June 26, 2022

Opinion

Democrats’ election year offer is all about politics

Patrick Pfingsten

There’s an old story of a guy who had a dancing chicken at a carnival many years ago. He’d put on an old record and the chicken would gradually begin to lift its legs and dance. Until one day, when the hot plate the guy had under the poultry-sized stage stopped working. The chicken was only dancing because of the heat underneath him.

That’s sort of how it feels as Democrats are running around the state talking about the “historic” tax breaks they’ve given to us, the poor plebeian taxpayers. The state is enjoying record revenue this fiscal year, and lawmakers want us to be thankful they’re giving us back a little bit of our own money.

Yes, it’s a positive thing Democrats in state government can refund some tax money. It’s a significant improvement over where they’ve been the past two decades. But when you look at Republican arguments that these are little more than election year gimmicks, it’s hard not to see where they’re coming from.

For instance, there’s nothing in the plan that will cut gas prices from their record highs right now. Democrats are freezing the automatic increase in the motor fuel tax, which is scheduled to kick in July 1. It will stop a 2-cent per-gallon increase. Keeping gas prices at $4.79 instead of bumping it up to $4.81 is no real victory for taxpayers, it’s just the status quo. And it’s only for six months, so if the high prices bleed into 2023, the increase kicks in anyway.

What the legislature could have done would be to find a way to cut or cap the sales tax on motor fuel sales. The state is getting a windfall of revenue from high gas prices right now as it collects 6.25% on every gallon sold in the state. While a portion of that goes to roads, most of the sales tax goes to the state’s general fund. Why no effort to trim that? Because it would take money out of the pot Democrats used to fund their laundry list of projects.

There’s a $300 credit for property taxes, but that does little for stagnant wages and exploding property tax bills. Instead, the General Assembly could have looked for ways to better fund schools so they would be less reliant on local property taxes.

The checks, or, realistically, the direct deposits we’re scheduled to receive may look nice but do little to help middle income families around the state tackle rising prices and all the challenges they face getting their budgets in order. An individual gets $50. I couldn’t even fill my gas tank up for $50 last week. Each child is $100, up to three, so the maximum a family will receive from the state is $400. I don’t know if $400 even covers a couple of weeks of groceries for a family of four.

Why not attempt to lower the individual tax rate from 4.95% to 4.5% or somewhere in between? Simply, because Democrats want more, not less, from higher-income earners.

Politicians are political creatures and they’re going to do the things that give them a political advantage. And many of these savings will look good in a campaign mailer or TV ad, but you have to assess how much they’ll actually help you and your family make ends meet as inflation skyrockets, gas prices remain high and it gets harder to make ends meet.

You don’t want to be left like the chicken, dancing while your feet burn.

• Patrick Pfingsten is a former award-winning journalist and longtime Republican strategist who writes The Illinoize statewide political newsletter. You can read more at www.theillinoize.com or contact him at patrick@theillinoize.com.