Our Opinion: Quinn has opportunity to offer in-depth budget proposal

Monday, August 02, 2010

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget director, David Vaught, gave some insight into what part of the solution to the state’s budget deficit might be when he told Bloomberg News last week that the administration intends to raise the income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent in January, after the election.

The only thing surprising about Vaught’s statement was that he made it out loud, to a reporter before the election. Quinn quickly tried to contain the damage on Thursday, saying he only supports raising the income tax from 3 percent to 4 percent.

Vaught made a serious political error, but it’s long been assumed that an income tax increase was in the works if Quinn wins in November and the Democrats retain their majorities in the House and Senate. The only thing at issue is the size of the increase they will seek.

Quinn has said as much himself. He claimed that when he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor it was a mandate for a tax increase. When he took office in 2009, Quinn proposed raising the income tax from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. At the end of the 2009 legislative session, Quinn testified in favor of a Senate Democratic plan to raise the income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. In his 2010 budget address, Quinn proposed a 1 percentage point increase — he disingenuously calls it a “surcharge” — for education.

Most respected, moderate voices in Illinois believe an income tax increase mixed with spending cuts and strategic borrowing will be needed to fish Illinois out of a sea of red ink.

For the last two years, this page has said an income tax increase will be necessary to balance the budget. We’d prefer to see the state adopt a progressive income tax so that the middle class isn’t hit as hard during a still-shaky economy.

While it was not politically astute, at least someone in Quinn’s administration displayed some candor about one component of what will be necessary to erase the deficit.

We doubt the governor believes a 1 percent income tax will go very far in solving the problem. Raising the income tax is only part of the solution. Far more detail is needed. If the income tax is raised to 5 percent, it will bring in $6 billion.

The state still would have a $7 billion deficit. How does the state erase that portion of the deficit?

Even one local Republican has stuck his neck out on the issue.

State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, no doubt invited a scolding by his party by recently saying he is open to voting for some kind of income tax increase.

Bomke said that he would be willing to vote for a tax increase if it was used to pay off the state’s big backlog of bills. But he wants a more detailed roadmap from Quinn before taking such a risky vote.

Most political consultants believe it’s counterproductive to offer too many details during a campaign. But since Vaught already has done a belly-flop onto a political landmine, it might behoove Quinn to look at this as an opportunity to offer the kind of in-depth budget proposal Bomke and others want.

It certainly would provide a stark contrast with Quinn’s opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who is trying to sell the public on the fiction that Illinois can cut its way out of trouble without providing much detail on what programs he would hack.