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Poll shows big opposition to making income tax hike permanent

A strong majority of Illinoisans oppose extending the temporary income tax hike that lawmakers passed in 2011 and that is due to lapse in January, a new poll released Monday shows.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute survey showing that 60 percent of those polled favor rolling back the tax comes as Gov. Pat Quinn plans to deliver his 2015 budget address Wednesday. Nearly 27 percent favored making the tax hike permanent.

The governor, who has repeatedly refused to say whether he favors making the tax hike permanent or letting it sunset, will have to give some indication since the amount of revenue the state can spend next year hinges directly on that question.

“It has long been recognized that Illinois has an antiquated tax system which fails to raise enough revenue to support the programs and services that everyone in the state relies on daily, while the public resists significant changes to the revenue system,” said SIU political science professor John Jackson, who helped direct the new poll.

“This contradiction has produced the state’s structural budget deficit, which has proved to be very difficult for political leaders to address,” he said.

The poll of 1,001 registered voters was taken between Feb. 12 and 25 and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

In January 2011, state lawmakers and Quinn aimed to take care of a multibillion-dollar backlog of unpaid state bills and pension payments by increasing the 3-percent state income tax on individuals to 5 percent and from 4.8 percent to 7 percent for corporations.

Under that law, the increases automatically are scheduled to begin rolling back in January to 3.75 percent for individuals and 5.25 percent for corporations unless lawmakers act to make the increases permanent.

The SIU poll found that while a majority of Illinoisans favor letting the income tax rates slide, one revenue source emerged as a potential revenue replacement: gambling.

Nearly 53 percent of those surveyed said they would support gambling expansion, compared to roughly 44 percent who says they oppose more casinos in the state, the poll found.

An overwhelming majority of 79 percent oppose raising the state sales tax.

The next most popular revenue alternative to the income tax was extending the state sales tax to include goods and services not taxed. Nearly 44 percent favored that option, while 53 percent were opposed, the poll found.

And taxing retirement income, as one government watchdog group – the Civic Federation – proposed recently, was opposed by 72 percent of those surveyed.

However, the numbers shifted when pollsters questioned respondents about applying a retirement tax to those earning $50,000 or more during their golden years. Nearly 43 percent approved of that concept, while 50 percent were opposed, the poll found.

And while Republicans and the GOP’s nominee for governor, Bruce Rauner, have advocated making cuts in state spending, the poll found consistent opposition from voters.

Only 18 percent favored cutting spending on elementary and secondary education; 37 percent favored university cuts; 24 percent favored public-safety cuts; 31 percent favored cutting spending on natural resources; 26 percent favored cutting benefits to poor people; and 15 percent favored cuts to the disabled.

“Overall, these results point to a basic incongruity in public opinion,” Jackson said. “People want and support a wide range of public programs and services. When a serious proposal emerges to reduce or eliminate a specific program, the clients and interest groups associated with it mount a vigorous defense and point out the program’s usefulness, and the public generally agrees.”