Urbana council should say no to sales tax increase
By Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
You have to wonder when enough is enough. An average Illinoisan will pay 28 percent of their paycheck for federal taxes and 5 percent for state individual income taxes. In addition, Social Security contributions are made, property taxes are paid, and Illinois has sales taxes, utility taxes, use and excise taxes. How much is left for you and your family?
On Monday, the city of Urbana will follow in the footsteps of the city of Champaign and vote to increase the sales tax. While council members may argue it is only a quarter of one cent, they fail to recognize that the constant demand to fund ever-increasing government spending is eating away at the livelihoods of the citizens they are supposed to be representing. Too many of our local elected officials seem to be more interested in representing city hall than protecting the people who elected them.
Over the past several weeks, Mayor Laurel Prussing has attempted to divert the conversation about the city of Urbana's lack of financial control by pointing a finger at our area's health care industry. She claims that the city's financial troubles are due to recent legislation that clarified the definition of charitable care in the state of Illinois. She asserts that this change in language has allowed Carle Hospital to pull all of its properties off of the property tax rolls — thus resulting in the city's financial condition. The reality is that our area hospitals are not-for-profit institutions and the bulk of their properties have always been exempt, as they have always provided charitable care. The few properties lawfully removed from the tax rolls are not responsible for the city's current budget deficit. The city's current budget deficit was a long time in the making.
The math is very simple. Over the past five years Urbana's revenue has only grown (on average) by 4 percent. Its spending, however, has grown by 16 percent. While the rest of nation recognized the 2008 recession as a time to tighten belts, cut back on spending and to forecast conservatively, Urbana did not. Year after year, city budget talking points consistently highlighted the fact that the city did not have to make cuts that in its words "most people would consider negative in nature."
While the city has continued to pay 100 percent of its employees' health insurance, failed to consolidate back office redundancies, and offered pay increases and longevity bonuses, it has also failed to accurately forecast pension costs and the financial instability of the state. Urbana has simply over-projected anticipated revenue. Now, the city wants to add to an unsustainable burden on the citizens of Champaign County because it failed to perform the hard work that was warranted.
Government is not entitled to unlimited access to the earnings of its citizens. A quarter-cent tax increase will not solve Urbana's problems. Government should no longer be used by politicians to reward political allies. Urbana, and all governmental bodies in Illinois, needs to do the hard work of reforming departments, creating efficiencies and cutting costs.
The Urbana City Council should do the responsible thing and vote no on the proposed sales tax increase. A tax increase will not solve the problem and it will only take more money out of Champaign County residents' paychecks. When is enough — enough?
Disclosure: Carle Hospital and Presence Covenant Medical Center are active members of the Chamber of Commerce and are represented on the board of directors. As such, these representatives abstained from this discussion and from formulating the Chamber's position on this issue.