Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., June 8, 9 or 10
The Republican governor in January said the state’s financial condition requires “shared sacrifice,” but thus far his ballyhooed “turnaround agenda” piles the sacrifices on everyday Illinoisans.
That pro-business, anti-union plan would create zones for “right to work” (for less), limit damages in successful civil lawsuits, freeze property taxes, let taxpayer-funded construction projects undercut workers by paying less than counties’ prevailing wages, weaken workers’ compensation, etc., all resulting in lowering wages, hurting local communities and school districts, and punishing the victims of job injuries or wrongdoing just to help corporations’ profits.
However, with a $3 billion budget hole, sacrifices may be needed.
So: who, what, when, where, why and how?
I’m willing to give up some income, specifically by means of a new tax on my fixed income. Illinois is one of 12 states that don’t tax retirement income, which reportedly costs Illinois about $2 billion a year. It could be changed by the legislature without a constitutional amendment or court fight.
I’m ready, if not eager, to share some of the burden. It would be costly and inconvenient, but it makes more sense than the harmful cutbacks to schools or municipalities, public safety or roads, or the disadvantaged among us.
But that’s what Rauner proposed last week.
Effective July 1 – unless the General Assembly approves his onerous agenda – Rauner wants impose new income limits on the Department of Aging's Community Care program (which enables seniors to get services in their homes instead of moving to nursing homes); suspend the State Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (helping 400,000 people with energy bills); institute “background checks” for family members providing child care to relatives; close five state museums to visitors; trim nursing-home reimbursements; close one or two juvenile corrections facilities, freeze admission to state-assisted child-care programs and hike parents’ co-pays, possibly shutting down some state agencies, plus other actions targeting the poor or politically weak.
“What he's done [to lawmakers] is he's put them in a headlock, put a gun to their head and said, ‘Hey, if I don't get these reforms that have nothing to do with the state budget, the kid gets it!’ That's not right,” said Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “These are things that should be offensive to many of us, not just in labor.”
Of course, regular people might be willing to sacrifice, or sacrifice more, if the “shared” part was evident, such as the “millionaires tax” voters endorsed in November, or with powerful businesses stepping up as much as ordinary working people, kids with autism, the elderly, prisoners, unions, the disabled, parents who need child care so they can work, the poor…
And what’s the true nature of the state’s financial situation? Is it a genuine emergency or is it a problem created by legislators and governors (Democrats and Republicans) who also could address the mess by raising taxes or closing loopholes or subsidies that benefit Big Business? (Further, Rauner has yet to even propose a budget beyond talking points from February, when he suggested cutting higher education, mass transit, Medicaid and local governments while relying on “savings” of $2 billion from the pension reform he conceded was unconstitutional, and by violating federal and state law, collective bargaining agreements and consent decrees. At least the General Assembly proposed a budget and suggested raising revenues through new fees, surcharges or taxes to make up the shortfall.)
“I find it absolutely stunning that we can talk in the same sentence about turning around a state in terms of our economy and pulling out from under working families one of the most important and essential work supports that they must have to do their jobs,” Illinois Action for Children CEO Maria Whelan told the Chicago Tribune, discussing cuts to child care.
So, again, what are you, personally, willing to contribute? Pay? Assistance? Safe streets – or bridges?
And what do you insist would be appropriate, reciprocal sacrifices by the rich and powerful?
I’ll go first: Tax my fixed income, and raise taxes on those easily able to pay more.
[PICTURED: Illustration from knowyourmeme.com.]