Smile Politely

The nooks and crannies of the Illinois State Budget

I realize that not everyone’s idea of a good time is to hear about a Town Hall Meeting about the Illinois State Budget that was held at the Champaign Public Library on April 27th. So while you’re sitting there hemming and hawing about whether or not you should keep reading, let me give you a quick (and surprisingly interesting) overview on what the meeting was about.

The meeting was hosted by Representative Carol Ammons and presented by Ralph Martire, Executive Director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability that was formed in 2000 as a bipartisan, nonprofit research think tank to across ideological lines to promote social and economic justice for everyone. The Illinois Budget Meeting was just was the title says. It was a meeting to inform community members about what Governor Rauner’s proposed plan really says, the facts of Illinois current financial crises, and possible solutions to address that crisis. 

Alright, so if you’re still here after the words tax and budget, I think we’re in pretty good shape, so let’s get to it. 

Illinois’ currently has a carry-over deficit of $6.6 billion, in addition to a $4.7 billion dollar loss in recurring annual revenue, which adds up to a jaw-dropping amount of an $11.3 billion dollar debt. OK, just breathe through that number and you’ll be fine. It’s because of this outrageous number that Governor Rauner has proposed such steep cuts; however many of the things he has suggested will not pass because they’re not politically viable, and luckily for many of us, negotiations about the amount in spending cuts are still underway. 

One of the most interesting things I learned at this meeting is despite popular belief, spending in Illinois had in fact decreased from 2009-2015, from $27.5 billion to $25 billion. I know, I was surprised too.  But if spending’s going down, than where is this debt coming from? The two main problems that Illinois faces is an inadequate tax revenue, and the major debt owed to the pension system. This doubly burdens the system by having a lack of funds from taxes to start filling in those gaps, and the state’s constant reliance on using pensions to subsidize delivery services that lacked the necessary funds to continue.

So we need to one, fix the tax inadequacy, and two pay back the debt that is owed to the pension system so we can start putting revenue to the most important services. 
If you’ve read a few of my other articles, particularly the one where I solely focus on the possible impacts on higher education, than bear with me for the next few minutes. Please read this next sentence, and let it sink in for a few seconds: Illinois ranks 50th out of 50 states in portion of education funding covered by the state.

I don’t know how to stress enough how wrong I think this is. Education is, often, a large factor in someone’s life that decides whether they’ll work for the $20,000 a year paying job, or the $80,000 a year job. And the concept that the more uneducated you are, the more likely you’ll have higher unemployment rates, the more likely you’ll live in poverty, and the connection that has to the health of the state, is not something we need to write in the sky to understand. 

To end on a more positive note, (sorry it got a little bleak) I’d like to re-iterate what Mr. Martire said we need to do to fix all of the fiscal problems that, thankfully, most certainly can be done. First, we need to fix our payment schedule to the pension system. Second, expand the sales tax. Third, raise income taxes, and fourth tax retirement funds. I recognize the last two sound a bit scary, but should you be a retiree who makes $50,000 a year or less, than you are not included in that tax. And as it was explained, raising income taxes would actually be a whole lot more kind since the state would not rely on property taxes as their main source of tax income.  This shift would then give individual’s flexibility in the amount of taxes they owe in proportion to the amount that they work. 

While taxes and budget cuts and pensions are usually what make everyone groan and go to sleep, it is very important that we are all taking a serious approach to the discussions that are going on in Springfield over the next few months. Major decisions that will impact all of us, our friends, family, coworkers, are taking place.  That makes it vital now more than ever before for every single one of us to be informed, and understand just what is being proposed, and what its potential effects are so we can protest the various legislation we don’t agree with. 

Should we not do this, and in a few years if what was decided and implemented go against everything we wanted, then hindsight is going to be a very cold comfort.

Related Articles