SPRINGFIELD -- Just weeks after Illinois raised its income tax to address a backlog of unpaid bills and a projected $15 billion deficit, some state lawmakers are proposing legislation that would create new state agencies and cut into revenue by issuing new tax credits to certain groups.


SPRINGFIELD -- Just weeks after Illinois raised its income tax to address a backlog of unpaid bills and a projected $15 billion deficit, some state lawmakers are proposing legislation that would create new state agencies and cut into revenue by issuing new tax credits to certain groups.

The sponsors say their bills will act as economic stimuli and help create jobs, but one Republican senator said it shows how out of touch the bills’ Democratic sponsors are with the state’s fiscal condition.

“It’s like people are living in a fantasy land,” Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said. “We can’t afford what we do now, much less new programs.”

 

Department of Minority and Women Inclusion

Illinois unemployment is 9.3 percent of the workforce, according to the state Department of Employment Security. Among minorities the number is even larger, according to Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago.

“The vast majority of the unemployed in this state are African-American men, and when you look at the disparities in the prisons, you see African-American men,” Flowers said. “When you look at education and the disparities in pay, minorities, Hispanics and blacks are usually the lowest paid.”

Flowers has introduced House Bill 104, which would create the Department of Minority and Women Inclusion. The new agency would be in charge of equal employment opportunity in the executive branch, as well as ensuring against racial or gender disparities in state contract awards.

Flowers said the bill will help cut state spending even though a new agency would be created.

“When you look at the state tax base, it has declined,” Flowers said. “How do we get out of the hole? Get people working. Increase the tax base. Get people off public aid, off unemployment, off Medicaid.”

 

Small business tax credit

Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, wants to increase the tax credit given to companies that hire new workers.

“Illinois is in desperate need of work,” Mulroe said. “The government can’t create work -- it’s up to businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Senate Bill 97 would increase the tax credit for new hires from $2,500 to $3,500 and raise the number of employees a small business can have and still qualify, from 50 to 75.

Though the state would be giving up revenue, the General Assembly can’t afford to do nothing, Mulroe said.

“We have to do our best and do our part to provide incentives (for businesses to expand),” he said.

 

State Department of Education

Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, has introduced House Bill 152, which would put the Illinois State Board of Education, Board of Higher Education and Community College Board under a new Department of Education with its own cabinet secretary.

“We’re finding students are not prepared for the next level of education,” Davis said. “Aren’t these people (on the boards of education) talking together? They are, but only at conferences once or twice a year.”

The umbrella of a single state department would lead to more continuity, Davis said.

“We have eighth-graders who have never sat in an algebra class,” she said. “I want a department with a secretary who will bring the boards together almost on a daily basis so they will not have the option of blaming the previous level (if students are unprepared).”

A single state education system also would be better equipped to find waste and cut individual budgets, Davis argued, saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Tax credits for volunteers

Freshman Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, has proposed House Bill 211, which would create a $5-per-hour tax credit for volunteers working at community service events certified by the public health or veterans’ affairs departments. The credit would be capped at $1,500 a year.

The bill is designed to help organizations provide state services without the need to use tax money to hire workers, Jones said.

 

Permanent sales tax holiday

Last year, a pilot program was launched to eliminate the sales tax charged on school supplies between Aug. 6 and Aug. 15. Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, wants to make that permanent with House Bill 258.

“All of the surrounding states do it, and it would put Illinois at a competitive disadvantage if we didn’t,” Franks said.

Making the holiday permanent would help grow the economy and create jobs, he said.

“Especially at a time when we just raised taxes on working folks, they need every break they can get,” Franks said.

 

Property tax relief for the disabled

Franks also wants to increase the property tax credit for disabled people. The current credit is 5 percent; Franks’ proposal, House Bill 259, would double it to 10 percent.

“With any income tax increase, those on fixed incomes can afford it the least,” said Franks, whose legislation is.

Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, introduced a similar measure that would double the credit for all taxpayers. Franks said he would support Kotowski’s bill, Senate Bill 138, but he thinks it might be too big to pass.

Murphy said legislation touted as tax relief is merely political cover for lawmakers who voted for the income tax increase.

“If that (tax relief) is your goal, you don’t pass the largest tax increase in state history,” Murphy said.

 

Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.