Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Raise our taxes"

By Jamey Dunn and Rachel Wells

Citizens advocating for an income tax increase to avoid deep cuts to the state budget packed the Illinois Capitol today for one of the largest rallies in recent history.

The secretary of state’s office estimated that 12,000 people participated in the march and 15,000 total were in the Capitol complex as part of the rally.

With chants of “We’ll remember in November” and “Save our schools. Save our state,” protesters marched around the Statehouse and then filled the halls. They came to advocate for education and social services, such as mental health care, addiction counseling and in-home care for the elderly.

“We have tens of thousands of people whose well-being is at stake if this state does not act. So I’m here to advocate for responsible decisions, a tax increase to support social services in this state, and I’m happy to join these thousands and thousands of people who have come out here to do this,” said Rev. Bob Rasmus, board member for Lutheran Social Services and a pastor in Urbana.

Jo Ann Woods-Payne from ABJ Community Services on the southeast side of Chicago said she came out today to support HB 174 so her organization can continue to provide programs such as foster care, job training for public aid recipients and a clothing and food pantry. She said the state is behind on its payments to ABJ for the social services it offers in the community.

“We feel possibly that the income tax needs to be raised if that’s what it’s going to take to help keep those programs open for our clients,” she said.

“We have to have a balanced budget, and we passed an income tax over in the Senate, which is now in the House, which provides $4.3 billion. So we hope that they would take a second look,” Senate President John Cullerton said of HB 174. “We passed the bill. And that’s the solution to a lot of our problems.”

However, Republicans in both chambers do not seem any closer to supporting a tax increase.

“I like having [the rally participants] come here because there is not better way for me to explain my position on what’s going in this building and the way I think this state works its way out of its fiscal mess than to talk one-on-one individually with those people,” said Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican.

Righter said many of his constituents were at the rally but the message of chants such as “Raise our taxes” did not echo the opinions of the majority of the people he represents. “I don’t know that that kind of theater is necessarily representative of most the people in my district.”

Righter voted against HB 174 last year and said he will not consider a tax increase until there are cuts and reforms to Medicaid, which he says is growing in an unsustainable way.

“If you don’t fix those two things first … it’s all but a guarantee [that] a tax increase comes, you layer a whole bunch, billions of dollars of new taxpayer money, on top of what’s happening here and then it all seeps through the cracks that they’ve created in the last eight years and then … we start over in a couple years.”

Righter said that he doesn’t think the rally will change the minds of many legislators who are opposed to a tax increase. He also doesn't think Democrats are willing to take the political risk to pass a tax increase before the November general elections.

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