Report: Tax rain, plastic bottles and plastic bags to hire more state workers

Report: Tax rain, plastic bottles and plastic bags to hire more state workers

A new report recommends taxes on plastic water bottles, plastic bags and storm water as a way to hire more state environmental regulators.

A new report from the University of Chicago recommends fees on the use of plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles and storm water to fund more employees at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the researchers, the IEPA is overworked and understaffed, which makes them ineffective and poses a public health risk. The agency’s workforce fell 50% between 2003 and 2018 as federal funding fell and its regulatory responsibilities increased.

IEPA performed 81% fewer inspections of air pollution emitting facilities than it did in 2003. In addition to the staff reductions, the report states IEPA is using outdated equipment and technology.

In order to hire more IEPA workers and upgrade the technology, the report recommends three recycled ideas for taxing Illinoisans.

A “rain tax” bill was introduced in the General Assembly in January. According to House Bill 825, municipalities would be able to charge residents to offset the cost of maintaining and owning sewers. The IEPA and University of Chicago report support the concept, stating rainwater runoff contributes to increased levels of pollution.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker supported the idea of a statewide tax on plastic bags, proposing a five-cent tax in his fiscal year 2020 budget. The proposal was dropped in favor of 20 other new or increased taxes and fees approved by Pritzker in June. If Illinois were to pass a plastic bag tax, it would be the only state in the nation to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Two bills were introduced this year taxing plastic bags throughout the state. Senate Bill 1240 proposed implementing a seven-cent tax throughout the state, except in municipalities with an existing plastic bag tax. House Bill 3335 would have created a statewide 10-cent tax on plastic bags, except in the city of Chicago.

Chicago already has a 7-cent tax on plastic bags, which replaced a ban on plastic bags. The ban was considered a failure after retailers to get around the ban began using thicker “reusable” bags, which were considered worse for the environment.

The IEPA is not the only state agency that has been cut as pension costs crowd out services taxpayers expect. The state this year will spend 25.5% of its revenue on pensions as part of a record $40 billion state budget. Pension spending increased by 501% since 2000 while services have been cut by about one-third.

Government spending reflects its true priorities, so until state lawmakers agree to amend the Illinois Constitution to protect earned pension benefits while allowing changes in future, unearned benefits, pensions will be the top priority. State police protection, child death investigations, grants for impoverished college students and help for the disabled have taken heavy cuts and will continue to take a lower priority, as will spending on environmental monitoring and regulation.

More revenue has failed to fix Illinois’ fiscal problems. Until spending is addressed, taxing the rain will become yet another failed strategy and another reason Illinois can’t attract or keep young families.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!