Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When I hear Gov. Bruce Rauner...

...speak, I have to admit: this guy is smooth.

I have no trouble believing Rauner made almost a billion dollars over the years. He could sell snow to the Eskimos! I mean, the indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the northern circumpolar regions of North America and parts of Greenland and northeast Siberia.

But is Gov. Rauner really, as he seems to say here, the champion of the middle class? The "workin' families"? Does he represent "the people of the state, the taxpayers, the homeowners, the schoolchildren and their parents, small business owners, truck drivers, factory workers, plumbers and carpenters?"

Or does Bruce Rauner have a different constituency?

(By the way, I don't doubt for a minute that Michael Madigan and John Cullerton aren't as pure as the driven snow; in fairness, they and their Democratic colleagues got Illinois into the mess it's in. And only an honest, fair-minded Democrat, a la Jerry Brown in California, can get us out.)

But, as John McCarron writes in the Chicago Tribune, "For fortunate few, status quo in Illinois is just fine" (my emphasis):

At the top is Illinois' relatively low, flat-rate state income tax. A feature locked in by the 1970 constitution, the tax allows our highest-paid corporate executives to pay at the same rate — newly reduced to 3.75 percent — as the workers who scrub their floors and mow their lawns. Can't beat that.

Then there's the way Illinois funds its public schools — with a system that ties available funding to the assessed value of real estate in one's school district. This way, in Winnetka, where the governor raised his kids, the high school district last year was able to spend $21,372 per student. How sweet is that?

Property taxes up there are a backdoor bargain, you see, because most homeowners can deduct them from their federally taxable incomes. The higher your property taxes and the higher your federal tax bracket, the bigger your discount. And you wondered why there's rarely a tax revolt along the North Shore.

Then there's the way Illinois taxes corporations. The corporate income tax used to be levied against company profits using a formula that also considered the value of its property and the number of its in-state employees — the better to gauge a company's use of state services. But in 2001, to make Illinois "more competitive," this was changed so as to tax only those profits gained from sales in Illinois. Our multinational firms cheered (think Caterpillar, Deere, Boeing, etc.) but our state annually loses multimillions.

That "reform" plus other handouts have lowered the share of state income taxes paid by corporations from about 20 percent in 1970 to about 15 percent last year. Actually the majority of Illinois corporations pay no income tax. Nada. Zero. Then again, many are small "Chapter S" corporations whose owners pay tax on their profits as individuals. They also tend to drive really nice, tax-deductible cars.

I actually think Gov. Rauner is a sincere guy who believes what he says. Of course he thinks looking out for the richest one percent is the way to go -- it conforms with his worldview. But when the governor speaks, you have to ask yourself: Is he really looking out for people like me, or as John McCarron writes, the fortunate few?

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