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Tax Increase Can't Cover Illinois Bills

April 19, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - State lawmakers hoping to pass next year's budget by the end of May have a lot of work to do, as the recently-passed tax increase is not expected to raise enough money to pay off all the old bills and balance the budget. The state still owes about $4.5 billion to service providers, while lawmakers on both sides are calling for more cuts, and the Illinois Human Services Commission is recommending that lawmakers look for revenue in new places.

Commission member Joe Antolin says "budget sweeps" could raise millions: it's sort of like turning the state's pockets inside-out looking for unspent dollars. He thinks the state needs to look at special funds that contain money set aside to support policies that are no longer in place.

"For example, there are funds set aside to defend lawsuits challenging someone who is on death row."

Illinois' death penalty has been abolished, so Antolin says that money could be spent on things like early childhood education or keeping seniors at home and out of expensive nursing homes. Critics say taking money out of special funds is a bad way to do business, but Antolin says cutting services to the people that need them the most, is worse.

Antolin says when the tax increase expires, Illinois might take a lesson from many other states, like Indiana and Wisconsin, and place a tax on services like haircuts, dog grooming, and tax consulting.

"The state assesses taxes on fewer services than any surrounding state."

In Antolin's view, Governor Pat Quinn's new budget has already made deep and painful cuts to those who provide services to the most vulnerable in Illinois.

"It's an 88 percent cut in 'Teen Reach,' which is a youth after-school program; more than a 50 percent cut in employment training programs for people who are trying to go back to work; more than a 50 percent cut in sexual assault victim services."

Kathy Ryg, president of the group Voices for Illinois Children, says many experts advise against cutting programs that provide long-term benefits.

"That's what the business community wants, a well-educated work force. And the programs that we know work are most at risk, and that's wrong."

Ryg says all existing revenue options should be on the table.

The Human Services Commission has presented the State Legislature with a wide variety of recommendations that could add well over $600 million to the budget without raising new taxes in 2012.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL