Panelists suggest tax increase for higher ed funding

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor-in-Chief

Panelists during the “Higher Education: Collateral Damage in the Budget Battle” presentation explained the impact of the budget impasse on higher education and the need for raising both income and sale taxes to ensure funding.

Richard Wandling, chair of the political science department, said Illinois needs to seek out ways to broaden its sales tax as well as transition into a progressive income tax structure.

Currently Illinois sales tax applies to general merchandise and products, but this does not include common services like hair styling or lawn care.

Ralph Martire, executive director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said out of 45 states, Illinois has the most narrow-based tax and excludes services that make up approximately 72 percent of our economy.

“If we do that, we will not necessarily become ‘Taxachusetts’; matter of fact, our neighbors already tax services more than we do,” Martire said.

Revenue from increasing sales tax can provide Illinois about $1.5 billion, which will grow with the economy, but this alone will not provide enough funding for higher education. Income tax has to be restructured as well, Martire said.

However, the Illinois Constitution prevents the graduated income tax structure that allows the amount of taxes taken from a person’s check to match the amount of the check. Currently, Illinois has a flat-rate income tax system that mandates every resident pay the same tax amount.

English professor Fern Kory said raising taxes will have substantial benefits for the quality of our education, which should not be a cause of fear or resistance.

“If we are going to change the conversation in this area, we need to talk with our neighbors and engage with people in a way that it makes sense to them,” Kory said. “The other side has done a great job in making people scared to death of taxes and really truly believing that cutting is the only solution.”

John Miller, president of the University Professionals of Illinois local 4100, said residents should not just focus on state legislatures, but also talk with local officials and neighbors where their influence can make a quicker and larger impact.

“What we need to do is educate our neighbors, not just ourselves; we are talking to the choir often times. We also have to start standing up and doing some serious actions that will lead towards a massive amount of public pressure to end this,” Miller said. “This ends only when the public says enough.”

The need for revenue is the result of the Illinois legislatures in 2015 not passing a comprehensive budget for higher education funding and providing a stop-gap budget that only provides partial funding.

“You really have to wonder why state officials would turn their backs on something so crucial to their economic competitiveness as higher education,” Martire said.

Every year the Illinois Board of Higher Education has the responsibility to both the governor and general assembly to give a suggested appropriation for investing in all areas of higher education, Martire said.

“From 2008 to 2017, not once has the state provided the exact amount of funding suggested by the IBHE,” Martire said.

According to a chart that was shown during the presentation, Illinois has become an outlier due to the lack of funding and consistent cuts. The year-to-year cuts starting fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016 total 1.3 billion or 67.8 percent.

“That is an outrageous year-to-year cut which can’t have any impact other than harming the capacity of higher educational institutions across our state,” Martire said. “I’m talking everything from community colleges to the university system to not only educate students, who want to better their lives but to frankly just keep the lights on.”

When looking at a wider time range, the percentage of cuts to higher education is even larger.

“From 2000 to 2017 Illinois has opted to cut funding almost 80 percent,” Martire said. “We have become one the worst states in America for investing in our future.”

The combination of low enrollment, low state appropriations and the elimination of both educational personal and academic programs have affected the quality of the education, Miller said.

“There really is no reason to believe the state of Illinois is going to do anything to enhance its investment in higher education in the next few years unless we change tax policy to raise more revenue,” Martire said.

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].