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PI Original
by Adam Doster
10:43am
Thu Sep 23, 2010

The Responsible Budget Coalition Turns One (AUDIO)

One year after its inception, the Responsible Budget Coalition is still fighting hard for a sustainable state budget solution. Will lawmakers ever listen?

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
11:15am
Wed Sep 22, 2010

The Park District's Budget Deficit And TIF

Another day, another local public sector budget deeply in the red. This time it's the Chicago Park District's turn. As the Sun-Times reported on Monday, the district is facing a $22 million budget gap in what's expected to be an estimated $400 million spending plan for next year. The district is considering fee hikes, employee furlough days, and delaying projects to close the shortfall. Layoffs are on the table, but park district superintendent Tim Mitchell has ruled out a property tax hike.

Of course, the City of Chicago's tax increment financing account is stuffed with anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion, and the park district is one of the taxing agencies within Cook County that would get a boost if the city's TIF dollars were declared surplus. The park district's share of the local property tax pie has slipped to 6.71 percent, according to the Sun-Times. Even so, that means declaring Chicago's TIF dollars as surplus could result in a windfall of $49 million to $61 million for the agency, more than covering the present deficit. 

Much of the debate about the future of the city's TIF reserves this summer and fall has focused on how a surplus would boost Chicago Public Schools and the city's own budget. Parks shouldn't be left out of the discussion. Parks still offer plenty of opportunities for free entertainment. That's especially important during hard economic times. 

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
11:01am
Mon Sep 20, 2010

Honesty In The Budget Debate

Although the details are still being ironed out, Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady have agreed to hold at least three debates before the November election. When the two meet, how to close the state's budget deficit should be the central question addressed.

For months, we've been criticizing both campaigns for failing to provide a comprehensive plan to get the state back on track financially. Brady is the worst offender, telling supporters that he will "balance the state's budget in the first year" while refusing the identify how he will do so until after the elections. (Newsflash: If he keeps all of his campaign promises, he can't.) Gov. Quinn has been a bit better, at least advocating in favor of a small income tax increase. Still, that plan won't raise enough money to cover next year's operating gap, especially if he insists on incorporating a mandated property tax swap into the proposal. Today, both the AP and the State Journal-Register are calling on the candidates to speak honestly to voters over the next six weeks about the structural deficit. Let's hope the major party nominees get the message.

Quick Hit
by Michael Vanassche
2:58pm
Thu Sep 16, 2010

Jobs With Justice Calls Out Kirk

Some folks from Chicago Jobs with Justice showed up outside of the Illinois Republican headquarters in Chicago yesterday to protest the arrival of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk and rally in favor of President Obama's job creation initiatives, increased unemployment insurance benefits, and ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest earning 2 percent of Americans. All three are opposed by Kirk. Here's some footage from the rally:

Quick Hit
by Micah Maidenberg
4:36pm
Wed Sep 15, 2010

TIF Reform Bills Unlikely To Go Away

In late August, State Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) introduced a trifecta of bills (HB 6902, 6903, and 6904) that, if signed into law, would revolutionize how the City of Chicago's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) program operates. Fritchey, however, is running for Comm. Forrest Claypool's seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and is slated to leave the General Assembly. Will his bills die?

Not necessarily. Earlier this week, State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) told Progress Illinois that she is "very interested" in carrying the torch on some version of Fritchey's package. The precise wording of the legislation could change, but Steans said she would look at pushing a Auditor General investigation; examining the definition of blight in the current state TIF law; increasing transparency in "porting" TIF dollars; and excluding certain taxing bodies from the program going forward. "With the mayoral election coming up, the timing is good," Steans said.

What's less clear is how, legislatively, this may play out. It's unlikely the bills will get a hearing during the fall veto session, according to Steans. And state representatives may want to sponsors the bills, as well. "What I don't know is if someone is going to pick this up on the House side," Steans said. State. Rep Greg Harris (D-Chicago) did tell PI he's talked with Fritchey about the bills and Fritchey himself said he's canvassing his colleagues for support. A call to State. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), a leader in the Democratic caucus, wasn't immediately returned.

In other TIF news, State Rep. David Miller (D-Lynwood), who is the Democratic nominee for State Comptroller, has proposed an online database to help the public understand how each of Illinois' 1,000 TIF districts are operating if he's elected in November. “There are millions of dollars at stake," he said in a press release, "and taxpayers deserve to know whether or not these TIFs are benefiting their community."

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
9:22am
Wed Sep 15, 2010

Don't Cut Illinois' Corporate Income Tax

Anti-tax crusader Bill Brady hasn't gone so far as to advocate for a reduction in Illinois' corporate income tax rate, yet one could imagine the GOP gubernatorial candidate jumping at the idea. During the campaign, he's already vowed to veto any tax increase and has proposed a "jumpstart tax credit" that could provide giant employers with unnecessary subsidies. (He's the "Walmart" candidate, after all.)

Before Brady's campaign gets any funny ideas, they should read this post by Michael Mazerov at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The budget expert argues that corproate tax cuts won't fuel economic growth at the state level. Why? Illniois would have offset any lost revenue with service cuts or other tax increases and some of those corporate tax savings would funnel into the bank accounts of out-of-state shareholders in the form of higher dividends.

PI Original
by Micah Maidenberg
3:09pm
Tue Sep 14, 2010

Daley's Last Budget

The city of Chicago's balance sheet is filled with red ink. As Mayor Richard Daley prepares to offer the last spending plan of his long career, aldermen need to articulate new approaches to city budgeting.

Quick Hit
by Adam Doster
10:38am
Tue Sep 14, 2010

Pantagraph: Brady Is Wrong On Gas Tax

Transit advocates think Illinois needs to increase substantially its state gasoline tax to finance needed infrastructure projects. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, on the other hand, wants to roll back the sales tax applied to gasoline purchases, draining Illinois' coffers of roughly $610 million per year. The Pantagraph editorial board isn't picking up what Brady's putting down:

If fairness and competitive advantage for border communities were the only factors on which to judge Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady’s call for ending the state sales tax on gasoline, it would be easy to say, “Go for it!” But there is another factor — a more compelling factor, at this point — and that’s revenue ...

[W]ith the state mired in debt with an unbalanced budget, this is the wrong time to eliminate the sales tax on gasoline in Illinois.

Read the full editorial here.