Tax issue is on the table
Candidates for elective office can't be allowed to declare important issues off-limits.
What candidates won't talk about is frequently more important than what they want to talk about, a political reality that was made clear recently when Gov. Pat Quinn sat down for an interview with a television reporter in Chicago.
"Is it responsible to allow the income tax rollback to happen given the (state's) financial situation?" the reporter asked.
Gov. Quinn didn't get a chance to answer that important question before one of his press aides interrupted the interview.
"We're not going to discuss the income tax or any of our plans," she stated.
"There's just going to be no news made on that," the press aide continued.
Finally, Quinn's aide said, "We're not going to discuss it here. It would be a very boring interview."
(Readers can see the whole 12-minute, 43-second exchange here: capitolfax.com/2014/01/07/quinn-rewrites-history/.)
Members of the news media, of course, appreciate the heroic efforts by Quinn's aides to spare the public boring interviews. But this wasn't one of those occasions.
Quinn's aide was trying to keep him from answering an important question. But the aide's effort to spare her boss raises another question — to what extent can Gov. Quinn and members of his administration keep the state income tax issue off the table in the upcoming election year?
An issue as important as tax hikes must be addressed during an election year.
So it's important that voters keep that issue in mind as the days wind down to the November general election.
Here's the background. In early 2011, Gov. Quinn and legislators passed a 66 percent increase in the state's income tax, boosting the tax rate on individuals from 3 to 5 percent. Part of that hike was supposed to be temporary, and the state income tax rate is scheduled to fall back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015.
The question facing Quinn and legislators is whether the temporary portion of the tax hike should be allowed to expire, extended on a temporary basis or made permanent.
Illinois remains in dire financial straits, and the state would lose an estimated $2 billion in revenue in the first year alone if the tax is allowed to expire. Considering all that, what happens to the income tax is the leading issue in this year's gubernatorial campaign.
Quinn isn't saying so, but he clearly opposes allowing the temporary hike to expire. All he would say in the television interview is that "we're going to deal with that in the coming year."
He doesn't want to say so because he fears his position will be unpopular with the voters. At the same time, Quinn is happy to confirm that he supports replacing the state's flat income tax with a progressive income tax, a move that would require the passage of an amendment to the Illinois Constitution.
"I believe taxes should be based on the ability to pay," he said, referring to increasingly higher tax rates imposed on higher incomes under the progressive tax plan.
It's important to note that the Quinn aide who became so agitated when her boss was asked about extending the temporary tax remained silent when Quinn was asked about the progressive tax. It's equally important to remember that Quinn freely acknowledged his support for a progressive income tax while ducking a question about extending the temporary income tax.
Quinn is shading his answers in a manner he thinks will attract the most votes. Don't be fooled by Quinn or any other gubernatorial candidate. Find out where they stand on the issues, especially the ones they don't want to discuss.