February 26, 2024

Olson: Awaiting a 'tax massacre' in Springfield

How much more will we be paying in taxes after the Illinois legislature finishes its business on Friday?

Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, rattled off a list of various possible increases under consideration – on the state motor fuel tax, on streaming video services such as Netflix, on real estate transfers, on insurance, and others.

“I’ve described it as a tax massacre,” McSweeney said. “There are multiple tax increases they’re looking at, they’re looking at the progressive tax amendment, which is just a code phrase for a mass tax hike. ... I am not sure yet how all this is going to turn out over this next week, but it’s clear they’re going to be increasing taxes.

“...The only question now is how bad the massacre is going to be.”

McSweeney’s not one for subtle rhetoric on the subject. His assessment is on the mark, though – there probably are going to be more fees and taxes imposed on Illinoisans as a result of what transpires in the coming days in our state capital.

Which taxes will be increased or created, and what becomes of that money, we’ll have to wait to find out.

McSweeney mentions reform of pensions and trimming Medicare costs as possible ways to save money, and yet neither of these issues is on the agenda this spring.

The best way to fix pensions would probably be to invent a time machine and prevent the state's years of bad decisions.

Under former Gov. Jim Edgar in 1995, lawmakers approved a plan that called for ramping up pension payments in the future. Then, when the future arrived, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and lawmakers decided to use half the state’s required pension contributions to balance the budget instead. They did that for two years.

Now here we are, after shirking billions in required pension payments over time, talking about ways to raise money by taxing Netflix and ride-sharing, putting more duties on a six-pack of beer or a pack of cigarettes. It’s like searching the cushions of your couch for change in a desperate attempt to pay your mortgage.

Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, says he thinks the last week of this session is going to be a test of Gov. JB Pritzker’s ability to lead. Pritzker has got to score some wins, particularly on issues that were hallmarks of his campaign: a graduated income tax, gaming and sports gambling, legal marijuana and criminal record expungement, possibly a capital bill.

Pritzker’s capital spending plan, which he calls “Rebuild Illinois,” calls for $41.5 billion in infrastructure spending over six years, along with doubling the state’s motor fuel tax, along with other possible increases. Keicher said the capital plan could be the subject of a special session this summer.

He also expects some new fees and taxes to be imposed by lawmakers by Friday – although he’s not sure exactly which ones yet and doesn’t commit to voting for any of them. Democrats are in control of this show – they hold the governorship and a super-majority of seats in both chambers.

“I think, in some way, shape or form [tax increases are] going to happen. I just see the trend as moving in that direction,” Keicher said. “We’ll probably see an increase in the motor fuel tax. A lot of the fees that were not palatable, the satellite fee, the plastic bag fee have fallen by the wayside.”

As for sports betting and gambling expansion in general, Keicher said he saw some possibilities.

“I think Rockford makes a good argument on why they should have a casino,” he said, “and it focuses a lot of potential benefit on a city that’s been hit hard by moving of manufacturing jobs over to China.”

If there’s good news, it’s that the state almost certainly will have a budget. In fact, the state recently learned it would take in about $1.5 billion more than expected from increased tax revenue, and next year’s projections are up $800 million.

At least we've got that going for us. Now we'll have to wait and see if the predicted "tax massacre" materializes.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.