Another Illinois legislative session is winding down. So too is another fiscal year when state lawmakers refuse to do the difficult work necessary to right the state's fiscal ship.
With barely a week remaining until the May 31 deadline to pass a budget through a simple majority, there's been no movement on addressing the out-of-control spending that's driving Illinois' dire financial situation.
The tax burden on Illinoisans is not new information. The state owes billions of dollars in unpaid bills. The state's pension systems are underfunded by at least $134 billion. To be clear here, Illinois residents already are paying higher taxes than other states, and the taxes they pay do not cover the obligations that the state has undertaken.
Despite the high levels of taxation, there's been plenty of movement in the legislature on a host of tax-increase proposals that would further place the burden of politicians' poor policy decisions on the state's hard-working, middle-class families – and further prompt more taxpayers to flee Illinois.
High taxes are in part responsible for five consecutive years of declining population in the Land of Lincoln – a trend that places an additional burden on those who remain.
That fact isn't stopping Gov. J.B. Pritzker from pushing to change the state's constitution to allow for a progressive income tax with significantly higher rates on higher wage earners. That effort is a House vote away from going to voters in November 2020.
And the governor's $41.5 billion capital projects bill would be paid for by doubling the state's gas tax, nearly doubling vehicle registration fees, increasing taxes on beer, liquor, wine and cigarettes, and creating a new tax on streaming services.
Illinoisans pay the second-highest property taxes in the country and among the highest combined local and state sales taxes. Doubling the state's gas tax would increase the cost of fuel by another 19 cents per gallon and make it among the highest in the country, as well.
"It’s a tax massacre. It’s a massacre of the taxpayers in the state," state Rep. David McSweeney said. "It would be an absolute disaster."
McSweeney has been a champion for state taxpayers since first elected in 2012. The Barrington Hills Republican faces a tough task pushing back against a state legislature where the majority prefers more spending and higher taxes.
"We need pension reform. We need Medicaid reform," McSweeney said. "We need to cut expenses. But, instead, the only thing being talked about down in Springfield is more spending."
McSweeney supports a constitutional amendment to end the annual, compounded 3 percent cost of living increases that public retirees receive each year. The annual COLA hikes are above the rate of inflation, and they have contributed to the state's massive pension liability.
About 25 percent of state tax dollars pay for the pension and health care costs of state retirees, the highest ratio in the U.S. That leaves fewer dollars for vital government services.
Another 19 percent of state tax dollars pay for Medicaid costs in the state. McSweeney says Illinois should complete a private audit of the system to eliminate waste and fraud, as well as tighten up eligibility.
"Anybody below 175 percent of the poverty level should stay in the system," he said. But the state should limit eligibility for those above 175 percent, he added.
With barely a week left until the session concludes, lawmakers again will approve no meaningful spending reforms.
Instead, taxpayers will be forced to tighten their belts even further or consider doing what hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans already have done over the past several years – look for greener pastures elsewhere.