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Franks: Better economy a better way forward for Illinois

Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

In his recent budget address, instead of focusing on streamlining government and reducing the tax burden on hardworking families and Illinois businesses, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed doubling down on the very same policies that helped create the budget mess in which our state is now stuck.

Illinois’ stagnant economic recovery can be traced directly to the passage of the 2011 income tax increase. Our state’s unemployment rate is nearly 33 percent higher than the national average. We have the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation, and Illinois’ public-sector pension systems are the worst funded in the U.S.

While other states have reduced spending and rejected tax increases, the governor’s proposed extension of current income tax rates is simply the wrong policy to address the economic challenges that our state faces.

Illinois suffers from a lack of economic activity, and this ailment has a simple remedy: get the government out of the way. By leaving more in the pockets of taxpayers, we will purchase more goods and services from businesses that, in response to the increased demand, will hire more workers, who will then pay taxes. Growing the economy is the best way to increase government revenue, and the simplest way this can be achieved is to allow the current income tax rates to expire, as promised in 2011.

Reforming the relationship between citizens and local governments is no less vital to igniting the recovery for which all Illinoisans have been waiting for far too long. Rather than providing a property tax credit for some at the expense of others, as the governor proposed, the tax burden on all property owners in Illinois can be reduced easily and equitably.

When anyone in Illinois looks at their property tax bill, we are likely confronted with a list of local taxing bodies that is longer than a similar bill in any other state. According to the most recent count, Illinois has 6,968 units of local government. Texas has more than twice our state’s population, yet manages to deliver the services its residents need with 2,000 fewer government bodies.

This is the primary reason that property tax rates in Illinois are second only to New Jersey and that, on average from 2005-2009, six of the 40 counties with the highest property taxes in the U.S. were in Illinois, one being McHenry County. As chairman of the Local Government Consolidation Commission, which recently issued its final report, I have done exhaustive research on this issue and am convinced that elimination or consolidation of nonessential and duplicative taxing authorities will reduce property taxes in our state.

To provide this relief to overburdened taxpayers, I recently passed legislation that places a four-year moratorium on the authority of the state to create new layers of local government. I also am fighting to pass bills that increase the power of counties to combine or eliminate unnecessary government bodies and grant many local taxing bodies the authority to dissolve. While the latter might seem to be an obvious measure that already should be law, it is not. Most governments rarely plan on going out of business, and jealously protects their fiefdoms.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that the authority of any government is merely on loan from the people it serves. The policies proposed in the governor’s recent address largely ignore this basic principle and wrongly demand increased sacrifice from Illinoisans already overburdened by state and local taxes.

The argument in favor of extending the 2011 tax increase, as well as maintaining many obsolete, unnecessary taxing bodies, is that we cannot afford to make drastic changes during tough economic times.

In reality, we cannot afford not to, and we have three years of completely inadequate economic recovery to prove it.

• Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, represents Illinois’ 63rd State Representative District.

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