Illinois' finances have been a mess for years, and now the state is counting on you, suburban taxpayers, to pay the freight. The state is skimming money from the suburbs in several different ways in a desperate grab to add cash to its coffers, as our Jake Griffin details in a series of reports. Let's review the ways you'll pay:
• An income tax increase approved by state lawmakers in July will cost $822 a year for a family of three making $75,000 or $1,695 a year for a family of four earning $150,000.
• A new 2 percent skim off local sales taxes the state collects and disburses on behalf of towns and counties will divert $47.7 million from 64 suburbs, Cook and the five collar counties, and the Regional Transportation Authority by the end of the state's next fiscal year June 30.
• The state will take an additional $297 million this year from local governments owed money from the personal property replacement tax, an outmoded tax that begs to be revamped -- but shouldn't be raided by the state. The suburbs and Chicago bear the brunt.
Seventy-one percent of income taxes paid by individuals in Illinois come from Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
Roughly 75 percent of what the state will get from the 2 percent skim will come from the suburbs, the six Chicago area county governments and the RTA.
The suburbs will get dinged for about one-third of the additional money the state is taking through the personal property replacement tax.
It should come as no surprise that school districts, village and county boards and transit systems are citing the state's money grab as a reason for seeking to increase revenue -- in other words, taxes and higher fares that will cost you still more. What to do? On the state's part, this is all a done deal. It was presaged by years of financial mismanagement that left limited choices. But there still are important ways to hold politicians and state officials accountable for your money.
For starters, pay attention to whether the influx of new cash goes to pay overdue bills, strengthen a social service network decimated by the two-year lack of a state budget and adequately fund schools. With the budget crisis finally abated, will Illinois get its finances in order, deal with the pension problem and set a path for a more responsible future?
Demand transparency. It's ludicrous to call the 2 percent skim a "fee" for processing local sales tax collections. Does it cost the Illinois Department of Revenue $334 to process the taxes for Sleepy Hollow, $421,000 to handle the task for Schaumburg and $23 million to do the paperwork for the RTA? The state should be upfront about why it's taking money and justify what's it's being using for. Is "modifying and maintaining the computer system" at IDOR, the stated purpose, the highest priority? To the tune of the $64 million the department is taking from across the state this year?
Taxpayers have a right to demand accountability for our money. Those running the state have a duty to show us why they should be trusted with our money. In the meantime, we all need to keep our eyes wide open.