Illinois ranks just 21st among the 50 states in combined per capita state and local government spending.
We’re 18th in the per capita amount of tax money the state collects, 24th in state tax revenue as a percentage of personal income.
I lob out these facts — gleaned from “2018 Illinois National Rankings,” a state-by-state comparison of a variety of fiscal matters issued at the end of last year by the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability — in response to a call from the conservative Illinois Policy Institute think tank for “ ‘fair-tax’ truth bombs.”
The IPI is among those groups that will be campaigning against a graduated-rate state income tax structure between now and Nov. 3, 2020, when voters will be asked whether to amend the Illinois constitution to allow for it.
Shortly after the General Assembly voted Monday to put the question on the ballot, IPI writer Vincent Caruso declared in “Lincoln Lobby,” a private Facebook group to which reporter Mark Maxwell of WCIA-TV Springfield gained access, that “we’re now fighting a propaganda war” and urged his like-minded compatriots to “descend like vultures” into online comment sections dealing with the issue and “drop a barrage of ‘fair-tax’ truth bombs.”
Nothing wrong with the truth. Like the truth that Illinois is in a world of fiscal hurt — a $6.7 billion backlog of unpaid bills, a worst-in-the-nation unfunded public pension liability of roughly $134 billion and worst-in-the-nation credit ratings.
But also the truth that cutting taxes and spending isn’t a realistic or obvious way out of this world of hurt.
“It’s time to stop the madness and cut spending,” tweeted state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, Friday morning, renewing his objection to the Democratic proposal to generate an estimated $3.4 billion a year by raising state income tax rates on the highest earners.
If only it were that easy! If only Illinois were a profligate outlier, levying obscenely high taxes and wasting it on fluffy, do-nothing, easy-to-slash programs, we could surgically tame the budget beast.
Adjusted for population size, Illinois ranks 34th in the nation in public welfare spending, 19th in spending on housing and community development, 15th in spending on elementary and secondary education and 13th in spending on highways, according to the COGFA report.
We rank a bit higher in state and local spending on jails and prisons (12th), police (sixth) and parks and recreation (fifth), but as former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner discovered when he attempted to take the scalpel to state spending, much of the fat has already been trimmed.
Comparing state spending in fiscal year 2000 with state spending in fiscal year 2019 adjusted for inflation, higher education is down 52 percent, human services and public safety are down 26 percent, health care is down 23 percent and net discretionary spending is down 20 percent, according to an analysis by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a liberal Chicago think tank.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found that Illinois ranked 37th in state-only spending per capita in 2017 and 43rd in Medicaid spending per enrollee in 2014, the most recent year available.
When you adjust state spending on current services for gross domestic product — a fair way to compare rich and poor states — Illinois ranks 39th, according to a CTBA analysis of National Association of State Budget Officers and Bureau of Economic Analysis data.
These truth bombs blow up the case that we just need to tighten our belts.
Not to say Illinois is free of waste, fraud and abuse in government. The Democrats, who now dominate the state at every level, should work harder to eliminate duplication and inefficiency, no question.
But our real problem is that, for decades, under Republican as well as Democratic governors, “we have been a very poorly managed state,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a watchdog organization that has taken no position on the graduated income tax amendment proposal.
We haven’t modernized our tax code to account for a shift to the service economy. We’ve created generous public pension systems and then used some of the money that should have been invested in those future obligations to pay for current services.
Yes, veteran Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has been at least complicit in all the irresponsibility. But he had plenty of cooperation from leaders and rank-and-file members of the General Assembly in both parties who grew addicted to the pleasures of paying today’s bills with tomorrow’s money and deferring necessary repairs of roads, bridges and tunnels so that taxpayers of the future could fund them.
Nipping and tucking can’t compensate for these mistakes of the past. We’re already middle of the pack in most regards, with our unusually high local property taxes an artifact of inadequate state funding.
The real truth bomb here is that asking the most successful people in Illinois to pay a greater share of state taxes is a sensible and commonplace part of the solution to the fix we find ourselves in.
Eight contestants tied for first place at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday in Maryland. I’m sad that I know this. I’m sad that ESPN and the media in general continue to celebrate this orthographical memorization contest and don’t instead find a more interesting and academically useful contest to cover like a sporting event.
Allow me to again promote the idea of a vocabulary bee — an event that would require contestants to define and understand the subtleties of unusual words, not simply put their letters in correct order.
Having a large, active vocabulary is far more directly useful in life — in speaking, in writing, in reading — than knowing how to spell such words as erysipelas, aiguillette and pendeloque, which came up during this year’s weird finish.
The winner of this week’s online reader poll for funniest tweet is returning four-time champion @Amishpornstar1 with “Really happy campers stay in hotels.”
To receive an email alert after each new tweet poll is posted, go to chicagotribune.com/newsletters and sign up under Change of Subject. All the cool kids are doing it.
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May 31, 2019 at 04:57PM