WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board added its voice Tuesday night to the chorus asking Illinois lawmakers to keep their word and allow the temporary 67 percent income tax hike to expire as scheduled.
County Board members voted Tuesday evening, 23-0, to pass a resolution imploring the General Assembly not to renege on its promise and make the tax permanent. The increase, passed in 2011 by state lawmakers, contained a provision that significantly sunsets the increases effective Jan. 1, 2015. Many Democratic lawmakers and leaders repeatedly stressed at the time of the vote that the tax increase would be a temporary measure.
The resolution drafted last week first cleared the board’s Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on a 5-1 vote prior to the full board meeting. While committee member Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, voted yes on the board floor, he voted no in committee out of concern of the impact on state services that would result if the tax increase is allowed to expire. He conceded that state Democratic leaders were “absolutely short-sighted” in their handling of the temporary tax.
“I’m very concerned about the effect the loss of revenue is going to have at the state level. It’s a huge hit to the budget,” Chirikos said.
But committee Chairman John Jung, R-Woodstock, summed up the feelings of the majority of the board and those backing the resolution.
“[State lawmakers] just keep spending, spending, spending, and they don’t cut anything,” Jung said.
County Board members have privately conceded the resolution carries little legislative weight, particularly considering that every state lawmaker whose district includes McHenry County adamantly opposes extending the tax increase. But with House Speaker Michael Madigan conceding that he is “significantly” short of the 60 votes he needs to make the tax increase permanent, every little bit of opposition might help.
Illinois workers have paid on average an extra week’s salary in income taxes since Democratic lawmakers raised tax rates in January 2011 without a single Republican vote. The flat tax was raised on individuals from 3 to 5 percent of income, and on corporations from 4.8 to 7 percent. When the personal property replacement tax is factored in, the corporate tax rate totals 9.5 percent.
Democratic lawmakers sold the tax increase as a stopgap measure needed to straighten out state government’s dire finances and pay down a shameful pile of unpaid bills. But it didn’t work – most of the $31 billion the increase is predicted to generate has been swallowed by the state’s ballooning public pension obligations.
The increase is supposed to sunset Jan. 1 to 3.75 percent for individuals and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for businesses. But Gov. Pat Quinn, in a move skeptics have warned was coming since he signed the increase into law, asked lawmakers in March to make it permanent, lest the state suffer draconian cuts that would hurt its neediest residents.
While a bill keeping the increase permanent is expected to pass the more liberal Senate, its odds are far less certain in the House. While Madigan controls a 71-seat Democratic supermajority and therefore an 11-seat cushion, at least double that number either voted against the increase in the first place or have since publicly stated that it should sunset as promised.
The number of votes needed to pass legislation that takes effect immediately increases to a three-fifths majority, or 71 House votes, upon the end of the spring legislative session May 31. Lawmakers would likely revisit the tax increase after the November election, or during the January lame-duck session when the number of votes needed reverts back to a simple majority.
The original 2011 tax increase was approved in the January lame-duck session with the bare minimum of needed votes. Six of the 12 outgoing lawmakers who voted for it later received high-paying government jobs, raising allegations of quid pro quo from the Republican minority.