms, you’ll have an answer when all those taxpaying constituents look you in the eye and ask: “A 32-percent price increase — for what?”