08/04/2011 11:46 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2011

Illinois Sales Tax Holiday Cancelled This Year, Due To Unpaid Bills

One year ago this weekend, the state of Illinois kicked off the back-to-school season with its first-ever sales tax holiday.

“Back-to-school shopping can be expensive and difficult for families that are already struggling to make ends meet,” Illinois governor Pat Quinn said in a press statement at the time. “From Aug. 6 through 15 the sales tax holiday will boost Illinois businesses while helping every child in Illinois get the school supplies they need to succeed in the classroom.”

Not so this year: the General Assembly didn't re-authorize the holiday, so back-to-school items will be taxed as usual.

Why, if it was such a good idea last year, did the legislature not pass it again? Why didn't the governor push for it? Well, editorials in both the Southtown Star and the Northwest Herald use almost the exact same turn of phrase when answering that question: "The cynic might point out that last year was an election year, and this year isn’t," the Herald editorializes; Phil Kadner in the Star says, "A cynic might note that 2010 was an election year and 2011 is not."

Kadner, apparently a cynic himself, goes on to speak with state senator Toi Hutchinson, who sponsored last year's bill.

“We have $8.7 billion in unpaid bills. We’ve made unprecedented cuts in the state budget that are very painful," she said. “As much as I would like to help families and schoolchildren in Illinois, this is simply something the state cannot afford to do this year.”

When Kadner points out that the budget situation wasn't all that different last year, Hutchinson replies candidly, “Sometimes you do things for political reasons that are not good public policy reasons."

The Herald editorial can't imagine another reason why the holiday wouldn't have been reauthorized.

Families still are struggling to make ends meet, and back-to-school shopping remains “expensive and difficult,” to use Quinn’s words from last year.

Besides, the state has had a hefty chunk of new money coming in since January, after the Legislature approved and Quinn signed big increases in income tax rates for individuals and businesses.

...[S]urely [the lack of an election] wouldn’t be the reason the governor and Legislature forgot all about extending the sales tax holiday in 2011.

Would it?

There are, however, some broader questions about the effectiveness of a sales tax holiday. Both the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the traditionally pro-business Tax Foundation have issued reports saying that all sales tax holidays do is cause people to shift their spending. That is, shoppers buy the same things they ordinarily would have, just during the holiday instead of at other times.

No observable stimulus on shopping is reported, the foundations say.