Tax Reform in Illinois

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Year after year, policy wonks, the media, and folks across the country have watched as Illinois balanced its budget with gimmicks and accounting tricks. This year the state faces a $15 billion budget gap, and policymakers in Springfield finally did the hard work of raising new revenue.

Wednesday morning, shortly before new legislators were to be sworn in, revenue-raising legislation was approved. The bill temporarily raises the state’s flat rate income tax from 3 to 5 percent until 2015. In 2015 the income tax rate will fall to 3.75 percent, and in 2025 the rate will fall to 3.25 percent. Corporate income taxes were also increased from 4.8 percent to 7 percent until 2015, when the rate will drop to 5.25 percent. In 2025, the corporate income tax rate will fall back to 4.8 percent.

The bill also included a strict spending cap which will mean that spending can’t increase by more than 2 percent in each of the next four years. As Governor Pat Quinn's budget director noted this week, imposing such a strict cap at a time when the state is struggling to pay overdue bills and unfunded pension obligations will almost certainly mean that state spending on all the core functions of government will not be allowed to grow at all over the next four years, which of course means that in real inflation-adjusted terms, state spending on everything from education to transportation to public safety will likely decline.

This is especially worrisome in light of a recent Center for Tax and Budget Accountability report noting that the real value of state spending has already fallen over the last fifteen years.

Illinois lawmakers should be applauded for passing this legislation. But the state is hardly out of the woods: this tax increase is expected to only fill about half of the state’s budget gap, meaning that the remaining budget hole will likely be closed exclusively through spending cuts.

The good news, as noted in a number of ITEP reports, is that when legislators find the political will to return to tax reform issues, they'll find the state has a wide variety of sensible revenue-raising (or fairness-enhancing) tax reform options at its disposal, including expanding the sales, income and corporate tax bases by eliminating unwarranted loopholes and expanding the state's relatively low Earned Income Tax Credit.

Thank you for visiting Tax Justice Blog. CTJ and ITEP staff will soon retire this domain. But ITEP staff are still blogging! You can find the same level of insight and analysis and select Tax Justice Blog archives at our new blog,

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