The way we see it, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s got three months.
He either pushes approval of a graduated income tax through the Illinois General Assembly this spring, the first step toward achieving a fairer long-term solution to the state’s financial problems, or he’ll have no choice but to accept a host of unpopular alternatives, such as expanding the sales tax to include services and going after government workers’ pension benefits.
In his first state budget address, delivered Wednesday, Pritzker demanded nothing hard from almost anybody. That hardly seems possible in a state contending with a $134 billion unfunded pension liability, but the governor proposed instead a budget full of the dodge-ball games that got our state into this mess to begin with.
His budget, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from taxes on sources that don’t even yet exist, such as sports betting and legalized recreational marijuana.
He called for more borrowing, though he didn’t call it borrowing. He called it a “small-scale pension bond.”
He called for putting off until tomorrow pension fund payments that are due today, though he phrased that more blandly, too. He said he would “smooth the pension ramp by modestly extending it.”
What Pritzker did not do, as part of a political strategy that we can only hope pans out, was propose an increase in the current flat income tax, an expansion of the sales tax, a tax on higher retirement incomes, or any further effort to reduce the automatic yearly growth of pension benefits.
All of these would be reasonable sources of revenue and savings in a state that can’t go on as it has.