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Brown: Tax rollback saved millions for wealthy, but could cost Jimmie Yarbrough much more

I’m sure many Illinois taxpayers were grateful for the extra money in their paychecks when the state income tax rolled back to 3.75 percent from 5 percent on Jan. 1.

Or just as likely, they didn’t notice at all.

That additional 1.25 percent of salary may not look like much in weekly increments, but the $4 billion combined that the tax produced annually for the state’s coffers paid for a lot of stuff.

Now that it’s gone, Jimmie Yarbrough is one of the people who stand to get hurt.

OPINION

Yarbrough, 53, suffers from a degenerative spinal condition that requires him to use a wheelchair and for a time left him unable to use his legs at all.

Until 2011, Yarbrough’s disability forced him to live in a nursing home for four years because of the difficulties he faced in caring for himself.

That’s when he was able to find an apartment in Austin where he could live independently with the help of a personal assistant sent to his home for a few hours each day through the state’s Home Services program.

Some 30,000 disabled individuals in Illinois now benefit from that program.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing to eliminate services to 10,000 of them, including Yarbrough, as part of his plan to close a $6 billion state budget deficit.

It’s just one of many such cuts sought by Rauner to deal with the shortfall created in large part by the state’s decision to forego the $4 billion from the temporary income tax increase.

Rather than deliver services more efficiently as I’m sure many voters envisioned, Rauner’s solution to the state’s budget woes has been to just not deliver the services.

The new governor bears no direct responsibility for the failure to extend the income tax increase, although he had as much to do with it as anybody.

Rauner wasn’t even elected last year when the Democrat-led General Assembly allowed the temporary tax hike to lapse, lawmakers chickening out in the face of the Republican candidate’s withering campaign attacks on Pat Quinn over the income tax increase.

Above all else, legislators value self-preservation, and the mere threat of Rauner using his millions to oust them was enough to convince them the wiser choice was to give up the income tax revenue and live to fight another day.

The sad part is that most of them knew that, despite all the rhetoric about cutting the fat out of state government, it would be people such as Jimmie Yarbrough who would bear the brunt of their decision.

Yarbrough is more fortunate than many who stand to lose the help they receive from this program. He can bathe and dress himself.

But Yarbrough relies on his personal assistant for cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping.

Without that help, he expects it will be a struggle to continue to live on his own.

The state projects it will save $110 million a year by cutting out this service for the one-third who least need it, as measured by a test that gauges their level of disability.

That amounts to an average savings of $11,000 a person. According to the state’s own calculations, it will cost taxpayers more than $34,000 a year if these same individuals are forced to move into a nursing home.

“It only makes sense to keep me in my home,” says Yarbrough, who says he’s scared by the prospect of returning to a nursing home.

A lot of you don’t want to hear this, but it’s time to start talking about raising taxes again.

When the temporary income tax lapsed, more than 20 percent of the tax savings went to the 1 percent of state taxpayers with incomes greater than $500,000. You may recall that based on his most recent returns, the tax cut will save Rauner more than $1 million a year personally.

If not the income tax, then let’s look at the sales tax on services that Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have mentioned.

In the end, it’s not Rauner’s responsibility to look out for the Jimmie Yarbroughs of the world. It’s ours.