Here’s a good question to ask candidates as they cross Central Illinois looking for votes as a state representative or senator: Define the word temporary.
It’s an important question, because the General Assembly elected in November will decide whether the income tax increase shrinks after 2014.
Let’s remember back to Jan. 11, 2011, when legislators – with the help of several lame ducks – passed the bill that increased personal income taxes by 67 percent and employer income taxes by 46 percent. Here’s what Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said; “A portion of this tax [increase] is going to expire in 4 years. This, again, is a temporary tax.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan concurred, as did Gov. Pat Quinn when he signed the tax increase.
The idea behind the temporary tax was to give the state some breathing room so the General Assembly could face some of its budget issues, including the state’s overwhelming pension problems. At the time, the General Assembly had avoided taking any action for more than a year, wary of the 2010 elections.
It’s nearly 2 years later, and still our elected officials have done little to put the state on a better financial footing.
If that doesn’t change, the response of the Legislature will be predictable. They will claim the “temporary” tax increase needs to become permanent in order to fund schools, bridges, roads or public safety. We will hear all sorts of scary stories about how much Illinois residents will suffer if those taxes don’t become permanent.
Although the state needs to reduce spending in a number of ways, the pension issue is the gigantic elephant in the room. And the elephant is eating all the peanuts. The state already spends more on pensions than it does on schools. If the pension system is allowed to remain as is, the need to feed that system will crowd out spending for most of other state services.
And taxpayers will pay for this mess, in the form of higher taxes and fewer services.
What we need are legislators who will promise – without qualification or excuses – that they will ensure the tax increases aren’t extended beyond 2014. This is not a time for waffling answers, such as waiting to see where the state stands in 2 more years. It’s clear to draw a line between those who will go to Springfield and work on solutions and those who will go along to get along.
It is clear that our elected leaders would prefer to make this tax increase permanent. We suspect that has been the plan all along, and the pension reform discussion was a cruel charade. As we’ve stated before, there is a solution to the pension problem that is fair to the state’s employees and taxpayers. But we need leaders who show the courage to work toward that solution.
The only avenue for change is to quit electing legislators who are happy to sit back and let the leaders dictate what happens. We need to elect legislators who understand that temporary means temporary.