The income tax increase probably isn't temporary, and gay marriage will likely pass. Those are the two issues State Rep. Tim Schmitz told an audience of business leaders in St. Charles Tuesday that they could expect in the next session of the Illinois General Assembly. Cleaning up the pension problem and tackling gun control have murkier futures, he said.
Gov. Pat Quinn and fellow Democrats approved a 67 percent income tax rate increase in 2011. The personal rate jumped to 5 percent where it is supposed to stay until 2015. At that time the rate is supposed to fall to 3.75 percent, a prelude to it dropping to 3.25 percent in 2025. That's still higher than the 3 percent personal rate that existed prior to the 2011 hike.
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Schmitz, of Batavia, told local business leaders they were kidding themselves if they ever thought the tax hike was going to be temporary. He said the message from Democratic leaders is that it won't even be an issue for debate until the next gubernatorial campaign.
"There is a possibility that it could go," said Schmitz, a Republican who represents the 49th District. "I don't know what the candidates are going to do. It could remain permanent. If it goes away, we've got to find $875 million extra dollars this year and $875 million the next year to account for those dollars going away. It's a big number. If you don't take care of the pension equation, then how are you going to cut the revenue equation?"
Schmitz said pension funding is already sucking $8 billion out of the state's $36 billion in annual revenues. He credited Quinn with making all the pension payments on time since he's been governor. But with the pension payment amount increasing every year, Schmitz said it's only a matter of time before the state can't meet the obligation.
Schmitz said part of the answer is increasing the amount of money employees pay to fund their pensions. A 2 percent increase in employee payments is already on the table. Another part of the answer is lowering the annual cost of living adjustments to pension amounts. Schmitz said compounded cost of living increases currently see a retirees pension double after 25 years. That's far too much, he said.
"The way I see it, if you could start increasing the COLA over the years, then why isn't the opposite true?" Schmitz said. "Why can't we start reeling it back when times start on the downturn?"
Like pension funding, gun control is another issue Schmitz said has no easy answer. With gun violence still a major factor in Chicago, it's clear state lawmakers will not rush to implement concealed carry legislation despite the mandate from the courts. Schmitz said he doesn't think implementing more gun control measures is the answer to solving violence.
"The root of the problem starts to get into unemployment and after-school programs and all the things that Chicago has been cutting," Schmitz said. "Telling somebody you can't have 12 rounds in their weapon that they've had for their entire life, now you can only have 10, isn't going to change any type of situation on the far West Side or South Side of Chicago. Some individuals that have no respect for life, it doesn't matter how many rounds they have."
On the flip side of controversial legislation, Schmitz said gay marriage is almost certain to become a reality in Illinois. He said reports of the House being 12 votes short are exaggerated. He believes less than five vote swings are needed to get gay marriage approved.
"If they had the number, the bill would have been called while we were there," Schmitz said. "But I would be very, very surprised if we did not see it this session since the Senate already took the step and passed it."