To the Editor:
Illinois’ ongoing – and indefensible — ‘budget impasse’ has one principle architect: Governor Bruce Rauner, and his attempt to link anti-union reforms to the passage of a balanced state budget. This manufactured crisis highlights the need for a critical – and fundamental — remedy: the need for Illinois legislators to create stable, progressive revenue streams.
What hangs in the balance are vital services on which our seniors, working families, students and people with disabilities depend.
We must focus on long-term solutions that both improve Illinois’ fiscal health and enable our state to provide the public services that are vital to communities across Illinois. We can simply no longer avoid the decision to move Illinois away from a state in which all residents, regardless of their income, pay a ‘flat tax rate’. Illinois is an outlier in following this kind of taxing scheme; only seven states in the nation rely on a flat tax to fund public services. This fundamentally unfair and unsustainable revenue system taxes working and low-income families at a higher effective tax rate than wealthy individuals. At the same time, it allows corporations to exploit loopholes and corporate welfare schemes to dodge – or altogether avoid – paying their fair share of taxes to fund vital services.
Simply put, this unfair tax system has meant that for decades the state has failed to generate enough income to cover the costs of critical public services, relying instead on costly borrowing and public pension raids that actually exacerbate Illinois’ structural deficit. Our state legislators need to take bold, practical action, by moving to change Illinois’ constitution to implement a fair and progressive tax system in which wealthy individuals who reap the benefits of public infrastructure and taxpayer-funded services pay their fair share – instead of foisting the revenue burden on low-income and working families.
It’s time for real leadership on this critical issue. Our legislators must support a resolution to place a referendum on the ballot that allows residents to vote to amend the constitution by instituting a fair, graduated income tax. Two-thirds of legislators in both the Illinois House and Senate must approve this resolution to allow a vote on this common-sense reform.
Governor Rauner’s entrenched view of ‘reform’ relies on anti-worker strategies – by attacking collective bargaining rights, by pushing for ‘Right to Work’ for less policies that limit labor’s ability to fund union efforts, and by ultimately weakening the earning potential of working families. His effort to choke these regressive policies through the legislature relies on hijacking the budgetary process to get his way, intensifying the challenges that Illinois families face. Progressive revenue reform would end this fiscal banditry – and is long overdue.
The temporary tax increase that expired on January 1, 2015 blew a nearly three billion dollar hole in the state’s revenue stream – at precisely the same time that Governor Rauner accelerated his anti-labor austerity agenda. Rauner has used the resulting budget shortfall to his advantage – at the expense of Illinois’ families. As I have said before in the Hyde Park Herald, while implementing a fair tax system is critical to addressing Illinois’ long-term fiscal challenges, our legislators should not have allowed the temporary increase to expire before a fair tax system had been put in place. Big corporations reaped a 25% tax break when Illinois’ temporary tax increase expired — when they should instead be paying a higher and more fair tax rate. Yet in the short term, simply restoring the current tax rate to the 2014 level of 7% would generate nearly $770 million in revenue for critical public services.
The current budget impasse has derailed a sweeping range of crucial needs — including child care, services for senior citizens, financial aid support for students, and services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. That has got to end. We must instead seek long-term, progressive structural solutions. The time for a fair, progressive income tax is now!