Lawmakers likely to OK permanent tax increase
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Most Northwest Side legislators said that they likely will support Governor Pat Quinn’s proposal to make the "temporary" income tax increase approved by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011 permanent in order to avoid cuts to human services and education.
Quinn announced in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget address last week that he want to maintain the current income tax rate in order to keep the budget balanced and support education. In return, he wants legislators to approve a $500 property tax refund for home owners.
The General Assembly raised the personal income tax rate from 3.0 percent to 5.0 percent, a 66 percent increase, in 2011. Under the terms of that bill, the 5.0 percent rate would remain in effect through this year and then decrease to 3.75 percent in 2015 and to 3.25 percent in 2025. The current rate will be made permanent if the legislature approves it.
Quinn said during the address that when he took over as governor the state faced a $9 billion backlog of bills and that because of spending cuts and pension reform, the state has cut spending by more than $5.7 billion. The backlog of bills has been reduced by $5 billion, according to the governor’s office.
"Illinois is in a stronger financial position now than we were five years ago and now is the time to end the era of fiscal cliffs and secure Illinois’ long-term financial future," Quinn said. "Because of the hard choices we’ve made, we’re in a position to balance the budget in a way that builds and protects the middle class by providing significant tax relief to home owners and working families. We’re also in a position to properly invest in our schools, because the future of our economy depends on the quality of our education."
Quinn also proposed doubling the earned income tax credit years, cutting taxes for businesses that provide job training, spending $1.5 billion on the "Birth to Five" initiative that focuses on prenatal care and access to early childhood opportunities, doubling the state’s Monetary Assistance Program scholarships, and increasing classroom spending by $6 billion over the next five years.
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) called Quinn’s budget proposal "courageous." Martwick said that allowing the tax increase to expire would be financially irresponsible and would lead to dramatic cuts in many departments.
Martwick said that he opposes the approach of Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner. "He would try to cut our way out of this problem, but those cuts would be devastating," he said. "This gives us the breathing room to right the ship. I’m going to vote for what is fiscally responsible. We can’t just keep kicking the can down the street."
Martwick credited Quinn with sticking to his message and "staying honest." "People talk about 10 percent cuts across the board, but we know that that won’t get us there," he said. "It’s a pretty courageous thing to propose in an election year, and it’s going to hurt him, no doubt about it, but I give Pat credit for doing the unpopular thing, but the right thing."
Martwick said that he would like the tax increase to expire in 10 years and that recovery for the state likely will take 10 to 15 years. "We can’t cut our way out of this mess," he said.
State Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said that he will consider keeping the tax rate at its current level. "I don’t know if we could withstand the cuts and make the state sustainable," D’Amico said. "I don’t know if we could handle the drastic cuts."
D’Amico said that since he took office Quinn has cut spending and has worked to reform pensions and that he inherited a financial mess from previous administrations.
Other Northwest Side lawmakers offered prepared statements about the budget address.
State Senator William Delgado (D-2) said that cutting services by 20 percent is unacceptable. "We have worked, skimp and saved, and still we are facing a deficit," Delgado said. "Human services, which will take the hardest hit, provide the programs we need most.
"Illinois cannot afford to slash the budget of this agency by 20 percent. It will be devastating to the people of Illinois."
Delgado said that educational programs would suffer under proposed cuts. "We need to find an alternative, responsible, funding source to ensure the most vulnerable for our state are not the hardest hit," he said.
State Senator Heather Steans (D-7) said she supports the plan to make the income tax increase permanent. "I believe strongly that we must not balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable — children with special needs, the physically and mentally disabled and seniors needing in-home care."
"We must continue to reduce spending, starting with cutting our state’s excessive layers of government, and we must pay off all backlogged bulls and provide stability and predictability, but we cannot abandon our people who need help and have nowhere else to turn," Steans said.
State Representative Jaimie Andrade (D-40) said that he is encouraged by the governor’s vision of fiscal responsibility. "We currently face a mounting deficit, and the expiration of a temporary income tax increase this coming January will only exacerbate our revenue problem," Andrade said. "By allowing this increase to expire without taking the necessary precautions to offset this decline, we will be forced to make dire cuts to agencies that provide crucial services within communities all across the state."
State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) said that she will evaluate the governor’s proposals to avert "devastating" cuts. "We have learned that, unless we find some solution to this year’s $2.4 billion shortfall, unacceptable reductions will be made in funding for public education and crime prevention programs that keep out neighborhoods safe," Martinez said.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-6) said that he supports extending the tax increase in order to maintain a level of revenue that is fiscally responsible.