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Civic Federation opposes borrowing to fund taxable property tax rebates

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

* A press release from the Civic Federation, which should never be confused with Ty Fahner’s Civic Committee…

In a new report released today, the Civic Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability opposes Governor Quinn’s recommended budget for FY2015 because it uses revenue from extending the 2011 temporary income tax increase for new spending. The State’s fiscal crisis demands that any increased revenue be used to stabilize State finances by significantly reducing its massive backlog of unpaid bills. The Institute’s full 36-page report is available at www.civicfed.org.

Under existing law, the State would lose $1.8 billion in General Funds revenues in FY2015 when the 2011 income tax rate increases are phased out beginning in January 2015. The Civic Federation is encouraged that the Governor’s plan addresses this fiscal cliff by extending the higher rates. The alternative – recommending budget cuts that are not based on specific public policy proposals – may be expedient but does not solve the State’s fiscal problems.

“The Governor’s plan appropriately recognizes that the State’s finances cannot withstand a dramatic reduction in revenues next year,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “However, new spending initiatives are just as contradictory to the State’s fiscal reality — especially those financed by borrowing.”

The Civic Federation opposes the Governor’s plan to spend $1.3 billion on a new homeowners’ grant program that would replace the State’s existing property tax credit on individual income taxes. Currently, the State provides an income tax credit for residential homeowners equal to 5.0% of the property taxes paid to local governments on their primary residence. The net cost of replacing this credit with the Governor’s proposed homeowners’ grant program is expected to be $715 million in FY2015.

The additional spending would require the State to borrow money to balance the operating budget, even after extending the higher income tax rates. The Governor proposes closing a $170 million budget gap in FY2015 by borrowing $650 million from funds outside of the State’s General Funds and repaying those funds with interest over the next two fiscal years. Although interfund borrowing is a low cost alternative to accessing transitional capital markets, this option should be reserved for financial emergencies and not to compensate for increased spending.

The Federation commends the Governor’s publication of a five-year budget plan, a first step toward true long-term financial planning. However, the policy choices made in the plan are projected to leave a substantial backlog of bills at the end of the five-year period and no strategy is detailed to establish a meaningful rainy day fund.

In its recent State budget roadmap for FY2015, the Federation recommended that the 2011 tax rate increases be extended for one year and then scaled back by 20% over the following three years. The Federation’s five-year plan also broadens the income tax base to include federally taxable retirement income. In the plan, additional revenues would be used to allow modest growth in agency spending while eliminating the $5.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills, providing relief to local governments and building up reserves to cushion against future economic downturns. The Federation continues to urge State lawmakers to adopt a similarly comprehensive approach to stabilizing Illinois finances.

The full analysis is here. Check out the section on the property tax “rebates”…

The State does not collect property taxes, so these payments cannot be considered property tax rebates or property tax relief. The existing property tax credit is nonrefundable, meaning it can only be used to reduce income taxes owed to the State and cannot be collected for any amount above the total individual tax liability. In contrast, new grants would be made regardless of whether the homeowner owes State income taxes, which adds to the cost of the new program. It is also possible the grant would be taxed by the federal and State governments as part of the calculation of homeowners’ individual income tax liabilities.

That could very well be true. In fact, I think it is true. Here’s your alleged property tax rebate, and, by the way, you owe income taxes on it.

Sheesh.

* I personally think the overall analysis makes some sense. The state shouldn’t be paying for that silly property tax “rebate” plan with borrowed money.

Also, this

In its recent State budget roadmap report for FY2015, the Federation found that the steep rollback in income tax rates would destabilize Illinois’ already weak financial condition. The Federation recommended that the 2011 tax rate increases be extended for one year and then scaled back by 20% over the following three years and that the income tax base should be broadened to include federally taxable retirement income. The Federation urged that the additional revenues be used to allow modest growth in agency spending while eliminating the unpaid bill backlog, providing relief to local governments and building up reserves to cushion against future economic downturns.

That might be doable, except it relies on the retirement income tax. Man, that would be a tough political vote. Impossibly tough, more likely. Suggesting such a thing amounts to a belief in magical budget dust.

Other than that, it’s not far out of line. Although I agree with the governor’s budget office that the entire bill backlog doesn’t have to be eliminated. People and big corporations don’t pay bills the day they arrive in the mail.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


14 Comments
  1. - DuPage - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 10:57 am:

    The rebate is mostly just election year political theatrics.


  2. - Ahoy! - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 10:57 am:

    While the entire backlog doesn’t need to be eliminated, it does need to be brought into a manageable and predictable payment cycle. The State should be able to take an invoice and provide payment within 45 days, 60 at the longest.


  3. - Mason born - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:02 am:

    –“The Governor’s plan appropriately recognizes that the State’s finances cannot withstand a dramatic reduction in revenues next year,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “However, new spending initiatives are just as contradictory to the State’s fiscal reality — especially those financed by borrowing.”–

    What is sad is that someone had to say that. You would think by know that would simply be common sense.


  4. - Wensicia - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:06 am:

    Since the state doesn’t collect property taxes, what’s the basis for providing relief exclusively for homeowners at every income level? This isn’t much different than providing free rides for seniors.


  5. - Norseman - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:17 am:

    === A press release from the Civic Federation, which should never be confused with Ty Fahner’s Civic Committee ===

    But it is so hard for us older folks.


  6. - Walker - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    It looks like the Civic Federation is very close to supporting the Governor’s “recommended” budget, and acknowledges that we cannot sunset the current rates.

    Calling inter-fund cash movements “borrowing” is stretching the term beyond what the public would assume they’re talking about. And if this weren’t an “emergency” then half of what has been done in the past two years wouldn’t have been required. To claim a fiscal emergency environment for some choices, but denying it for others, is foolish.

    The Federation doesn’t like the property tax ideas at all — those were offered as a political sop to get votes for the required rate extension in any case. No one loves them.

    All in all, good input.


  7. - fed up - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:22 am:

    The so called rebate has nothing to do with good or even Avg. govt it only is proposed as a feel good political moment before the election by Pinocchio Pat Quinn


  8. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:24 am:

    why can’t confuse Laurence and Tyrone…neither have much background in state finance and both rake up big time cash from corporate honchos.


  9. - Federalist - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    Oh no, for once I agree with the Civic Federation!


  10. - Anon - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    The Civic Fed opposes new spending on Quinn’s program, but proposes new spending of its own for municipalities. I guess new spending is bad only when the CF says it is.


  11. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 12:23 pm:

    The property tax rebate is an election-year gimmick. Not as irresponsible as the Bush tax rebate checks of 2008, but just as transparent.


  12. - downstate hack - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 12:34 pm:

    All new spending should be eliminated until the bills are cleared. This is a no-brainer as a start to fiscal integrity for Illinois.


  13. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 4:24 pm:

    The Civic Federation is often a voice of reason, and generally speaking they are here too. Not on the senior tax - not gonna happen - but on the need to extend the tax increase while limiting additional spending increases.

    The “property tax rebate” plan is such a ridiculously transparent political stunt. Hint, you’ll get a check but your property tax bill will be the same. Ridiculously bad idea. Like the Bush tax refund check, it will neither help the economy in a sustained way nor even help most homeowners pay their property tax bills (much or most of which are paid through their mortgages anyway).


  14. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, May 13, 14 @ 10:45 pm:

    Yesterday I argued that the most vulnerable point of Quinn’s whole budget was the call for new spending.

    Nothing but chirping crickets from Team Quinn in response to the report. But the Civvies carry some sway on both sides of the aisle in Springfield.


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