The vast majority of Illinois residents have the luxury of being armchair quarterbacks.
We look at the myriad problems facing the State of Illinois and we point out “obvious” solutions. Sometimes our discussions get heated and loud. But, at the end of the day, the arguments, though entertaining, do little to affect policy.
That’s why we go to the ballot box every couple years, to select the people that will do our bidding. During the past week, State Reps. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg; Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro; Dave Severin, R-Benton; and Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; as well as State Sens. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, made difficult choices on Illinois’ budget and long-term financial health.
Phelps and Bryant voted to increase the state income tax from 3.75 per 4.95 percent. Severin, Fowler, Costello and Schimpf voted against the measure.
We believe Phelps and Bryant made the right choice. While we may disagree with Severin, Fowler, Costello and Schimpf, we truly respect their right to vote their conscience — this wasn’t an easy decision. Regardless of their votes, our six local legislators will feel the repercussions of that vote, and others, the next time we go to the polls.
That is the way it is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, in the hyper-partisan climate that is Illinois, some people don’t adhere to civil discourse. Bryant, a Republican who voted against her party’s position, has received threats of violence since casting her vote.
When did the citizens of Southern Illinois cross that line?
Illinois has been mired in a pitched ideological battle for the past several years. The state budget, and by extension, the citizens of Illinois, have been held hostage by the feud.
This newspaper has run a weekly feature counting the number of days the state has been without a budget. Time and again we have used this space to urge our legislators to ignore the “R” or the “D” behind their name, and vote in the best interest of the state.
We believe Rep. Bryant did just that. Her constituents have every right to disagree with her. They have every right to complain to her office. They have every right to vote against her in the next election. But, threatening physical violence is unacceptable — even in a state as dysfunctional as Illinois.
Opponents of Bryant’s vote, and the tax increase, argue that more cuts need to be made — in fact, the budget measure passed by the House and Senate calls for $2.5 billion in cuts, a figure higher than the budget submitted by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
As we have stated earlier, making cuts to improve efficiency is laudable. However, legislators were staring at some truly remarkable facts and figures. Illinois’ total budget is about $87 million. The state has $15 billion in overdue bills — just over 17 percent of the annual budget.
Through the ongoing budget crisis, Illinois’ government has gotten pretty lean. In 2011, the Associated Press reported Illinois had the fewest state workers per capita — just 4.1 per 1,000 people.
Raise Your Hand for Public Education reports Illinois ranks 50th among the states in K-12 funding, providing less than 20 percent funding to elementary and secondary schools. The national average is 45 percent.
Finally, people keep tossing around the fact that Illinois income taxes are increasing 32 percent to 4.95 percent. Among states with a flat income tax rates, Illinois ranks behind North Carolina (5.75), Massachusetts (5.1) and Utah (5.0).
And, in states with progressive income taxes, Illinois is nowhere near the top. California’s top rate is 13.3 percent, Oregon is 9.9, Minnesota 9.85 and neighboring Iowa is 8.98.
Clearly the deep financial hole Illinois has dug for itself cannot by filled by cuts alone. In addition, legislators were looking at Illinois’ bond rating being lowered to junk status, a measure that would have cost the state even more when borrowing funds.
With unfunded pension liabilities, school districts and universities swimming in red ink, there is still plenty of work to do.
As much as we hate having our taxes raised, tough choices had to be made — this wasn’t going to be easy.
Bryant stepped up to make a choice that we believe benefits the state in both the long and short term. Voters are free to agree or disagree with her vote. But, they are obligated, morally and legally, to express that disagreement in a civil manner.