Suburban Life Publications

Tax holiday benefits politicians more than taxpayers

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Western suburbs — If a reality TV show were based on how legislators conduct business in Springfield, nobody would believe it. The utter implausibility of government operations is laughable. But the real joke is on us.

A sales tax holiday that began Aug. 6 is a good example of how opportunistic our elected officials have become. The event is waiving the 5 percent state sales tax on back-to-school clothes and supplies through Aug. 15, provided they are genuinely used by students.

Each year, the Illinois Department of Revenue says, between $800 million and $1.2 billion is spent on back-to-school gear. So, a 5 percent break on these costs would result in a savings of between $40 million to $60 million, the department claims.

Putting this money back into the pockets of struggling taxpayers is a popular idea, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that the savings are pretty minuscule. A family would save a mere $5 for every $100 spent, and the total tax savings claimed by the state would occur only if shoppers squeeze all their purchases into 10 days.

This gimmick is being touted at a time when the state refuses to make good on its financial commitments to schools and social service agencies. Nobody has yet explained how the government will compensate for this revenue loss. Meanwhile, how will stores be able to tell which school supplies are actually being bought for students and which of those same items are just being purchased by discount-seekers?

Gov. Pat Quinn proposed this same scheme last year, but legislators tabled it while citing the state’s huge budget deficit. Last year, the deficit was between $9 billion and $11 billion. This year, it’s said to be about $13 billion.

Aside from a larger deficit, what has changed that now makes lawmakers more sensitive to the needs of cash-strapped residents? Well, there’s an election coming up.

That could just be a coincidence, mind you. But expecting voters to believe there’s no connection, well, that’s a plot nobody would dream up.