A taxing plan we hear about too late

Illinois' Democratic political leaders would have us believe they are champions of open government and change. That Rod Blagojevich was the problem, he was removed from office by them, and now it's full speed ahead.

It's full speed ahead, all right. We're all headed right for a significant increase in the state income tax, from 3 percent to 5.25 percent, a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase and massive gambling expansion. Those bare details were leaked from closed-door meetings, then finally admitted.

First, let us praise those rank-and-file legislators who represent suburban taxpayers who have shared how they view vague talk of tax increases.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, has said for months she believes an income tax increase is needed. She reiterated that again in a Daily Herald interview this week.

Others who expressed their views were state Rep. Michael Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, and state Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat. Those three all believe spending cuts must first be made before taxes are increased.

State Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, said he wants property taxes cut in return for his support for an income tax hike. And state Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat whose term will end Wednesday, said he is more open to voting for a tax increase after seeing good news about holiday spending.

Agree or disagree with them, those suburban legislators are to be commended for sharing with constituents some idea of where they stand before they vote. If only the Democratic leaders would follow their example and actually talk about their plans and ideas for addressing the state's untenable budget crisis out in the open.

Earlier this week, the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs said the budget shortfall is far worse than revealed recently, $17 billion and growing. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has indeed made it clear he wants an income tax increase.

As has been the Springfield practice for decades now, the dealing is done in private. Quinn, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have been hosting closed-door meetings with Republican legislative leaders and others to see if they can cobble together a plan to pass tax increases while touting future cost controls.

Why all the secrecy? Can't we all talk about spending cuts, tax increases and reforms out in the open and in the harsh light of day? The cynics will be laughing by now at the naiveté of that last line. But really. Don't we all deserve to know?

Don't we deserve public hearings and a complete vetting? Don't we deserve the chance to hear how all our representatives and senators view the specifics of the tax increase plans before the hand of government is in our pocket?