Editorial about Illinois lawmakers.
Legislators in Springfield can call it a cigarette tax -- the latest trial balloon floated to fund some otherwise worthy state services -- but it's really a cowardice tax. They don't have the guts to confront the state's formidable problems with real, reliable revenue streams.
Indeed, the governor's ill-conceived and ultimately ill-fated gross-receipts tax was all about avoiding income and sales taxes to technically meet a foolish, self-serving campaign promise. A massive expansion of gambling is all about avoiding income and sales taxes. This sin tax and that niche fee are about avoiding income and sales taxes. We hate to quarrel with the governor or others of like mind, but we've yet to meet one of these that wasn't a "tax on people."
There's no shortage of sin in Illinois, but how much blood can Springfield squeeze out of that turnip? Do we really want the state's funding foundation for classrooms and health care and roads and pensions to rest upon the continued foul habits of its citizens?
The reason for all this is that politicians are always looking for the path of least resistance to their spending promised land. And so the focus isn't on what's best or what's right but what's "easy," mostly in the interests of criticism deflection and self-preservation. It's like the baseball player who fields a ground ball off to the side instead of straight on because he's less likely to get hurt that way, though more likely to make an error. Gimmicky, hidden taxes are a favorite, because you can sock it to folks without their knowledge, at least at first.
It's also fundamentally dishonest.
These last-minute "revenue enhancements" tend not to be well thought out, either. The proposed cigarette tax is a case in point. Indeed, didn't the governor just sign into law the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which will make it harder to feed one's nicotine addiction? Might that and nearly doubling the tax on tobacco make some more inclined to quit?
While that would be a good thing, wouldn't that diminish this particular tax's funding heft? Mr. Left Hand, meet Mr. Right Hand in the Land of Government Working at Cross Purposes.
If the state's needs are that dire, then its leaders should be making the case to average Illinoisans -- all of them, not just some -- to open their wallets. When they can't bring themselves to do that, it only communicates that the situation isn't that serious, after all. That's unfortunate, because in fact many of Illinois' challenges are very daunting, with long-range implications that will not be pretty.
Make no mistake, we're not advocating a tax increase, not this late or this knee-jerk in a humiliating legislative session in which so few have done anything to elevate the public's trust in them. There's precious little talk of living within the state's means, which ought to be on the table, as well. Some Republicans mouth that recognition, though it's fair to question their motivation: Do they really believe it, or are they just content to reap the political gain of watching ruling Democrats spontaneously combust?
Allow us to let you in on one other dirty little secret, in answer to this question: Why the now-or-never tax hike urgency? It's simple: 2008 is an election year, and heaven forbid that anyone should make any hard or controversial decisions before voters go to the polls. Well, there's an election every other year, which means that half the time, the Legislature doesn't allow itself to do anything of significance. Maybe its members should be paid half as much, then. Bet that's one proposal we won't see in bill form.
Again, cowardice and dishonesty are getting government exactly where they always do: nowhere.
Peoria Journal Star