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Good economic news doesn’t let Illinois off financial hook

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Harmon, Hutchinson stress continuing need for fair tax

 

SPRINGFIELD — A surprise uptick in the state’s economy is a positive step forward but two Democratic senators cautioned that it hardly solves all of Illinois’ financial problems and warned colleagues not to be distracted from the tough work ahead.

“Manna from heaven may get us out of the desert, but it will not feed us for years to come,” Senator Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said a Capitol news conference Thursday. “A fair tax is our only option to ensure long-term stability for our state.”

This week, Gov. JB Pritzker announced that a recent economic surge resulted in $1.5 billion coming into the state treasury that had not been expected. Pritzker plans to use the additional revenue to make sure the state fully honors its retirement system payment, which was at risk of being shorted.

Others, however, used the news to suggest Illinois’ problems are solved and the status quo is just fine.

Senator Toi Hutchinson, a Chicago Heights Democrat, said that is hardly the case.

“We have patched one hole in a very leaky boat,” Hutchinson said. “This is the beginning of a very long, hard recovery process.”

Without major structural changes to the tax system, Illinois likely could not school funding goals. And higher education would go back on the budget chopping block after being decimated in recent years.

A nearly three-year budget impasse was finally broken two years ago when Republican lawmakers from university communities joined Democrats to enact a budget over then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto. Their local universities, which employ hundreds, teetered on financial collapse at the time. If the status quo continues, those schools and lawmakers might find themselves in the very same situation.

“What we are talking about is ending the chaos and laying the framework for stability and responsible government in this state,” she said. “For too long, Band-Aids have taken the place of needed structural changes.”

Harmon and Hutchinson want to keep the pressure on colleagues to approve a plan to let voters decide if the state’s nearly 50-year-old tax system should be dumped in favor of a system fairer to working families. The current system has one rate for minimum wage workers and millionaires. The proposed system imposes higher rates on the richest in Illinois. As proposed, 97 percent of Illinois taxpayers would see no increase or a reduction.

Making this change requires amending the Illinois Constitution. Harmon won Senate approval last week of putting that amendment to Illinois voters. It is now awaiting action in the Illinois House.

Hutchinson is the sponsor of an accompanying fair tax rates plan that would take effect if the amendment is approved.