Friday, February 15, 2008

NIU and taxes

Shooting lingers over Capitol
By Patrick O’Brien
Thursday’s shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb cast a pall over the Statehouse today. Legislative action led off with condolences and a moment of silence on the House floor. (The Senate was not in session today.)

A group of lawmakers also received a private briefing by Michael Chamness,
chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force and adviser to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Chamness praised the efforts of university officials and first responders in DeKalb, saying that an alert about the shootings was issued through text messages and other means less than 20 minutes after the incident occurred. “From our standpoint, NIU did everything correct,” he said.

Comparisons between Virginia Tech and NIU were inevitable. Chamness said reports confirm it took two hours for word of the shooting to reach students at last year’s Virginia Tech shootings. In the case of NIU, students were given specific instructions shortly after the incident to stay away from the area of campus where the shootings occurred.

Chamness said it’s unlikely the DeKalb shootings could have been prevented. “There didn’t seem to be the flags there were at Virginia Tech” that may have alerted authorities.

And Illinois state universities learned from the Virginia Tech tragedy through training in school safety. NIU Police Chief Donald Grady and officials from 95 other state schools attended.

Further, a statewide Campus Safety Task Force is conducting a mental health survey to identify potential problem individuals, but there’s no clear-cut answer about how to prevent such incidents, Chamness said. The task force’s report, including the study, will be available April 1.

Tax talk
By Bethany Jaeger
Anticipate a battle between ideas for raising revenue and for stimulating the economy. There’s more talk about Gov. Rod Blagojevich seeking to garner revenue through a so-called carbon tax, which the Illinois Chamber of Commerce already is prepared to oppose if it appears in his annual budget address February 20. At the same time, even typical proponents of tax credits say the state should avoid anything that could further cut into a revenue shortfall.

If the governor does propose a form of tax on carbon dioxide emissions, expect vocal opposition from the agribusiness and coal industries. We’ll have more on the carbon tax later if it is indeed proposed. The chamber suggests to learn more in the meantime.

In addition, the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois said it will oppose all legislative proposals for tax credits, exemptions and deductions this year. “There’s no money,” said David Eldridge, legislative director for the group and former assistant counsel to House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Eldridge testified before a House Revenue Committee Friday and said the state faces a deficit ranging from $600 million to $750 million. The state needs all the revenue it can get for the upcoming fiscal year (that starts July 1). (See our previous blog for background.)

To generate money, the federation repeats an earlier position that it could support an increase in the personal income tax by 1 percent. The Commercial Club of Chicago’s Civic Committee recommended that last year, and increasing the rate from 3 percent to 4 percent already is proposed in a measure sponsored by Rep. Annazette Collins, a Chicago Democrat.

Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat and Revenue Committee member, said the federation’s statement is significant given the timing. “Normally, the members of the Taxpayers’ Federation are the large manufacturers who would be looking for the tax credits. But given the Chicago Civic Committee’s report from last year — and many of their members are members of the Taxpayers’ Federation — they came out in favor of an income tax with a corresponding corporate income tax increase.”

Rep. Bob Biggins, an Elmhurst Republican and committee member, said it’s a reasonable position, even for lawmakers such as him who like to propose tax cuts. A former township assessor, he said local governments saw enormous revenue growth as property values increased during the past 30 years. Now that property values are flat, particularly in the Chicago area, local governments aren’t collecting as much money.

“There’s a natural stoppage of increases in revenue from the real estate being flat to the economy in the state — people aren’t spending as much. We’re not going to have enough money. Let’s be prudent here, and let’s not make it worse.”

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