It's been a tough year for taxpayers in Illinois, but there are still a few things in the Land of Lincoln to be thankful for this year.
In 2019, state lawmakers raised taxes on gasoline, tobacco products, parking in Chicago, vehicle trade-ins and online purchases. They also increased fees for vehicle registration and new vehicle documentation. While in Springfield, lawmakers suggested raising taxes on even more — everything from alcohol to ride-sharing services. The fact that those proposals didn't pass is something. Not much. But something. Illinois taxpayers won't have to fork over more money for subscribing to Netflix this year, but lawmakers could bring those plans back next year.
Despite the bevy of new taxes, Illinois taxpayers can be thankful for at least three things.
1. The Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI agents have raided the homes and offices of elected officials, lobbyists and Chicago aldermen this year. In September, agents raided state Sen. Martin Sandoval's offices and home looking for evidence of corruption. Under pressure, Sandoval resigned as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and said he will give up his seat on Jan. 1. Sandoval has not yet been charged with a crime. In October, state Rep. Luis Arroyo was arrested on suspicion of trying to bribe an unnamed state senator. Arroyo has since resigned from the House. He has pleaded not guilty.
The raids and ongoing federal probes have been felt throughout the General Assembly.
It's sad that public corruption continues, seemingly unabated, in Illinois. State lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, are either part of the problem or uninterested in a solution.
Yes, state leaders created a Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, but I'm not ready for the FBI and federal prosecutors to pack up quite yet. There's been a lot of task forces and commissions over the years. So far, they have done little to root out public corruption. Corruption costs Illinois taxpayers and businesses far too much.
Emmerson Buie Jr., the new boss of the bureau's field office in Chicago, has a history of going after public corruption. That's another thing taxpayers statewide can be thankful for.
2. The state's flat income tax. It may not seem like much, but the state's flat income tax is something taxpayers can be thankful for. For starters, lawmakers have a difficult time raising it. Yes, they've done it recently, but it came with a high political price tag.
For now, the flat tax provides a thin layer of protection for the pocketbooks of everyone in the state.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democrats in the House and Senate were successful in getting a constitutional amendment to scrap the flat tax on the November 2020 ballot. Voters will ultimately decide if they want to keep the flat income tax or allow lawmakers to put in place a graduated income tax structure with higher rates for higher earners.
While lawmakers have proposed progressive income tax rates that they claim would result in a modest tax cut for most taxpayers, those rates will be far easier for the General Assembly to change in the future. Eventually, a progressive income tax will end up gouging the middle class. And it will make the state's business climate even less attractive.
3. Lawmakers have left Springfield for the year. The fall veto session is over and lawmakers won't return until January. That means taxpayers won't have as much to worry about — at least until January.
Brett Rowland is Illinois editor of The Center Square, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Brett at email@example.com.
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