* Hannah Meisel interviewed Illinois Department of Revenue Director David Harris. Excerpt…
Illinois Department of Revenue Director David Harris was one of the small group of Republican legislators who defied former Gov. Bruce Rauner in the summer of 2017 when he not only voted for a tax hike to end a two-year budget impasse, but also voted to overturn the Republican governor’s veto on the increase in income taxes. While he and many others announced their immediate retirements after that vote or their decisions to not seek re-election, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Harris would serve as the director IDOR soon after his November win over Rauner. The Daily Line spoke with Harris on Tuesday two days after the legislature wrapped up its business for the spring session, which resulted in the legalization of recreational marijuana, a $40.1 billion budget, a $44.5 billion six-year capital plan and a host of new taxes and fees in exchange for the creation of a bevy of new tax incentives for businesses. […]
Q: Do you think serving as the head of a state agency the last five months — do you think it’s changed your views on state government writ large? You come from a pretty moderate suburban Republican background and you were a longtime legislator. Do you think your views have changed on state government being truly in it?
A: My perspective has changed, yes. I’ll tell you how. As an example, I was on the [House] Revenue Committee and we’d always say, ‘What’s the revenue estimate on this?’ …We just kind of assumed the Department of Revenue had all those people over there working.
Now, we can punch a lot of numbers and we can punch a lot of numbers quickly. But I will tell you I have a research staff that used to be populated with eight people. It’s now populated with four people…if any one of those people gets in a car accident or gets sick and can’t come to work for two weeks, we have to scramble. Because of reductions — and these are all economists, trained economists, you try to hire an economist in state government at the level we’re going to pay them, it’s not easy.
Remember, the governor’s Fair Tax proposal, what does it mean if the [rates] are at such-and-such a level? We pegged it at a level where 97 percent of taxpayers in Illinois are not going to see any income tax increase, and indeed are going to see a benefit from those proposed levels.
But we’ve got to run through 6 million individual income tax filings to figure that out. It takes time. You just don’t push a button and that computer runs through six million computations. There has to be somebody there to do that.
So it’s absolutely increased my appreciation for what is done specifically at the Department of Revenue, and increased my appreciation for folks who do things like that…I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what it takes to actually run state government, whereas being in the legislature, you can sit there and criticize somebody who didn’t do something or say, ‘This just isn’t working as efficiently as it should and I’ll just pass a bill.’ You pass a bill, that means a lot of things have to happen to make sure that bill works the way you intended it to work.