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Quinn needs to see taxpayer’s point of view

Folks who pay the bills often are neglected

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

We suggest that state officials, such as Gov. Pat Quinn, change their perspective and look at issues from the taxpayer’s point of view.

Quite a different view, isn’t it? Interesting to see how things look through the eyes of those paying the bills, as opposed to those spending the money.

That approach might give the governor and the General Assembly a chance to see how silly some proposals appear.

One example is Quinn’s plan to divert income tax money from municipalities. Quinn has proposed capping what are known as automatic transfers from [special state funds to] the cities.

From Quinn’s point of view, it must seem like a decent idea. The governor is faced with horrific budget problems. That’s not a good situation for a governor who will run for re-election in 2014. The state’s unfunded pension crisis is squeezing other state government spending. Quinn has proposed a $400 million cut in elementary and secondary education funding, and many other programs are expecting fewer dollars from the state.

Quinn’s staff says the transfers would result in about $68 million to state government. The Illinois Municipal League estimates the figure is closer to $148 million. At the city level, the numbers are significant. Bloomington would lose about $881,000 each year; Normal would lose about $603,000 and Decatur, about $1.4 million. The proposal is a bit of a moving target, so the estimates may change.

The fund transfer isn’t something Quinn would likely do if the state budget wasn’t such a mess, but it does save him and the General Assembly from finding the cuts elsewhere.

But let’s turn around and look at this from the taxpayer’s point of view.

Taxpayers pay taxes to both local and state governments. To the taxpayer, it doesn’t make a lot of difference where the taxes go; it’s still money out of their checkbook. So from a taxpayer point of view, Quinn’s plan doesn’t accomplish anything.

If Quinn’s plan is adopted, cities will be forced to slash budgets, increase taxes or both. Whether the budget issues are at the city or the state level, the taxpayer is still faced with declining services and increasing tax rates. The most likely occurrence – if history is any teacher – is that local and state taxes will both increase.

The same scenario is playing out in school districts across the state. The state’s inability to pay districts on time, coupled with reductions in funding, is causing districts to raise taxes and cut expenses. The state’s budget problems are well known, and Quinn deserves credit for recognizing the issue and offering solutions. That’s more effort than we see coming out of the House or the Senate.

But solving the state’s budget problem by creating budget hardships at the local level isn’t an answer. Especially for the folks paying the bills.

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