SPRINGFIELD — Republican members of the Illinois House reaffirmed their opposition to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated tax proposal Tuesday, calling it a “blank check” to lawmakers and citing “empty promises” from Democrats in previous General Assemblies.
State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, read from statements made by state Senate President John Cullerton and House Majority Leader Greg Harris, both Chicago Democrats, and other Democrats from years past in which they said previous tax hikes would balance the state’s structural deficit, help pay down the state’s bill backlog and pension debt, raise credit ratings and more.
Batinick said none of those claims have become reality.
“Our Democratic colleagues love to make promises that if it's just ‘raise this tax or that tax, our problems will be solved,’” Batinick said. “But in reality, it just gives them more money to spend without actually fixing what got us here in the first place.”
Batinick brought up two votes to raise the income tax: one which took place in 2011 and raised the flat tax rate to 5 percent temporarily for four years, and one which passed in 2017 with bipartisan support, raising the rate to 4.95 percent after it reverted to 3.75 percent upon expiration of the temporary tax.
According to an Illinois comptroller's report, the bill backlog was $7.4 billion when the temporary tax was passed in 2011. When it expired in 2015, the backlog was $5 billion.
During the two years between the 2015 expiration of the temporary hike and the 2017 permanent increase, the backlog tripled to $15 billion during a time when the state government operated without a budget. As of Tuesday, the comptroller’s website shows the backlog at $7.8 billion.
Democrats said last week that if a graduated tax amendment failed to pass, the state’s other two options for balancing the budget are 15 percent cuts across the board or an increase to the flat tax for every Illinoisan from 4.95 percent to 6.95 percent.
Batinick said he did not know if Democrats, who hold the governor’s office and supermajorities in each chamber, would prioritize raising the flat tax rate should the graduated tax fail.
And when asked Tuesday to name three cuts to state government that Republicans would support, state Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said the conversation has to “go beyond cuts.”
He cited former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ handling of his state’s agency expenditures in a “programmatic approach of looking at each agency on a scale of individualized metrics so that they could not only refine what they do in alignment with the mission created for them, but that they could do it in a more effective and efficient manner.”
The group mentioned a bill from state Rep. Steve Reick, a Woodstock Republican, which would create private-sector commission mirroring Daniels’ approach to examine the spending habits and management practices of state agencies.
That commission would give recommendations to lawmakers to spend more efficiently, but would be a 501(c)4 organization which would not have to release any information about its donors. The bill remains in committee.