I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I voted “no” on the income tax and budget last week. Without a doubt, the state desperately needed a budget so why, then, would I vote “no”? Well, let’s start with a short answer and then dive into the details.
Despite a 32% increase in income taxes, this budget will not significantly reduce the state’s backlog of bills, does nothing to address the unpaid pension liability that is hamstringing our ability to pay for basic services and suffocating critically-needed investments in capital infrastructure (roads and bridges) and intellectual infrastructure (higher education), contains no significant reforms, and has no property tax relief to offset the massive income tax hike.
Further, despite the $5.5 billion in new taxes, there is no guarantee that K-12 schools will open in the fall. Yes, you read that right. Schools may still not open next month even with the tax hike! Even some of those legislators who voted for the package in the House were surprised when they realized that Speaker Madigan had quietly inserted language into the budget that holds downstate K-12 schools hostage in order to get a bailout for the fiscally mismanaged Chicago Public Schools system. Of course, I voted “no.”
So, yes, we got a “budget” and those who depend on it will rejoice in relief for a short while – until they realize that nothing was fixed and future budgets are still clouded in uncertainty. What Illinois really needed was a budget that would have fundamentally, and forever, put Illinois on a positive trajectory toward fiscal integrity – a budget that didn’t just kick the can down the road to the next generation.
And we could have had it. I was in the room negotiating with both sides to reach a bipartisan agreement. All four caucuses were engaged and had sent authorized negotiators. In my opinion, and my opinion only, we were literally within hours of a break-through budget deal. Through Saturday morning July 1, negotiations were generally productive and we were zeroing in on important structural reforms, significant cuts, responsibly addressing the $15 billion unpaid bills’ backlog, truly balancing the budget, and, importantly in my view, providing property tax relief to local taxpayers.
Rather than allow those positive discussions to continue, by Sunday, July 2, the House instead opted for a massive tax hike without significant cuts, without significant reforms, without a legitimate way to address the $15 billion backlog of bills, and without any property tax relief to offset the income tax increase.
Simply put, this is not the earth-shaking reform necessary to put Illinois on a fiscally responsible trajectory to prosperity.
But don’t take my word for it. The nation’s top credit rating agency, Moody’s Investor Services, said that it may go ahead and downgrade Illinois to “junk” status anyway because this budget doesn’t legitimately address the backlog of unpaid bills and, to quote them directly, “The pension reform in (the legislation) doesn’t look like it’s really revolutionary or will move the needle in any big way.” This is a sobering dose of reality from the economic experts.
But putting aside all the reasons above, and putting aside whether you are someone who is adamantly for or against the reforms under discussion, the bottom line is this: how can you raise taxes 32% and not even guarantee that K-12 schools will open in the fall?