Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"TEA Party" held and historic sites to reopen

by Hilary Russell and Jamey Dunn
Photographs by Hilary Russell

Anti-tax protesters gathered in front of the Illinois Capitol today, shouting the message that they are Taxed Enough Already (TEA) on the last day people can file their income taxes without an extension. Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn launched a new Web site intended to help taxpayers and government employees report corruption.

Today’s protest was one of several TEA parties held around the nation to demonstrate opposition to government spending and rising taxes under President Barack Obama’s administration.

In Illinois, taxpayers face a potential 50 percent income tax increase (from 3 percent to 4.5 percent for individuals and 4.8 percent to 7.2 percent for corporations). The legislature also is considering hiking sales taxes on cigarettes, some flavored coffee drinks and motor fuel as a way to help generate more revenue and plug a budget deficit projected to reach as much as $12.4 billion.

Protesters booed, waved American flags and raised signs that read,“Big government is the problem, not the solution,” “Read my lipstick, no more payments,” and “Vote to raise our taxes, and we will vote you out of office.”

Rep. Lou Lang, deputy House majority leader from Skokie, said he understands why people are angry at the prospect of increased taxes nationally and locally.

“For most of us here, no one wants to raise taxes, or raise fees and costs on people,” said Lang, who was in the Capitol today even though the General Assembly is on spring break. “But as we try to get through the spring session and we have to try and come to grips with a $12 billion hole in our budget and how we are going to deal with that, we may have to bite the bullet and raise some taxes. None of us would like to do that; we’d like to avoid it.”

Quinn, at a news conference in Chicago, said he supports citizens taking to the streets to make their opinions known, but he’s still waiting to hear alternatives to an income tax increase.

“We’ve heard a lot of chirping, but nobody has a specific concrete plan that gets the job done, without having to raise revenue in order to pay down the 11 and a half billion dollar deficit,” he said.

Meanwhile, he launched a government Web site aimed at getting people to report fraud that involves taxpayer dollars.

The site is supposed to make it easier for people to take advantage of a 1991 Illinois whistleblower protection law that encourages citizens to expose corruption and theft by offering a financial incentive. The law applies to all levels of government. According to Quinn, the law has already led to exposing Medicaid fraud and crooked highway contractors.

Quinn said that citizens have an obligation to help police their government. “We as taxpayers have, I think, a duty to keep our eyes open. We want anyone who would even think of committing fraud against the taxpayers to think twice about it,” he said.

Historic sites to open soon
Quinn also announced in his press conference today that some of the state historic sites could reopen as early as next week.

Dave Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said that notices to return to work have been sent to all 33 agency employees who were laid off late last year. He said that the agency has asked them to come back April 22 and that at least some historic sites should reopen by the end of next week.

Blanchette said that all 11 sites that were closed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich last year will be reopened, but the timing depends on how soon employees are available to come back to work. The governor and the agency will be making a formal announcement sometime next week.

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