We once asked an insider whether the news media and the country were overly cynical about the role politics plays in the creation of public policy. We prefaced the question by saying, "We act like nobody in elected office ever does anything just because it's right and apply political motive to everything."
Our insider, given this easy opportunity to defend the fundamental altruism of the country's public servants, looked us in our naive institutional eye and said: "Nothing is ever done just for the good in it. Politics is behind everything."
Given that, we understand the impulse to question what Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is really up to with the proposal he unveiled Thursday to cut the corporate income tax rate in half. Is he playing to the crowd in an election year, trying to undercut the Republicans' primary campaign issue of jobs and business growth? Is it a gambit to raise the minimum wage? Or to set the stage for a push for a graduated personal income tax system? Perhaps he's merely trying to demonstrate to Gov. Pat Quinn who's the real power in state government?
Yes, there could be -- probably is -- some or all of that at play and more.
There's also a tendency by those who'd like to see a better business climate in Illinois to brush the idea off as insufficient. Those critics already have rushed to point out that a decrease in the corporate income tax alone is not enough to turn things around, that more needs to be done.
We don't disagree with that.
But then again, we don't think Madigan made that claim. He merely introduced a proposal that, like many of the initiatives of the past few years -- reforms in workers' compensation, Medicaid, ethics, public pensions as well as a large public works program -- would improve the Illinois business climate incrementally.
Despite our reservations about Madigan, which we've shared repeatedly, we will say this: His corporate tax proposal is a lot more concrete than the amorphous "Blueprint for Jobs and Economic Growth" that Quinn alluded to a day earlier in his State of the State address.
Certainly, the matter of affordability needs to be explored. This reduction would go further than the expiration of the 2011 increase, and there already has been plenty of concern about how Illinois can pay its bills.
That said, a robust economy is the best means for state government to climb out of debt, and we agree with Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, who views the corporate income tax reduction as "a step in the right direction."
But we also agree with Maisch that "the real job creators are small-business owners, so if we're looking to give them relief, it would be better if we were to focus on the personal income tax as well" since most small businesses pay personal income taxes, not corporate ones.
Springfield must keep its commitment on the "temporary" 2011 increase in the personal income tax rate. That is, temporary ought to mean temporary. The phase-back plan to a 3.75 percent personal income tax rate by the end of the year from the current 5 percent must be carried out.
That's clearly the right thing to do. It's good politics too.