I really wanted to congratulate Democrats in the Illinois Senate for passing a budget, simply because for two years everyone else has failed to do anything as the bills have continued to pile up.
There’s $140 billion owed to the state’s pension systems and $14 billion in other unpaid bills on the comptroller’s desk in Springfield.
So when I heard the Senate had passed a budget that would generate an estimated $5.4 billion in new tax revenue, while cutting more than $3 billion in spending, I was pretty excited. I figured with all of that new money at long last the state was going to pick up its fair share of the public education bill.
You see, the state government pays only 26 percent of the education tab. That’s why property taxes in Illinois are the highest in the nation, something Gov. Bruce Rauner mentions all the time. Rauner keeps on saying he wants to freeze property taxes, but never mentions that the reason property taxes are high is that this state has cheated its school children.
In fact, right after the Senate passed its budget bill, the governor said he would never sign the thing unless it included a property tax freeze.
That’s the same bill that included an income tax hike to 4.9 percent from 3.2 percent, a corporate income tax increase (to 7 percent from 5.25 percent), a new 5 percent tax on satellite TV, a 1 percent tax on streaming services such as Netflix, and an expansion of the sales tax to things like nail salons.
Yet, the governor’s biggest problem with the legislation is that it did not include a property tax freeze.
I understand most people want to hear that sort of talk. I understand you don’t want to hear anything about tax increases.
Rauner campaigned against the 5 percent state income tax the Democrats put in place before he was elected, but he’s also acknowledged this state can’t solve its massive financial problems without a tax hike of some sort.
“We’re spending $11 million a day in money we don’t have right now,” said Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields. “If we don’t pass a budget this spring (the state has not passed a budget in two years), we will be spending $22 million a day we don’t have.”
Hutchinson, the chief sponsor of the Senate’s budget bill, said people are calling her “trash,” vowing to never vote for her, or promising to actively campaign against her.
“I don’t care what they say because the children of this state need pre-school programs, they need after school programs, we need to provide single parents with day-care and fund our social service programs,” Hutchinson said. “I did what I knew was right.”
She noted that if the governor’s only problem with the bill is a property tax freeze, the state Legislature can still address that issue.
What she did not say is that property taxes are high because this state does not sufficiently fund public education and has not done its share for 30 years.
But the Senate’s budget bill, the one with the $5.4 billion in new revenue, would set aside less than 7 percent of that (about $330 million in new money) for education.
“This state is hemorrhaging money so bad we have to stabilize the situation before we can do anything else,” Hutchinson said. “We simply can’t afford to wait any longer.”
I get that. But if the state is going to freeze property taxes and fail to adequately fund education once again, it’s more of the old flimflam game.
Whether its pension debt or education funding, it’s time to solve the problem and stop kicking the can down the road.