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Reeder: Time to embrace difficult spending decisions

Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:16 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 9:59 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – In 2011, the state of Illinois began snatching away an extra week’s worth of our pay.

At the time, we were assured of two things: The tax hike was necessary, and it would be temporary.

Like so much that politicians tell us, both statements are questionable.

First of all, we were told the increase was necessary to help put the state’s fiscal house in order and to pay down the backlog of unpaid bills.

Even after jacking up our taxes the state’s fiscal condition is pathetic. Springfield is paying its bills many months late, the state pensions are the worst funded of any state and Illinois’ credit rating is in the crapper.

Instead of using the extra tax dollars to pay down bills, Springfield politicians used it to increase spending.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Most politicians are far more comfortable spending than saving. After all, it’s what they do best.

For the record, there are plenty of myths surrounding this tax increase.

The most persistent – and most annoying – is that politicians only raised our income taxes by 2 percent. Even as abysmal as I was in high school math, I can tell you that raising the income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent is a tax increase of 67 percent – not 2 percent.

The fact that so many politicians persist in claiming it was only 2 percent makes one wonder whether:

A. They aren’t real bright;

B. They aren’t particularly honest;

C. That’s what their leaders have told them to say;

D. All of the above.

It being Springfield, any of these answers might be correct.

Some would have you believe this tax increase is picayune – hardly noticeable for the average household. Nonsense.

The tax increase alone is the equivalent of one week’s pay for every worker in Illinois. And what have workers gotten in return? Not much.

The state is still broke. Spending is on the upswing. Bills are still going unpaid.

And guess what? Now they are talking about taking the “temporary” out of the income tax increase.

Some lawmakers and pundits are saying it’s time for Illinois to make the tax increase permanent, while others are saying perhaps we ought to move back the law’s January 2015 sunset date.

To both proposed laws I can only say, baloney. The state hasn’t used the extra money wisely this year or in 2013, 2012 or 2011 …

What makes our leaders think they will start using it wisely if it becomes permanent?

State revenues are at their highest level in Illinois’ 198-year history. Springfield has a problem with spending – not revenue.

It’s time for our lawmakers to say “goodbye” to the tax increase and embrace difficult spending decisions.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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