Down to the Nitty GRITty

At each of the past three BoE meetings I’ve attended, the budget looked large. Everyone from Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Laurence Msall to Tim Cawley brought up pension reform in August. Tim Cawley also brought up the need for additional revenue from Springfield. Pension reform is a sticky wicket as well as a straw man in my opinion. I think that reforms to the state pension should be forward-going only. That is, the Illinois General Assembly can move to a defined contribution plan for current teachers and civil servants (ahem, elected officials), but it may not strip pensioners of their restful, albeit meager retirements after 40+ years in the trenches of CPS.

However, an increase in the state income taxation process is something I can get behind. And it’s a common theme at the BoE. BBB brought it up. Karen Lewis brought it up. Even Henry Beinen brought it up.

At last: a common cause for education wonks in Chicago.

I hope it works. I’ve attended several presentations put on by the Illinois League of Women Voters,  the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and most recently, A Better Illinois, about the subject of Illinois’s tax mess. I have found the argument increasingly convincing each time. 

The more I learn about the campaign, the more I think it makes sense. Illinois was one of the first states in the union to promote many child-focused initiatives. It would collectively do well to reclaim some of that positivity (as opposed to notoriety) by funding its state programs fairly and more appropriately. If that means that I pay more tax, so be it if that is fair. However, I’m inclined to think it would be more fair for corporations to pay their fair share of tax, rather than doling out foundation dollars to the CEO/Board of Directors’ pet causes. (If corporate foundations still want to do so, great, but the public good should not depend on private monies to survive/exist.) 
According to information provided by Advance Illinois, Illinois ranked 48th in state funding of education, as a percentage of total funding, in 2009-2010. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) allegedly funds schools at a rate of $11,634 per pupil per year, which puts Illinois in the middle of the pack. But given that my kids’ school received just over $4,000 per pupil for the 2013-2014 academic year, I’m not sure what accounts for the nearly $7K per pupil difference. Pension payments? 

As this HuffPo analysis of the NEA stats says, Illinois is the most regressive in its education funding.  And this (downstate) reporter explains how the published numbers are not the same as what school districts actually get. 

So now that I’ve established how low the rate at which Illinois funds its schools actually is, back to my point: this is unacceptable. Now a base state ranking means that  one state has got to be last, but there is last by a neglible amount (Illinois versus Utah or Idaho) snd there’s last by a ridiculous amount (Illinois versus New York or Massachusetts). This difference is revolting, it’s disgusting, it’s criminal, it’s base. And I don’t see how we can raise future productive citizens of the world if our students aren’t getting the support they so desperately need. 

I want to move to Iowa like I want a hole in my head, but Iowans know how to breed–and educate–a thinking body politic. And they do this in part by funding their education system from a fair and equitable income tax structure. As do 33 other states that follow a graduated rate income tax (GRIT) structure. In fact, all of the other Midwestern states follow GRIT–except Indiana, which appears to be only steps ahead of Illinois in shady educational policymaking. 

Under GRIT, the plan is simple: increase revenues by changing the income tax in Illinois from a fixed rate flat tax (currently 5 percent, will sunset down to 3.75 percent in fiscal year 2016 and drops again to 3.25 percent in 2024) to a graduated rate. That means that those with a higher income will be taxed at a higher rate and those at a lower income will be taxed at a lower rate. There are several models floating around about what this might look like in Illinois. According to one of these models, those at the top income brackets would see only a 3 percent increase in income tax payable to Illinois. 

I daresay they (we?) can afford it. What do you think? 

One thought on “Down to the Nitty GRITty

  1. Expect our elected officials to tackle nettlesome issues like pension reform, tax reform and education funding reform all at the same time?

    We are going to need some new elected officials. The ones we have now are all dumbasses.

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