Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Party candidate outlines budget plan

By Rachel Wells

Green Party candidate Rich Whitney today said that if elected governor, he would fix the state’s $13 billion budget problem by creating a new tax – a sort of sin tax on the profits of speculative trading – and by pushing a tax increase plan that stalled in the General Assembly last spring.

A financial transactions tax, which the state would levy on securities traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange at what Whitney called a “minuscule” rate, “not pennies on the dollar but pennies on the $100,” could potentially bring in enough funds to wipe out Illinois' budget deficit, he said. He added that he would seek only a tax rate high enough to bring in $4.5 billion.

“We should start looking to the financial services sector, and the speculators, and the predatory lenders and the same people who are responsible for this crisis to start paying their fair share to repair the damage,” Whitney said. In his position paper, Whitney said the speculative trading he wants to tax is “another form of gambling, one that is every bit as harmful as the other sin taxes, and far more voluminous.”

Whitney said he would also call on legislators to pass the same “comprehensive” plan outlined in Senate Bill 750, a tax and education funding reform bill previously sponsored by Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat. The measure called for an income tax increase of 2 percentage points, an expansion of the sales tax base to include some services and property tax relief. Whitney said the income tax plan could generate more than $7.3 billion. A version of Meeks’ bill passed in the Senate last session but was never called in the House.

Whitney said he hasn’t yet read Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn’s March 10 budget proposal in detail, but he said it wasn’t straightforward enough in calling for a tax increase to reduce the impact on education.

Quinn on Wednesday announced a plan – criticized by Republicans as a game – for $1.3 billion in primary and secondary education cuts, assuming lawmakers would not pass a tax increase this spring. Last year, Quinn actively pursued an 1.5 percentage point income tax increase.

“I think part of the problem is that when Pat Quinn advocated it, he just talked about an income tax increase in a vacuum, not the kind of comprehensive package that we’ve had with [SB] 750,” Whitney said. “I think the people are ready for it, if it’s presented as a complete package.”

Whitney agrees with Quinn that about $2 billion in spending cuts are needed. But Whitney said his plan – akin to former Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski’s proposal – for a citizen-guided forensic audit would leave education and human services intact. He also wants to redirect proceeds from the capital construction bill, eliminating funding for any “pork” projects.

Whitney, who is alone in calling for an expanded public sector and more state jobs, also opposes Quinn’s call for a two-tiered pension system. Whitney said his own plan for the creation of a state bank would bring in enough revenue to pay down the pension debt at an accelerated pace. Whitney did not provide an estimate of how much revenue a state bank would provide.

“There is no magic wand, let’s be clear about that, for any of this. And I’m not claiming that I have one,” Whitney said. “But what I am saying is that this is a much better proposal that allows us to minimize the immediate pain and the horrible consequences of the budget proposals of the other two candidates.”

Whitney would also like to legalize and tax cannabis, as well as implement a greenhouse gas fee and dividend system under which fees imposed on high pollution energy producers would benefit consumers until more environmentally friendly energy sources become more prevalent and less pricey.

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