There were some glaring contradictions in Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget speech in Springfield on Wednesday.
Quinn talked about Illinois being in a stronger position now than five years ago, despite an 8.7 percent unemployment rate, 13 reductions in the state’s credit rating, and interest payments on unpaid obligations at an all-time high at $318 million a year.
He touted reforms to the state’s pension and worker’s compensation systems, even though those measures have not solved either problem.
And despite closing his speech by urging legislators to “make the will of the people the law of the land,” Quinn advocated for making the unpopular 2011 income-tax increase permanent.
That last one is the one most likely to haunt the governor through his 2014 re-election campaign. Should he win re-election, it likely will haunt taxpayers for many years to come.
When it comes to the income tax, Quinn has a history of making and then breaking promises. On the campaign trail in 2010, he promised to veto any increase that raised the state’s income tax on individuals above 4 percent. When legislators passed a 66 percent hike that increase rates to 5 percent, Quinn signed off.
The increase was supposed to be temporary, with the individual tax rate set to fall to 3.75 percent in January. Despite all the “hard choices” Quinn said he and other state leaders have made in recent years, and despite the language they themselves put into the law, they clearly made no preparations for the tax to be rolled back.
If they had, Quinn’s speech Wednesday would not have promised the cut would pose such tremendous hardship on people including teachers, seniors, veterans, and domestic violence and rape victims.
Quinn mentioned the tax increase only briefly, saying he would “maintain current income tax rates.” He much preferred to tout a new plan to send a $500 property tax rebate to every homeowner in Illinois, which he mentioned three times.
On one hand, it’s hard to argue with property tax relief. It is sorely needed in our communities. Some groups, including lower-income families and senior citizens, could benefit almost as much or more from a property tax giveback as they would from reducing the income tax rate.
It’s not clear how the state can claim to “rebate” property taxes when it doesn’t collect property tax, and the public has good reason to suspect that Quinn’s rebate program will be “permanent” the same way his tax increase was “temporary.”
In politics, Quinn has generally sought to appeal to the interests of the “common man” above all. But state government is collecting more money than at any time in its history and is still suffering from credit downgrades, high unemployment, a bill backlog of more than $7 billion and unfunded pension liabilities of about $100 billion.
That makes it clear that the problem is with spending, and the people managing it. No amount of property-tax givebacks can fix that. Only elections can.