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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Haven't we had enough under Blago?

Now Quinn wants to hit us with a 50 percent income tax increase.

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If you're not for Gov. Pat Quinn's 50 percent income tax increase and a raft of other new levies in his proposed budget then you're against the poor, elderly, veterans and children.

I'm doing it for the poor, elderly, veterans and children, Quinn repeatedly says to justify the boatload of new taxes in his proposed budget. Not helping them, he said, would be "mean-spirited."

Cork it, can't you?

It's the same old crippled logic that has been deployed against any member of the body politic that demurs from whatever big, new tax or spend number that shows up in a budget. After all these years, can't the people pushing ever-bigger government do better than suggest that their opponents are indifferent or cruel?

After all, suggests John Tillman, chief executive officer of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, can't being "mean-spirited" also mean dipping into people's wallets? Isn't it just as harsh (to paraphrase the left) as making people choose between paying their taxes and buying medicine or food?

Quinn, as Democrats often do, is arguing from the heart rather than the mind, which is why it sells politically.

But as a reasonable argument, it fails. The choice isn't just between a massive tax increase and doing nothing. A multitude of other possibilities present themselves, like not increasing revenues until demonstrating that current revenues—which have grown by $7 billion over the past decade—are well spent.

What Quinn is proposing is like pulling a wrecked car out of the ditch and deciding, while we're at it, to repave the road.

Give credit to Quinn for honestly facing Illinois' horrible financial condition head on; how refreshing not to hear ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich shucking about how he fixed the budget when he only made it worse.

But Quinn's budget also would make matters worse. Illinois is losing jobs and businesses. More people leave than settle here. An arguably low income tax is offset by higher-than-average property taxes, the nation's highest sales tax (in Chicago), a high inheritance tax and a multitude of other, less obvious taxes that Quinn would increase.

Illinois is becoming a tax sinkhole. If government workers in Illinois were paid what comparable workers were paid in the private sector, we could save $3 billion, argues Tillman.

Don't hold your breath. Even gradually narrowing that gap over time by limiting the exorbitant wage, pension and contractual benefits granted to organized labor is unthinkable in a state throttled by union power. Consider the additional money that Quinn wants for "the children"—meaning public education. Average per-pupil spending in Chicago now is about $13,000, prima facia evidence that taxpayers are getting rooked. Obvious alternatives (school choice) exist, but the teachers unions continue to resist freeing the children from their public school bondage. Incredibly, the Illinois Education Association thinks even Quinn's increases aren't enough. It criticized Quinn's budget for "balancing the state budget on the backs of public education employees and state government workers." The only satisfaction to be derived from such an absurd statement is that some of Quinn's rhetoric (he's doing it for "the kids") is getting tossed back at him.

On top of all this, the special interests (including the teachers union) that demand so much bloat from the Illinois budget managed to kill a proposed constitutional convention that could have addressed some of the structural problems that have led to our financial crisis. No matter how much we do for the poor, elderly, veterans and children, we always can do more.

But we're already doing plenty, so much so that the state's financial health is greatly endangered. Continue on this route and we'll for sure end up doing less, not more, for the poor, elderly, veterans and children.

With Blagojevich gone, legislative leaders now have an opportunity to demonstrate their reasonableness.

We have a right to expect better governance. Illinois' reputation already is bad enough, and deservedly so. An astonishing 50 percent income tax increase will only convince the rest of America that we are, indeed, nuts.


raj said...

Hi Dennis, enjoyed the article. Quick question. Of this 13,000 per student, how much actually gets to the student? Does this include the cost of retiree benefits?

It seems for chicago schools the solution may not be more money but perhaps a better cost structure and getting priorities back in order...

Anonymous said...


Quinn is a fool if he thinks $13,000 or $130,000 will help the children of Chicago.

It starts at home with the parents.

The aforementioned monies to be spent on the children will find itself in the pockets of the IEA and the patronage army of influential politicians.