Tax protesters in Illinois will be able to argue their case before an impartial arbiter.
Protests over high taxes recently prompted Gov. Pat Quinn and state legislators to approve a special tax break for two powerful corporations — CME Group Inc. and Sears.
But the protests — so far at least — have yet to result in the state taking a comprehensive look at its overall tax climate. Still, the state has taken a baby step in the right direction by ordering a reform of the process by which individuals and businesses can protest the amount of taxes they are assessed by the state's Revenue Department.
Under recent tax legislation Quinn signed into law, the state will establish an independent board to review complaints. Under the current format, tax protests are reviewed by an administrative law judge, but the state's Revenue Department director has the final say on the matter.
It would not be fair to suggest the system is rigged against the average citizen or business. But most people are justifiably skeptical of their chances for a fair hearing when they appear before a judge who also is serving as prosecutor.
The tax tribunal is expected to be up and running by July 2013, according to the new law. Such state tax tribunals are common throughout the country, and Illinois had drawn fire from the Washington, D.C.-based Council on State Taxation, which gave the state a "D" grade for its tax-appeal process. The council also criticized Illinois for requiring taxpayers to pay the disputed taxes as a condition of protesting them.
While it's good to get this process moving in the right direction, it is, unfortunately, small potatoes contrasted against the state's seemingly intractable tax and spending problems.
With Illinois hopelessly in debt and facing billions of dollars in unpaid bills, state legislators voted last January to approve significant increases in personal and corporate taxes. Still facing billions in unpaid bills, legislators voted earlier this month to approve tax cuts for two clout-heavy corporations that threatened to leave Illinois. At the same time, to appease citizens angry about the corporate cuts, Quinn and legislators simultaneously increased the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor and individual tax exemptions.
This kind of schizophrenic approach makes no sense. It's reflective of a state that bounces from one bad policy to the next, the result of which is an overall climate that discourages the business investment needed to create jobs Illinois desperately needs.