* The NFIB’s Kim Clarke Maisch argued forcefully against a sales tax on services in a 2012 Crain’s op-ed…
Advocates for higher taxes seem not to have learned from experience. Lawmakers and activists in Springfield have been pushing for years to expand the state sales tax to include services. And with another gaping hole in the budget, the temptation is getting stronger. Crain’s columnist Joe Cahill argued, based on various studies, that the state’s fiscal problems are the result of a “narrow” tax base that exempts “half of the state’s economy” from taxation.
There are two problems with this view: First, it fails to consider the relationship between taxes and economic activity. It is basic economics that higher prices result in lower demand. Higher taxes increase prices and therefore consumer behavior. Even President Barack Obama seems to understand. He thinks that higher energy prices will discourage the consumption of fossil fuels, and that subsidies for green energy that reduce its cost artificially will make it more attractive for consumers. It’s the same theory behind higher cigarette taxes, higher alcohol taxes and higher taxes for people who don’t buy insurance.
The point is that even the cheerleaders for higher taxes know that they change consumer behavior. Where conservatives want lower taxes to encourage consumption, liberals want higher taxes to dampen the demand for products and behaviors they don’t like. Whether that’s the proper role for government — to use the tax code to manipulate personal behavior — is a debate for another day. But there’s really no debate that higher taxes on the service economy will weaken the demand for services.
Mr. Cahill seems to dismiss this theory by stating, “Sorry, but I just don’t believe that Illinoisans will start cutting their own hair if they have to pay sales tax at the barbershop.” He may be right about haircuts, but many border communities for years have complained that folks are going across the state line to buy cheaper gas, cheaper alcohol and cheaper cigarettes. Isn’t it likely that if a service tax comes to Illinois, consumers will seek lower prices where they can find them, including across the border? […]
More than half of all of the jobs in Illinois are provided by small businesses. They can’t wave a magic wand and increase their sales by 6.5 percent, and their customers can’t give themselves a raise. Expanding the sales tax would hurt both groups precisely when we need more consumer activity.
* Joe Cahill followed up after Bruce Rauner unveiled his service tax plan…
Mr. Rauner’s proposal to extend the state’s sales tax to services is a common-sense idea that would raise revenue while making the tax base broader and fairer. As I’ve written before, there’s no rational justification for levying sales tax on nail polish but not manicures. […]
A substantial segment of Illinois business, I should add, disagrees with me on this point. They’ll be no more pleased with Mr. Rauner’s stand. Here’s what Kim Maisch, Illinois director of the National Federation of Independent Business, has to say:
“The NFIB and our 11,000 small-business members have long been opposed to a service tax here in Illinois . . . no matter who is pursuing the idea. As we look at Mr. Rauner’s proposal in its entirety, there are certainly items we can also support. However, no matter who the next governor is, NFIB will lead the fight against any legislative effort to bring a service tax to Illinois.”
By opposing a powerful, Republican-leaning interest group on a contentious issue, Mr. Rauner shows a willingness to put the state’s overall welfare ahead of his own short-term political interests. That’s a rare thing in Illinois politics, and he deserves kudos for it.
That NFIB endorsement will be a must watch event. The group has fought tooth and nail against a service tax for decades and now Rauner has opened the door wide.
* By the way, the Illinois Chamber has also fought hard against a service tax over the years. That group is run by Ms. Maisch’s husband Todd Maisch. So far, he’s been very quiet about this Rauner plan, and his group is also in the midst of formulating its endorsements.