* My Crain’s Chicago Business column…
Believe it or not, legislators usually try to reflect their constituents’ core values. If the folks back home are convinced that their representatives have strayed too far from those values, those representatives are in danger of losing their jobs.
Some politicians are so popular that they can get away with anything. But few elected officials want to risk sparking up an opponent. Even though they’d likely win, they’d have to actually work during an election year. Politicians are like everybody else. Not many enjoy doing extra work for the same salary.
But sometimes a problem becomes so large that politicians finally have no choice but to stick their necks out.
This is one of those times.
The 2011 income tax hike was reviled. But the truth is it had to be done. The state had skipped and skimmed on pension contributions for so many decades that it needed to start making payments or risk a fiscal catastrophe.
Those payments aren’t small. They amount to several billion dollars a year. Without that tax hike, the state essentially would have had to gut the entire government.
But in an attempt to free up some money for vital services, pension benefits were cut. As you know, the Illinois Supreme Court recently rejected those cuts, in a strongly worded opinion.
Part of the “temporary” income tax hike expired in January, creating a $6.16 billion hole in the budget that begins July 1. Pension benefits can’t be cut to fill even part of that chasm.
Legislators and the governor are scrambling to come up with a solution.
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