State lawmakers are working in their districts during a two-week legislative recess, meeting with constituents to get feedback on major issues before we return to Springfield for the final month of the legislative session.
As part of an ongoing push to rationalize the permanent extension of what was promised to be a temporary income tax hike, Senate Democrat leaders released figures during the week that purport to show unavoidable education cuts if the hike expires. However, critics point out that the cuts would only occur if legislators are unwilling to prioritize education spending, something my Senate Republican colleagues and I are willing to do.
In the meantime, the management of Illinois by Governor Pat Quinn and his legislative allies took new hits. The Wall Street Journal, one of the leading newspapers in the nation, asked in an April 15 editorial, “What’s the Matter with Illinois?”
A recent Gallup survey also showed that Illinoisans have the least trust in their state government of any state in the nation, with 70% saying they have either “none at all” or “not very much” trust in their government.
Democrats push tax hike
Senate Democrats released figures that purport to show that schools in Illinois would lose $451 million if Democrat leaders kept their promise to allow the tax hike to roll back in 2015. It was the latest effort to justify reneging on the promised rollback of the 67% income tax hike enacted in 2011.
The Governor, Senate President and House Speaker are pledging to extend the 67% tax increase, and have been using budget hearings to justify extending the tax. A series of witnesses are being paraded before committees to testify to dire consequences if taxes are rolled back as promised.
Opponents say it’s a matter of priorities
Tax-hike opponents have generally pointed out that an underlying premise of recent budget hearings has been that there is little to no flexibility in state spending and that legislators are incapable of setting priorities and making difficult choices.
I take issue with the idea of a rigid budget with no flexibility and lawmakers whose hands are tied when it comes to setting spending priorities. The Governor’s plan contains costly new program expansions and relies on one-time revenues to fund ongoing expenses. Such policies are likely to lead to more tax hikes in the future – which is consistent with recent pushes by majority Democrats to impose new taxes, including two recent attempts at amending the state Constitution to allow for higher taxes.
Education cut under Quinn
Education spending has not been a priority under Governor Quinn even with the tax hike. The state’s base spending for education has actually fallen since the tax hike went into effect. In Fiscal Year 2010, the state’s General Funds budget for the State Board of Education was $7.308 billion. In the current year, with the tax hike in effect, the budget is now $6.687 billion – a cut of $621 million.
Even under Governor Quinn’s “recommended” budget – which assumes the tax hike remains in effect – the General Funds education budget would fall short of the Fiscal Year 2010 figure by $330 million.
Illinois compared to fellow Great Lakes States
In an April 15 editorial, the business-oriented Wall Street Journal looked at five Great Lakes states – Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio – and concluded “a great comparative policy experiment is taking place.”
While other Great Lakes states have focused on reducing taxes and controlling spending, the newspaper points out that Illinois has been raising taxes and growing government.
“The comparison is especially apt because Illinois Democrats are doubling down on their strategy in this election year. Governor Pat Quinn has announced plans to make permanent the ‘temporary’ tax hikes that were supposed to sunset at the end of this year,” the newspaper said.
And how has that strategy been working for Illinois?
The Wall Street Journal editorial ran through a litany of sobering statistics including Illinois’ 8.7% unemployment rate – the second highest in the nation and well above every other Great Lakes state. They also keyed in on Illinois’ sluggish growth in personal income and loss of 31,000 workers while other states have been gaining.
Gallup survey: No trust in Illinois government
A recent Gallup survey shows people living in Illinois have less trust in their government than those living in any other state.
The depth of that distrust is sobering. When asked how much trust and confidence they have in their state government, 70% of Illinoisans surveyed said they had either “not very much” or “none at all.”
But with 35% of respondents saying “none at all,” Illinois was far worse than any other state – a full 15 percentage points below the next two worst states. In Rhode Island and Maryland, 20% of respondents said they had no trust in their state government.
Only 4% of Illinoisans said they had a “great deal” of trust in their state government.