With a month until the deadline to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, this session of the Illinois Legislature has entered a critical stage.
The Democrat-controlled House and Senate will be looking to find more money in order to bring Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $39 billion budget proposal into balance.
The state will need to raise about $1 billion in additional revenue in a year that Pritzker has characterized as a bridge to 2020, when he hopes that voters will approve his proposal for a new graduated income tax.
Some of these plans to transfer money from people to the government seem almost certain to become law, increasing taxes and fees paid by consumers for years to come.
Among those that could directly affect average people include a 5-cent tax on plastic bags retailers give to consumers, a proposal to add a 36% tax on the wholesale price of e-cigarettes and a 32-cent a pack increase on cigarettes. There are proposals to increase the tax on video gambling terminals, as well as proposals to generate hundreds of millions through legalization of sports gambling and recreational marijuana use for adults older than 21.
Not all of these proposals are wrongheaded. However, taken together, they add to the recurring theme of state government treating the public like an ATM.
Instead of simply looking for more money, it would be encouraging to see plans to grow jobs, stimulate economic activity or help make Illinois more competitive with its neighbors.
Growing the state’s economy is a great way to increase the revenue the state collects, and it would slow Illinois’ continuing population loss, which each year leaves fewer people to shoulder the burden.
Instead, lawmakers will be asked to institute taxes and fees that will be with us for years to come in order to meet an immediate need.
Even if Pritzker succeeds in his quest to change Illinois’ flat income tax to a graduated one, with an accompanying tax hike that would raise billions, we doubt that any taxes or fees imposed during this session of the legislature will be lifted.
Illinoisans are growing tired of this annual ritual of living here growing more expensive while the government’s finances continue to worsen. Lawmakers should bear this in mind as they consider new proposals to generate revenue.