Illinois is an embarrassment. Those of us who live here are so familiar with corruption, graft, bribe-taking, fraud, and every conceivable variation of illegal, unethical behavior that the deplorable conduct of our public officials is largely taken for granted. We accept that our governors will go to prison, our bureaucrats will be convicted of bribe-taking, and that our precious tax dollars will be misspent, overspent, and forever insufficient to slake the thirst of greedy, irresponsible state and local politicians.
While our last governor awaits retrial on corruption charges, and his predecessor petitions the president for an early release from prison, a new insult was perpetrated on Illinois’ taxpayers. Those living in other states with budget shortfalls should pay close attention to what just happened here, because these things have a way of catching on.
State legislators kicked off 2011 by punishing Illinois taxpayers with a 67% personal income tax hike, and a 46% business tax bump that will send employers scurrying for less enterprise-hostile states. Illinois’ fiscal chasm is estimated to be as high as $15 billion, a good deal of it due to the state’s hideously lavish and deplorably underfunded public pension system.
Politicians who hopped on the tax-hike train benefit hugely from an increase that helps to fund their own pensions, which are considerably more generous than the already munificent benefits paid to the state’s rank and file employees. Lawmakers feast on retirement benefits as high as 85% of their final salaries, with guaranteed 3% annual increases.
If residents of other states believe they are insulated from paying for Illinois’, or any other state’s budget problems, they are wrong. Stimulus funds flowed to the states from the Recovery Act and subsequent federal spending bills. Taxpayers paid taxes to their home states, and also paid Washington to support the federal effort to keep states like Illinois afloat. Democratic legislators were oblivious to the stress placed on taxpayers, and Illinois’ representatives on Capitol Hill led the pack. Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Luis Gutierrez were fervent advocates of the DREAM Act, refusing to acknowledge that the bill would force already-burdened citizens to fund the surge in subsidized public college attendance that would result had the amnesty initiative been approved.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has promised that the tax hike is temporary, and will vanish like a bad dream after four years. “Temporary” and “tax increase” are not words that go well together. Given that the hike only funds a portion of the state’s indebtedness, there will be nothing temporary about this, or any subsequent increase. Wise residents will be gone long before the four-year mark, and business owners should already be packing their bags and forwarding the phones. Unless you are a legislator or a public employee, Illinois is no place to live, work, or conduct a business. Get out while you still have the means.