Updated: July 9, 2014 6:17AM
Politicians are like water — they always take the easiest path.
When faced with difficult decisions this year, the Illinois General Assembly sat on its hands and told you a fib.
We were told Illinois government is entering a period of “austerity.” Baloney.
This year’s budget is about $850 million more than last year’s. And most of that extra spending is being paid for through borrowing.
The legislators raided special use funds throughout state government, harvested $650 million and then promised to pay it back in 18 months.
But I haven’t heard anyone explain how they plan to pay it back.
If we don’t have the money to pay for that extra spending now, how will we have it in 18 months to pay back the borrowed money?
Beats me. Hang on to your wallets, folks.
In the backrooms of the Illinois Capitol, they are already talking about shoving the 2011 income tax increase down our throats permanently — after the Nov. 4 election, of course, and before the new General Assembly gets sworn in.
These types of lame-duck shenanigans have a long, pathetic history in the Legislature. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of it.
But this time all eyes are on Mike Madigan, the longtime speaker of the House and state Democratic Party chairman.
Madigan has said he’s committed to making the 5 percent personal income tax rate permanent but didn’t have enough votes in the House to pass it this session. I’ve seldom seen Madigan not get what he wants.
But he is a patient man. Exceedingly patient.
Look for arms to start getting twisted once the election is over.
The actions of this year’s General Assembly are geared toward precipitating a crisis.
There are elements within state government and among those who enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense that so want to keep the higher tax rate that they’re willing to do anything to ensure it happens.
No serious efforts were made to cut overall state spending despite Illinois having roughly $5 billion in unpaid bills and the worst-funded state pension system in the nation.
Why? Because some politicians would rather jack up your tax bills instead.
Back in 2011, lawmakers raised the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and promised it would be temporary, starting to scale back as of next Jan. 1. We were assured that it was necessary to raise revenue and get the state’s fiscal house in order.
But Illinois remains the economic basket case of the Midwest. Our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation.
And now the politicians are trying to go back on their word and make the higher rate permanent.
If they didn’t clear up Illinois’ serious financial problems since the tax increase took effect in January 2011, why do we think they would by making it permanent?
I haven’t heard a satisfactory answer to that question.
Taxpayers won a victory May 30 when the Legislature adjourned without raising taxes. But the war is far from over.
Hang on, it’s going to be one heck of a fight.
Scott Reeder is a veteran
statehouse reporter and journalist with the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy
Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org