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Social Service Organizations Rally Together for Balanced Budget

Local faith leaders, along with representatives from more than 300 social service organizations, headed to Springfield on Tuesday to show their support for House Bill 174, which would raise the states income tax and expand the sales tax.

“Typically, these are organizations that are in competition against each other for limited state dollars, but instead we are banding together to say there is not enough state money,” said Daniel Schwick, assistant to the president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois.

The Responsible Budget Coalition, with 40 buses of supporters in tow, went to Springfield Feb. 16, where they held a press conference at the state Capitol, followed by a rally in support of House Bill 174 on Feb. 17.

“It’s hard; people don’t understand that this is really about them,” said John Bouman, leader of the Responsible Budget Coalition and president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. “If we don’t get this done the right way, we will see everything from teacher layoffs to whole institutions closing.”

House Bill 174 would raise the state personal and corporate income tax from 3 to 5 percent and expand the state sales tax to certain consumer services. It would also provide tax relief by raising the personal exemption from $2,000 to $3,000, doubling the state property tax credit and tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit, which targets low-income families.

This increase would fall only on those who can afford it, said Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, because the bill will include tax credits for those who cannot afford to pay more.

Instead of a progressive income tax that applies a greater share of the burden to wealthier taxpayers, Illinois is currently one of only six states to have a fixed income tax. So the state’s poorest residents pay 3 percent of their income in state tax, as do Illinois’ wealthiest citizens.

The bill was passed through the Senate last May, and is now waiting on an approval from the House.

Sharp said citizens are fighting against tax increases because they aren’t aware of the services they will lose due to a lack of funding.

“I think there is a mentality that is really unwilling to pay for services that we expect to be provided for us. We have to rise above that and realize the needs of our state,” Sharp said.

Kathy Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children, said it is crucial the bill is approved before the Nov. 2 general election, which is why the coalition has started the “We Can’t Wait” campaign.

“We feel very strongly that any delay on having a responsible budget will be very costly to the state as far as programs and services and successful initiatives go. They will either be gone, or their funding will be inadequate to meet the needs of the state,” Ryg said.

Ryg said the current deficit for the 2011 budget is $12.8 billion, which includes unpaid bills to social service agencies and state vendors.

Rep. David Miller (D-Dolton), a supporter of HB174, said he hopes now that the Feb. 2 primary election is past, the legislation will move forward.

“We have proved we can pass the bill in the Senate, now we need to see what we can do with it from here,” Miller said.

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