Monday, March 16, 2009

Will income tax issue become a 2010 campaign issue dangling from Quinn neck?

Richard Ogilvie is the last Republican to serve as Cook County Board president, and also was a corruption-fighting county sheriff who rose through the ranks of politics to become our state’s 35th governor.

Yet the only thing many people old enough to remember his days in government back in the 1960s and early 1970s have to say about him is that he’s the ba$#@&d who had the nerve to raise our taxes.

IT’S TRUE. OGILVIE’S one term as Illinois governor was the time when Illinois imposed its first statewide income tax. This state went for more than 140 years without such a tax.

The intellectual type political observers will note that state finances were a mess, that the income tax was necessary and that it would have been fiscal irresponsibility to not support creation of the tax.

It didn’t matter. That tax made Ogilvie politically vulnerable the same way a heavy snowstorm took down the Chicago mayoral aspirations of Michael Bilandic just a few years later.

He lost in 1972 to Dan Walker, who gave Pat Quinn his first position on the state government payroll. And now, Quinn appears willing to follow in the footsteps of the man who ran against his one-time boss in that long-ago election cycle.

QUINN IS NOW admitting that now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich was correct when he said the Legislature without him would be inclined to raise peoples’ taxes. Not that anybody cares.

The statement issued by Blagojevich on Friday that basically reeked of an “I told you so” attitude was treated as the rants of a lunatic – rather than anything to which serious attention should have been paid.

Quinn last week said his budget proposal for the state fiscal year beginning July 1 would have to have something that produces serious amounts of extra cash – or else there would have to be massive cuts in everybody’s spending.

On Sunday, he said during a WGN-AM interview that an increase in the income tax that has its historic origins in the Ogilvie administration is the “least bad option” to balancing out a budget.

HE ALSO ENGAGED in the rhetoric used by any political person when a tax increase of any type is being considered – he tried to give the impression that this is a tax increase on somebody else, but not on you.

“Families that are middle class, I think, will have no higher taxes or lower taxes,” Quinn said during his radio interview.

So this is a tax hike purely for the wealthy people of Illinois. It’s a nice piece of rhetoric. I’m just not sure what to think of it until I know a specific definition of what constitutes “middle class” as opposed to “wealthy.”

One observation I have made during my years as a reporter-type is that everybody thinks THEY are the norm of our society. If only everybody else were just like them, we’d be just fine.

AND NO MATTER how much income one has, it is the people who make more than them who are wealthy. Even if they are wealthy, they don’t think they should be put into that classification.

So there are going to be many people who will grouse and gripe when they come to realize that in the world of Pat Quinn, they are the rich who will have to “pay up!” in order to help the state balance out its financial situation.

If the Chicago Tribune has managed to report accurately, Quinn on Wednesday in Springfield will say he wants a 50 percent boost in the personal income tax rate (from 3 percent to 4.5 percent). Quinn has implied he views an imcome of about $56,000 as the cut-off point.

In short, I can picture a lot of people just barely over that level who will say that the struggling economy ought to be a time to give taxpayers a break financially. They are going to raise a stink.

I REALLY WONDER how many members of the Illinois General Assembly will have the nerve to vote “yes” for this Quinn proposal, because they’d be risking their own political futures. I can already envision the Republican rhetoric of next year – Democrats are the party of corruption and higher taxes.

It may be ridiculous, but the current political climate of Illinois is ridiculous enough that many people may be inclined to believe this.

Even if the Legislature does manage to rebuff Quinn on his desire for the income tax increase (similar to how a then-Republican Legislature dumped on former Gov. Jim Edgar’s late 1990s hope to revamp public education funding), would the voters still hold it against him.

Could this be the issue that ensures Quinn gets to do nothing more than finish off the final two years of Blagojevich’s second term as governor?

IF ANYTHING, I’M going to be paying special attention in coming months to the public and private actions of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the woman who reportedly wants to run for governor herself someday and whom some consider to be Quinn’s major competition come next year’s elections.

Will she become the vocal opposition of a tax increase – even though the state’s finances are enough of a mess that no one (outside of the anti-tax extremists such as Jim Tobin – does he still do his “Tax Villain of the Month” releases?) would argue that the state doesn’t need the money.

Because if she plays this situation properly, this could be what ultimately results in her getting the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor come 2010, and allows her to overcome any “impeachment related” tendencies of the Illinois electorate to vote Republican.

In short, Quinn may be giving the attorney general the political ammunition she needs to ensure that we get the sight of “Gov. Lisa Madigan” taking the oath of office on a cold day in January, 2011.


EDITOR’S NOTES: We’ll learn for sure on Wednesday what Pat Quinn has in mind ( with the state’s income tax and resolving the more than $9 billion shortfall the state faces for 2009-10.

Richard Ogilvie’s legacy, as laid out ( by the New York Times.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From what I read, the income tax cutoff is $57,000 for a combined household income. That's $57,000 for a couple. That means $28,500 for individuals. I make $45,000 a year. After I pay my utilities, car payment, cell phone and groceries, I don't have much else left and I still live with my family. I don't even consider myself middle class let alone wealthy. The sliding scale is a joke. Raise the taxes if you are going to raise the taxes but don't insult me by telling me I am wealthy when I am clearly not. I am still educated and can do math.