From City Hall to Springfield to Capitol Hill, the candy man and candy lady are out in force. At a time when inflation is up and costs are rising, our dedicated public servants can’t wait to let you know they feel your pain and will haul out the collective plastic to ease it. After all, there’s an election coming up, dontcha know.
Nobody likes to pay taxes. Especially me. I got the bad news from my accountant a few days ago and, trust me, you don’t want to know. But if we’re going to spend money on things we say we need, be it good schools or more cops or decent-sized worker pensions, we have to pay for it. And when we instead borrow money to take care of those bills, we only end up paying more in the end.
Let’s start at City Hall—Lori Lightfoot, proprietor.
With other jurisdictions moving to ease gas prices, Lightfoot has a plan to spend $12.5 million she got from somewhere—excess funds lying around here and there, officials say—to give a fortunate few drivers and Chicago Transit Authority riders a break. A total of 50,000 of the former would get gas cards worth $150 (about two tanks full) and 100,000 would get ride cards worth $50 each.
If you’re the lucky winner, congrats. But the vast majority of Chicagoans won’t be. And as the case with the guaranteed annual income checks the city started sending out to some folks this year, the question is what happens next year when all that federal COVID-relief cash now sloshing around is gone.
Maybe that’s why Lightfoot’s plan got a hostile reception from aldermen. Did anybody bother to think instead about spending that money on, say, anti-violence programs that might keep some people alive? Or maybe it’s that businessman and sometimes mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson, who has his own gas-giveaway program going and at least used his own money and not taxpayers’ funds.
In Springfield, the situation does not appear quite as bad. So far. But we won’t know for sure until fiscal experts get a chance to read the fine print of the budget deal Gov. J.B. Pritzker and General Assembly Democrats now have rolled out.
If you’ll recall, Pritzker opened the bidding by promising $1 billion in one-year tax cuts for “working families”—somebody show me a family that doesn’t work, but I digress—while also stashing extra cash into the state’s underfunded pension plans and depleted rainy day account. Then the state House and Senate came up with bigger totals, including a permanent hike in the earned income tax credit.
Well, the final deal was even bigger, $1.83 billion in mostly temporary tax relief, plus an extra $200 million into the rainy day fund, all said to be affordable because of quite bubbly state revenues.
We’ll see if that works out. House Republicans are skeptical. This budget is “untenable,” they said, meaning that Pritzker sometime after the election will have to try to revive his graduated income tax plan. But Senate Republicans went the other way. They released a plan saying the state is so flush that it can afford $2.2 billion in permanent tax cuts. Yes, permanent tax cuts that would remain in place next year after all the COVID cash is gone.
Look at the good side, though, folks. You’ll have the money quite soon to buy the candy of your choice, because I can guarantee you rebate-related largesse will arrive before elections. Chocolate bunny anyone?