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Our View: One more tax hike to ditch

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 9:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 2, 2014 9:43 p.m. CDT

We’re very thankful that two ill-conceived, job-killing tax hike schemes died in the General Assembly in recent weeks.

That’s two down, and one – making the 67 percent temporary income tax increase permanent – to go.

House Speaker Michael Madigan pulled his proposed constitutional amendment for a “millionaire tax,” because he did not have the three-fifths majority needed to put it on the Nov. 4 ballot. And an effort to amend the Illinois Constitution to switch from a flat tax to a progressive tax based on income stalled in the Senate, because Madigan could not deliver the 71 votes needed in the House.

Illinois caught a break for once. Taxpayers and businesses already are struggling in a state that is toxic to both. The state’s anemic economy and recent polls expressing the depth of Illinois residents’ disgust and desire to leave speak volumes.

Allowing our spendthrift state lawmakers to jack up taxes to whatever rates they see fit would further drive businesses and taxpayers out of the state. It would make attracting talented people to take jobs in Illinois more difficult. It would be yet another poison pill for a state with the third-highest unemployment and the worst credit rating in the nation, and the worst projected 2014 job growth rate. And, of course, the second-highest rate of people moving elsewhere.

Lawmakers who supported a progressive tax claimed that the vast majority of state residents would see a lower tax rate. But aside from the fact that our state lawmakers can’t be trusted to keep their word – we’ll get to that in a minute – the claim was garbage.

The tax rate proposal sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, would have set the tax rate at 4.9 percent, a whopping tenth of a percentage point less than the current rate, for people making between $12,501 and $180,000. But that “savings” is based on the 5 percent rate people have been paying since January 2011 when Democratic lawmakers raised the flat rate 67 percent, taking away an average of another week’s pay from every state taxpayer.

This is where lawmakers keeping their word comes in. That 5 percent rate is supposed to sunset Jan. 1 to 3.75 percent for individuals and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for businesses. That promise was codified in the law that Gov. Pat Quinn signed.

Of course, Quinn and the other Democratic leaders who repeatedly promised that the tax hike would expire as promised are now crying poor and asking that the tax be made permanent, lest Illinois suffer financial and societal Armageddon.

This is merely the latest in a string of broken promises regarding the tax hike. Quinn promised during his 2010 campaign that he would veto any tax increase greater than 33 percent, and then signed the 67 percent increase. Lawmakers also promised that the tax increase would pay down the state’s shameful backlog of unpaid bills. It did not – almost all of it was swallowed by the state’s ballooning public pension obligations.

State lawmakers have until the end of session May 31 if they want to make the increase permanent by simple majority. After that, the number of votes needed leaps to three-fifths until Jan. 1. Or lawmakers can pull the same trick they did three years ago – wait until after the election and increase it by simple majority in the January lame-duck session. That’s how six outgoing state lawmakers – including two who campaigned against a tax hike and then voted “yes” – ended up with cushy government jobs.

It’s become apparent that it’s too much to ask for state government to live within its means. But is it too much to ask for state lawmakers to keep a promise made to taxpayers? Just this once?

Even if it was a hollow promise that Quinn and Co. never had any intention of honoring?

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