"Act like leaders, not like fools, Save our services, save our schools!"
So chanted 15,000 people gathered in front of the State Capitol on Wednesday, in the largest Springfield rally ever. The demonstrators demanded that the General Assembly not return to their home districts on May 7 as scheduled, or at any other time, until they have enacted a responsible budget that raises the revenue needed to avoid the human catastrophe facing Illinois in the form of draconian state budget cuts.
Reasonable minds do not disagree: a substantial increase in the state's revenues is an indispensable piece of the fiscal puzzle if our state is to avoid financial collapse. Earlier this year, the Civic Federation, the voice of Chicago's business community for over 100 years, released its report on the state's fiscal crisis and called for an $8 billion tax increase, saying: "We do not enjoy advocating a significant tax increase in the middle of a difficult recession. However, continuing to do nothing would be by far a worse option."
In jeopardy unless there is a revenue increase are programs that provide vital services to people in need - seniors, the disabled, low-income single parents, people with drug addictions or suffering from mental illness, children at risk of academic failure, adults with developmental disabilities. These same programs provide jobs for teachers, home health care workers, substance abuse and mental health counselors, child care workers, persons who work with adults with developmental disabilities, and others.
Those who say that raising taxes will cost Illinois jobs are wrong. The truth is that our continuing failure to raise the revenue needed to pay our bills will result in a devastating loss of the jobs described above as well as those of police, firefighters, and others.
And let's consider the private sector. The belief that businesses make decisions on where to locate based solely on tax rates is demonstrably wrong. Does anyone really believe that a crumbling infrastructure and an educational system in shambles create a favorable business climate?
Those who say we over-spend and over-tax have their facts wrong. The facts are that Illinois' three percent state income tax rate is the lowest of all 41 states that have a state income tax, and Illinois is 43rd in the country in general funds spending as a percent of the state's gross domestic product.
Nobody likes to pay higher taxes. Nothing is politically easier than to say, "I didn't raise your taxes." But we cannot afford to remain on the path of expediency.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: "Taxes are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society."
Oliver Wendell Holmes put it even more succinctly: "Taxes buy civilization."
We're not going to climb out of our $13 billion hole in one year, but we can't wait to start.
"Show some guts, Stop the cuts!"