Illinois needs a taxpayer bill of rights
Chicago's proposed $2.5 billion tax hike proves that Illinois taxpayers need protection from excessive and unpredictable taxation.
In Illinois, nothing stops politicians from raising taxes to support out-of-control spending. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed $2.5 billion tax hike illustrates the urgent need for protection for Illinois taxpayers in the form of a tax limitation called a taxpayer bill of rights. A taxpayer bill of rights would protect taxpayers by requiring voter approval of increases in taxes and government spending. Moreover, the information required by a taxpayer bill of rights for tax-increase and spending ballot initiatives compels government transparency.
Colorado’s taxpayer bill of rights: A model for Illinois
Colorado adopted its Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, as a constitutional amendment in 1992: It provides Colorado taxpayers with several levels of protection against runaway taxation and government spending.
Government bodies in Colorado must have voter approval in order to increase a tax rate, impose a new tax or change tax policy in a way that results in revenues that exceed the amount allowed under the amendment.
Government spending limited
Colorado’s TABOR restricts annual government spending to the rate of inflation, adjusted for population growth. Keeping more taxpayer revenue than the amount allowed under the spending formula requires the approval of voters.
Excess revenues refunded to taxpayers
The TABOR further mandates that if the state or a local government body collects more taxpayer dollars in a year than the amendment permits, the excess must be returned to taxpayers.
Voter information requirements for ballot initiatives to raise taxes or keep excess tax revenues
If politicians want to increase taxes or keep excess tax revenues, they must seek voter approval through a ballot initiative. The ballot must provide: information on the state’s or local government body’s current and previous four years of spending, the proposed tax increase in percentages and estimated dollar amounts, and summaries of support for and opposition to the proposed tax increase.
TABOR 5-year suspension
In 2005, Colorado residents voted to suspend the requirement that excess state funds be returned to citizens from 2006 to 2010. During this period, excess revenues were reallocated to other state appropriations.
What would a TABOR mean for Illinois?
Increased ability of taxpayers to plan their affairs and conduct business with needed certainty
Both residents and businesses would benefit from an Illinois taxpayer bill of rights. Illinois politicians could no longer impose taxes out of the blue or create an aura of uncertainty and confusion, as happened when former Gov. Pat Quinn and General Assembly members bandied about several different income-tax proposals in 2014. And Emanuel’s proposed $2.5 billion tax hike could not happen without voter approval if Illinois had a taxpayer bill of rights. While the suddenness and magnitude of Emanuel’s proposed tax increases have left many Chicagoans unsure whether they can afford to continue living in the city, with a taxpayer bill of rights, residents would know their long-term tax liabilities and could plan and budget accordingly.
Similarly, a taxpayer bill of rights would allow business owners to plan more easily for their long-term tax liabilities. Not only would this give much-needed reassurance and certainty to business owners, it would also provide an incentive for businesses to set up shop – or continue operating – in Illinois.
Taxpayers could hold politicians accountable
A taxpayer bill of rights would force government to be more efficient and transparent and would compel elected representatives to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. If officials know their ability to raise revenue is restricted, they have a stronger incentive to reduce waste and cut unnecessary spending. Under a taxpayer bill of rights, politicians could not pass programs while leaving decisions of how to fund them for a later date. Nor could they impose new taxes or raise tax rates without fully informing voters of the reasons for the taxes and obtaining the voters’ approval.
Illinoisans deserve a more responsible and transparent government. Adopting a taxpayer bill of rights would help achieve this.