February 12, 2015
Prior to the release of the Governor’s annual budget recommendation, the Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation releases an analysis of the State of Illinois’ fiscal condition and proposes a comprehensive five-year plan for achieving long-term fiscal sustainability for the State of Illinois. This plan responds to the dire reality of Illinois’ financial condition with painful, but necessary recommendations.
Nearly five years after the official end of the national economic downturn, Illinois is still burdened with $6.4 billion in unpaid bills and the State’s five pension systems continue to consume a growing share of annual operating revenues. After examining the effectiveness of multiple State budget scenarios based on a series of long-term financial goals, the Civic Federation proposes the following recommendations that would immediately stabilize the State’s operating budget, establish a sustainable long-term financial plan and pay off the unpaid bills:
1. Fix Fiscal Cliff in FY2015: Rather than sharply dropping income tax rates by 25% in one year, the State should retroactively increase the income tax rate to 4.25% for individuals and 6.0% for corporations as of January 1, 2015. The State could then provide additional tax relief by rolling back the rates on January 1, 2018 to 4.0% for individuals and 5.6% for corporations.
2. Control State Spending: The State should restrict discretionary spending growth from the 2.7% level shown in its three-year projections to 2.0%, closer to the rate of inflation. This could reduce total State spending by $1.3 billion over five years.
3. Broaden the Income Tax Base to Include Some Retirement Income: Out of the 41 states that impose an income tax, Illinois is one of only three that exempt all pension income. To create greater equity among taxpayers, the State’s income tax base should include non-Social Security retirement income from individuals with a total income of more than $50,000.
4. Expand Sales Tax Base to Include Services: Illinois should expand its sales tax base to include a list of 32 service taxes proposed by Governor Rauner. Due to the complexity of sourcing rules and collections for new businesses that are not currently required to collect sales taxes, it is estimated this expansion could take up to two fiscal years to fully implement.
5. Temporarily Eliminate Sales Tax Exemption for Food and Non-Prescription Drugs: To provide much-needed immediate revenue, the State should temporarily eliminate the tax exemption for food and non-prescription drugs. The State should apply the full 6.25% sales tax rate to food and over-the-counter drug purchases through FY2019 and then reinstate the exemption in FY2020 after the service tax expansion is fully implemented and the State’s backlog of unpaid bills is eliminated.
6. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to Provide Assistance to Low Income Residents: To help soften the impact of the State’s fiscal crisis on low income residents, the Civic Federation proposes an increase in the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit from 10% of the federal credit to 15% of the federal credit by FY2018.