Don't extend Illinois' temporary income tax

February 5, 2014 

A recent BND headline posed the question: Will Illinois lawmakers extend the 'temporary' income tax? State Democratic leaders certainly will try. Gov. Pat Quinn argues that Illinois can't get by without that extra tax money. His office predicts the state's deficit would grow to $1.9 billion in 2015 and $4.1 billion in 2016 without it.

But lawmakers shouldn't even be thinking about extending the tax.

There's the credibility issue. They said the tax would be temporary. To go back on their word and make it permanent would be one more political lie, like telling people that lottery money would go to education -- only to move out budgeted money as the lottery winnings moved in.

Beyond that, though, none of the things the temporary tax was going to fix have been fixed. The fiscal restraint that was promised didn't materialize. Instead, the extra tax revenue was an excuse to put off tough decisions like pension reform and spending cuts. When the state got an unexpected revenue windfall last year, state officials immediately spent the money instead of paying down the backlog of bills. At year end those unpaid bills amounted to $7.6 billion.

When Quinn signed the temporary tax bill in 2011, he predicted the tax increase would aid the state's economic recovery: "I really do feel that this reform and restraint will lead to more jobs and economic growth in Illinois."

But Illinois' unemployment rate of 8.6 percent in December was among the highest in the nation, almost 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 6.7 percent.

End the tax in 2015 and give the money back to the taxpayers. It has a better chance of helping the state's economy in the people's hands than it does the politicians'.

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