One of the clichés of politics is that candidates campaign in poetry and govern in prose. That means they forget about a lot of what they said before being elected.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised during last year's campaign that he was going to look out for the little guys, providing tax cuts for the middle class as well as those striving to join the middle class.
But that was then, and this is now.
If and when Pritzker signs all the bills passed in the final whirlwind days of the recent legislative session, he'll have instituted 21 new taxes that will raise an estimated $4.7 billion a year.
Most of that new revenue will be paid by middle-income earners for a very simple reason - middle-income earners vastly outnumber those at the high and low ends of the income scale. Just as the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton explained that he robbed banks because "that's where the money is," Pritzker is tapping the largest segment of taxpayers because that's where the money is.
Pritzker's list of tax increases is impressive. It would have been even more impressive if the Legislature had not rejected other tax hikes he proposed. They include the 5-cent statewide tax on plastic bags (estimated revenue ranging from $19 million to $23 million), a statewide $1-per-ride fee on ride-hailing services ($214 million), a 7 percent tax on streaming services like Netflix ($150 million) and higher taxes on beer, wine and liquor ($120 million).
At the same time, the Legislature adopted tax increases that Pritzker did not propose. They include a $100 increase in vehicle-registration fees for large trucks, a higher sales tax for remote online retailers, a new sales tax for the online marketplace and higher taxes on slot-machine gambling.
Pritzker needs the additional revenue to pay for his $40.6 billion budget that takes effect July 1. But this taxing orgy is bigger than that.
Illinois residents are paying, at least in part, for years of fiscal mismanagement that has reduced the state to effective bankruptcy - budget deficits, underfunded pensions, unpaid bills.
The state now routinely uses borrowed money to pay a portion of its debts.
Does anyone care?
Taxpayers appear confused, bewildered or largely unaware of the tawdry details. Our elected officials seem content to preside over this epic financial disaster if their questionable maneuvers can get them past the next election.
Meanwhile, Pritzker is hoping to pass a progressive-income-tax amendment in the November 2020 election that will give him and legislators the authority to raise income tax revenues by imposing multiple tax rates on rising levels of income. He promises to only tax the rich. But he said that before, and it's pretty clear he was less than forthright.
What's striking about all this taxation and planned taxation is that:
- It comes in the face of no policy changes that would eliminate programs or reduce the cost of government.
- It doesn't raise nearly enough revenue to pay for Pritzker's ambitious spending plans.
What's equally clear is, under the current governor and Legislature, the state is politically committed to an ambitious, hugely costly expansion of state government. What Illinois saw in this last legislative session represents a good start to the Pritzker agenda but unfortunately barely scratches the surface of what he wants to levy in taxes and spend on government programs.
So what's past has become prologue.
Illinois has refused for years to put its financial house in order. Now it's doubling down on that approach, seemingly intent on spending its way out of debt and into prosperity.
– The (Champaign) News-Gazette