Friday, November 16, 2012

Now that the Civic Committee has started barking… what should we expect from the Illinois General Assembly?

We already know most Illinois legislators do not possess the steadfastness to take on an inadequate fiscal system that fails to generate enough revenue growth to properly maintain state services and pay state expenditures for health and social services, education, government, transportation, capital outlays, public protection, justice, and, most importantly, the state’s debts.

Most Illinois legislators disregard the fact that “a high-quality revenue system relies on a diverse and balanced range of sources [that] spreads the burden of the tax among more payers than a narrow basis does” (National Conference of State Legislators).

Most Illinois legislators say they will “oppose raising any taxes to balance the state’s budget.” Of course, few legislators want to raise taxes on middle-class and impoverished voters. When legislators claim they will not raise taxes (especially for the wealthy one percent that bankrolled them), it’s for surety of campaign funding and re-election.

Undeniably, many legislators approved a financial windfall for a few Illinois corporations not long ago while pondering budget cuts and "pension reform" for the rest of us. Indeed, each new tax break means less money to run state government, thus requiring officials to find money elsewhere, to cut essential services, and to maltreat public employees.

It is apparent that many legislators do not understand today’s economic realities: that Illinois’ economy has largely become a “services and information-based economy… [and that] changes in personal consumption have resulted in the Illinois sales tax covering a decreasing proportion of consumption expenditures” (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning).

Many legislators continue to ignore the fact that Illinois “suffers from structural deficits or from failure of revenues to grow quickly as the cost of services…, [and that] structural deficits stem largely from out-of-date tax systems, coupled with costs that rise faster than the economy… Fixing these structural problems would help [Illinois] balance [its] operating budgets without resorting to [unjust, reckless 'pension reform' instigated and propagandized by the Civic Committee, Civic Federation, Chicago Tribune and their ilk]” (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Many Illinois legislators do not want to fully fund the public pension systems (ever); they would rather shift the normal costs for the teachers’ pension  system to school districts and taxpayers. These legislators also assume they know how to accurately estimate pension assets and liabilities in the future by drawing inferences from intentional, biased data provided for them.

It is easier for some legislators and the Civic Committee to obsess over the pension systems’ unfunded liabilities and not the causes of the state’s financial deficits: an unfair, archaic flat-rate tax system and budget practices that have included the fraudulent diversion of pension funding, to name just two.

“Pension reform” will not resolve the “imbalance between sustainable revenues and existing spending levels…, unfunded pension liabilities, stagnant and eroding revenues…, debt service costs for pension obligation bonds, pension payments that were less than the annual required contribution, and billions in unpaid bills” (Report of the State of Illinois’ Budget Crisis Task Force).

Considering the contentious legislative focus on “pension reform” these past few years and the Civic Committee’s exasperated growls recently, it is the citizenry’s responsibility to tell legislators what needs to be done in Illinois: a progressive tax rate that 43 other states effectively utilize, a broad-base tax base, an increased taxation on the wealthy, and an end to corporate welfare or extortive tax breaks for corporations instead of an unconstitutional, ruinous “pension reform” bill for public employees and the elimination of needed services for everyone. Both severe measures will do nothing to solve the revenue and pension debt problems in the State of Illinois.

The answer to the title’s question is ram a bill through “and let the courts decide” –House Speaker Michael Madigan.

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