Herald & Review

Speaker tells local gathering that lawmakers know taxes will need to go up to cover deficit

Thursday, September 09, 2010

DECATUR - Raising taxes is the only way out of the state budget crisis, and members of the General Assembly know it.

That was the word from Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, before an audience of two dozen people Wednesday afternoon in Decatur's First Presbyterian Church.

He said Mike Lawrence, former press secretary for former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, told him a couple years ago how to get his bill passed with 95 percent of the people from both parties voting for it.

"'Promise them a confidential vote,'" Martire quoted Lawrence as saying. " 'They all know it's the right thing to do; they just don't want their constituents to know they did it.' "

In lieu of that, Lore Baker, assistant director of the Supportive Housing Providers Association, asked people to join the Responsible Budget Coalition in calling on Illinois leaders to raise adequate revenue to prevent cuts to essential services and jobs in the public and private sectors.

She also said she needs help so the coalition can respond in numbers should a provider of human services, such as Heritage Behavioral Health Center, be notified of a significant funding cut and make a bigger impression on elected representatives such as state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.

"Believe me, Bob is sick of seeing me," Baker said. "He kind of goes the opposite direction when he sees me or says, 'Lore, Lore, I already talked to you about taxes.' "

Martire's presentation concluded that the projected deficit for the fiscal year that began July 1 stands at $9.3 billion, even though the state for the past decade has been spending less and less in real dollars for public services and the percentage of personal income taken by state and local taxes puts Illinois 44th among 50 states for the tax burden imposed.

"Anyone who's arguing that we should be cutting back is basically saying the fifth richest state in the nation can't afford to continue ranking 49th in the portion of educational funding covered by state resources and in the bottom five in virtually every human service."

Specifics mentioned by Martire included raising the state income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent, using tax credits to minimize the impact on lower income brackets and expanding the sales tax to include services as well as goods.

His audience Wednesday included Diana Knaebe, president and CEO of Heritage Behavioral Health Center; Diane Drew, executive director of the Community Home Environmental Learning Project; the Rev. Michael Hoy, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church; and former state Rep. John Dunn, D-Decatur.

"There are populists, and there are those who say, 'Certain things are more important than being here. I'll do what's right,' " Dunn said. "We have too many populists and too few of the other."