Leave it to Gov. Pat Quinn to tout a “guaranteed $500 property tax refund” for “every homeowner in Illinois” without mentioning that it’s actually a tax increase for some of those homeowners.
Quinn makes it difficult to be in his corner sometimes.
The governor proposed the property tax refund Wednesday as the sweetener to help Illinoisans swallow his decision to make permanent the “temporary” income tax hike he signed into law in 2011.
If the Legislature goes along, Quinn plans to start sending out the $500 checks this summer so that voters might feel a little more kindly toward him when they step into the voting booth this November.
Transparency in government is very popular these days, and that’s about as transparent as it gets.
While you’re busy spending your $500, however, you ought to keep in mind that the refund replaces the 5 percent property tax credit that Illinois homeowners now receive on their income tax return.
The average credit currently is $247, says the Quinn administration, which equates to a net gain to a taxpayer of $253 after trading off the credit for the refund. Your net gain will be more or less than that, depending on how much you pay in property taxes.
Quinn didn’t really make that clear, just as he failed to mention altogether that for anyone who currently pays more than $10,000 a year in property taxes, his plan will result in a net tax increase.
The governor’s office says that will affect fewer than 10 percent of Illinois homeowners, which sounds about right, but I’m pretty sure nearly all of them live in the high-tax Chicago metro area.
Full disclosure: I’m one of the people who actually will pay more taxes under Quinn’s plan, because I have a nice home in a community that invests heavily in its schools.
Despite my sour grapes, I don’t really begrudge the state the extra hundred bucks or so a year. It’s just that when a guy starts off a speech as Quinn did by saying, “I will be forthright and specific with you,” he should make a better effort to follow through.
I don’t even quarrel with Quinn’s decision to keep the income tax increase in effect, although I find it hard to explain why he had to wait until this late date to be “forthright and specific” with the people of Illinois about the necessity of doing so.
That’s the trap Quinn and Democratic legislators laid for themselves in 2011 when they made the income tax increase temporary, especially after Quinn campaigned on the basis he supported a tax increase half as large as what was enacted.
The Democrats can argue until the cows come home that they’re not breaking any promise, but they kept pretending until now they might allow the tax increase to lapse.
In the years since, Quinn and company have made major improvements in state government finances — cutting its backlog of unpaid bills almost in half, closing facilities and trimming the payroll, reducing the state’s pension liability, and making the pension payments on time.
But as Quinn now admits, the state still needs the revenue and ought to be channeling more of it to schools as originally intended, although as the property tax refund implies, maybe it doesn’t need all of the money.
Still, Quinn is being way more honest than his Republican opponent Bruce Rauner, who claims he can roll back the income tax increase and still boost funding for education with a vague plan to grow the economy while restructuring government.
For all of you out there singing Rauner’s praises, get back to me when he tells you exactly how he intends to perform this miracle.
That said, it was disappointing Quinn didn’t do more in his budget to improve the perception Illinois is bad for business, if only to hush up our friends at the Chicago Tribune.
House Speaker Mike Madigan’s proposal to cut the corporate income tax in half might not be the best approach, but I believe Madigan was correct Wednesday when he said that any tax legislation this year should do something to help business.
The state’s 8.7 percent unemployment rate, second worst in the nation, demands some acknowledgement beyond Quinn’s promise of tax cuts to businesses for job training.
Illinois may indeed be on the comeback trail, as Quinn maintains, but it sure wouldn’t hurt anything to make a little better show of hurrying it along.