"I say to the governor, if these bills pass the House and Senate, the revenue bill and expenditure bill, we will have sent you a balanced budget. Have the courage to do what is right and sign the bills,” said State Rep. David Harris, who was among 15 Republicans to side with Democrats to pass a revenue and spending plan. "Bring this madness to an end."
At the risk of violating the separation of church and state, let us say “Amen” to Rep. Harris’ statement.
His comments came Sunday after the Illinois House passed a permanent income tax increase, expected to generate $5 billion in new revenue. The measure raises the state income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed the measure, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it. The Senate then voted to override the veto. The House still hasn’t said when it will vote on an override. The increase passed the House by a 72-45 vote, which would be veto proof if the Republicans who originally voted for the measure stick to their guns.
For the first time in three years, it feels as if Illinois is finally taking a baby step toward financial stability.
But, despite the apparent progress, there is little reason to celebrate. Sure, the underlying reaction at first to this news is relief, but there’s no time to celebrate when you are taking stock of the carnage that has resulted from years of financial folly.
Even with this measure, Illinois faces a long, difficult financial recovery. It will still take years to recover from what has transpired, frankly, over the past 20-some-odd years.
Rauner is characterizing the measure as a 32 percent tax increase. While that statement is mathematically and semantically correct, the reality is that Illinois income tax assessments will increase by 1.2 percentage points — and it’s still lower than the income tax rate of about three years ago.
Frankly, this tax increase should never have been an issue. It was irresponsible of the General Assembly to let the previous temporary increase expire when the state was already in dire financial straits. Remember, the state income tax dropped from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015.
The reality is clear. Illinois is sitting on more than $14 billion in unpaid bills. Critics of the tax increase say more cuts in spending are needed. We would never be opposed to cutting for the sake of efficiency or to rid the state of waste, but it is foolish to believe there is $14 billion of waste in a budget of about $87 billion.
The General Assembly needs to eliminate waste where possible, as well as seek alternate forms of revenue — the legalization and taxation of marijuana and financial transaction tax are just two of the possibilities.
Look, we’re not saying that increasing taxes is a good thing. We hate it as much as anyone, but, at this point, it appears to be a necessary evil. Also, we’d also like to say that Republicans have a good point when they say more reform is needed, because, quite frankly, a lot more reform is still needed.
One of Southern Illinois’ Republican representatives made an emotional plea for passage of the tax increase.
“We're asking people to pay the bills for our bad behavior," Terri Bryant said. "I hope that when this is done, I'm going to vote for SB6 [spending] and SB9 [tax hike].
"I'm probably going to get primaried for this."
Bryant may be correct about the primary challenge. Ultimately, we believe she made the tough choice to do what was necessary for the stability of the state. That’s exactly why we send representatives to Springfield.
The words of Rep. Michael Unes, the first Republican to speak in favor of the tax hike, ring true.
“This quite possibly could be the toughest vote you could take,” he said. “First of all, nobody should celebrate should this bill pass because we should have never gotten to this point to begin with. It is shameful and embarrassing."
To that, we’ll ask for another “Amen.”