By Mark Brown
Even as they brace for state budget cuts that could hit this week, social service and community organizations met Monday to jump start grassroots support for longer-range revenue solutions.
Organizers conceded that their “progressive revenue platform” calling for higher income taxes on the wealthy and corporations has little chance for resolving the current budget crisis in Springfield.
But they said Wednesday’s looming state shutdown has created an opportunity to build support for a smarter, more equitable tax system in Illinois that could avoid such crises in the future.
“Reform is needed, but it’s not the reform the governor is talking about,” said John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law.
On that much, at least, I found myself in agreement with this left-leaning bunch, which is backed by labor unions and was joined by a smattering of public officials.
At the heart of the matter is whether Illinois government generates enough tax revenue to support the services that the public expects it to provide.
Conservatives say it does, and that the problem is a matter of overspending, not a shortage of revenue.
If that’s the case, and I’m as inclined as most to believe there is fat in the government, then why has Rauner targeted so many of his cuts at individuals who are clearly in need of the services he proposes to withhold?
Those pushing Monday for a “People’s Budget Plan” are hoping the public will soon awake to the problems inherent with Rauner holding the needy hostage so that he can prevail on his anti-union, pro-business agenda.
“You’re playing a dangerous game here,” Bouman warned leaders in Springfield. “There are lives at stake here.”
A similar message was directed at Mayor Rahm Emanuel with financial problems at the city and Chicago Public Schools also coming home to roost.
“You’re not going to able to cut your way out of this challenge,” warned Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.
Rauner and Emanuel would probably say you can’t tax your way out of it either.
Ed Shurna, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said the answer is for Illinois to “make the rich pay their fair share.”
That could either take the form of a millionaire’s tax, which I am on record as opposing, or a graduated income tax similar to the federal government, which makes a lot more sense.
Illinois has a flat tax on income, currently 3.75 percent on individuals, down from 5 percent last year.
Switching to a graduated income tax with higher rates for individuals with more income would require a state constitutional amendment, which is why that can’t be used as a solution to the state’s immediate problems.
How about another temporary income tax increase that would sunset in time for Rauner to still be able to control the tax overhaul on which he campaigned but has since forgotten?
Rauner has even voiced support for one of the items proposed Monday: a tax on “luxury” services, although the governor and the liberals would undoubtedly have different ideas of what should be taxed.
In his own brief trip to the podium Monday, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who lost to Emanuel in the mayor’s race, said the state Legislature should also empower local governments to enact their own local income tax.
That wasn’t part of the group’s official revenue platform. Instead, it opted for a commuter tax on suburbanites who work in the city.
I’m sure all this seems completely tone deaf to those who voted Rauner into office just last November and support his agenda.
Perhaps, but at some point soon if these budget cuts are allowed to go forward as planned, the worm is going to turn and somebody else is going to be on the offensive.