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Think pensions cause conflict here. Just look at out neighbors to the north where protesters have descended upon the statehouse and Democratic legislators have fled the state to put off a vote on a bill that would strip unions of collective bargaining power and increase public employee contributions to pensions and health care.
There are two passionate sides to this issue:
Some say the state is broke and public employees need to make concessions to balance the budget.
The other side says the bill is simply an attempt by Republicans to bust unions and organized labor, their traditional political opponents.
What side are you on?

And is Illinois next? Mark Brown of the Sun-Times weighs in.

A measure to nearly double the state income tax is on the table in Springfield.
Gov. Quinn has reportedly reached a deal with leaders in the General assembly to raise the rate on individuals from 3% to 5.25%. The measure could be on the House floor as early as today (Jan. 7).
Anybody going to call their state reps?

In a Sun-Times story running in Wednesday's Naperville Sun, a nonpartisan government watchdog group called the Civic Federation claims the state of Illinois must enact the largest tax increase in state history to help pay the bills.

The state faces a $12.8 billion budget deficit for next year. The group also recommends cutting another $2 billion from government programs and to wrest major concessions from the state's unionized workforce.

Specifically, the group's study recommends that the state income tax be increased from 3 percent to 5 percent for individuals, that retirees' pension and Social Security checks be taxed for the first time at the same rate as workers' paychecks, and the tax on cigarettes be raised by another $1 per pack. The group also favors getting rid of $181 million in corporate tax breaks.

Gov. Pat Quinn has brought up the idea of tax increases before, but the proposal never got anywhere. Even legislators who think we need a tax increase know they will be seriously hurting their chances at re-election if they come out in support of a tax increase, especially during a period of high unemployment and falling salaries.

Still, while no one likes paying taxes, something must be done. It seems unlikely enough cuts could be found to save the state almost $13 billion a year, so new revenue must be found even under the most optimistic scenarios. Is it time for a tax increase, and if not, what can we do instead?

Here is a link to the story: http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/napervillesun/news/2062132,CST-NWS-doomsday22.article

With the old thread on this subject being quite long, I got a request to create a new one for those of you who still want to discuss this.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved in a 5-4 vote a tax levy that is estimated to raise the tax rate by two cents per $100 of assessed valuation. For the owner of a $400,000 home, it only represents and increase of about $25, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy about it.

Councilman Grant Wehrli noted that even though the council expects to abate the increase once it property assessments are issued, it will still result in a tax increase of nearly $1 million.

No one likes to pay more taxes, but do you think it's worth it to preserve city services and city jobs?

In a close 5-4 vote Monday night, the Naperville City Council agreed to raise the property tax rate from 0.7167 percent to 0.7367 percent.

The city has in the past approved a property tax rate increase and then lowered it when assessments are released, and officials claim the same thing will happen this time. The city plans to collect more than $50.6 million in property taxes next year and only approved the higher rate in case assessments fall, to ensure city services are funded.

This is necessary because a property tax levy must be approved well in advance of the budget year's beginning.

Councilwoman Judy Brodhead said the assessment was much more important to a person's tax payment than the tax rate, but Councilman Bob Fieseler objected to a tax that is impossible for a struggling property owner to avoid, unlike a sales tax.

Still, for owners hoping a drop in property values would mean a drop in taxes, it would seem the city is planning for a way around that contingency.

What do you think? Is this just business as usual or do you object?


By Chris Magee
There's a childish game called "chicken." where two people ride straight at one another, in a car, a bike, whatever, to see who flinches and gets out of the way first. Designed as a test of courage and bravado, it is really just a good way to get hurt.

Illinois politicians are playing chicken right now with the budget. The problems are real - there's a $7 billion deficit. Governor Pat Quinn wants to raise taxes to plug this gap, and Republican and many Democratic legislators are refusing, so Quinn is threatening to take away funding from just about every social welfare program in the state to make up the difference.

Quinn knows if he targets the popular programs, the ones most people think we need, he is likely to get some action on his proposals. You're not going to find too many people in favor of eliminating drug treatment programs and battered women shelters.

Of course, the legislators can't allow themselves to be blackmailed, so they're playing hardball. They're not going to give in to threats and pass a tax increase they don't believe in.

Caught in the middle are these social services - shelters, treatment programs, food pantries, just about every fashionable cause you can think of - and they don't care who wins the game of chicken. They just want to have the money to keep doing their jobs.

In the last few weeks The Sun has received letters from seemingly every agency within 25 miles that will be affected by these cuts. Many have run in print already and many more are scheduled for publication in coming days. Each of these letters explains the valuable work these groups do and details all the cuts that will have to be made July 1 if the legislators don't find that money.

No one wants to take away funding from these agencies, but it could very well happen despite everyone's well wishing. In this game of chicken, if no one flinches, the two sides will collide in the middle and it will all come crashing down.

Unemployment in Illinois is over 10 percent now. Some estimates say state budget cuts could result in 200,000 additional job losses in our state. Is this the way to get out of the recession? Laying off employees, putting the junkies on the street, leaving those who have lost their jobs without anywhere to turn for help?

Yes, the Republicans have a point. The state needs to try to make other cuts before taking the easy way out of a tax increase. But there isn't $7 billion worth of fat in the budget. New revenue will need to be found.

No one wants to pay more taxes, especially in an economic downturn. But sometimes something is too important not to fund. Should the governor and legislators who got us into this mess by spending money like drunken sailors be held accountable? Absolutely. But groups that had nothing to do with the problem shouldn't be the ones to pay for the mistakes.

Chicken is a stupid game. It's time for our leaders to grow up and make some adult decisions before it's too late. As I write this, there are seven days until time runs out. The time for grandstanding and scoring political points is long gone. Now is the time to get serious and solve these problems.

The City Council has decided to do nothing for now about the controversial Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund and its revenue source--some $3 million in taxes on food and beverages sold in the city.

The city gives this money to charitable organizations, groups that do things like put on festivals or put up art works around town.

This concept of benevolent generosity is not unique to Naperville. In happier times, the city of Joliet used to give a share of its revenues from casino gambling to schools and nonprofit organizations.

Not any more. Casino revenues are way down, thanks to the indoor smoking ban and the overall sluggish economy. This year, Joliet pulled the plug on handouts.

In theory, the $3 million that Naperville gives away to do-good organizations is $3 million more that you, your neighbor and the guy down the street and the gal across town have to pay out of your own pockets to fund those essential services like police and fire protection.

Now, Naperville's a generous town, and time and time again the community responds when the call goes out for help. The thing is, it's one thing to voluntarily open your hearts and wallets and lend a hand. It's another when the city taxes you and forces you to give money to charity.

What say you? Is it time to abolish the Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund, and return those food and beverage tax revenues into the general fund to offset the budget deficit and reduce the number of layoffs of public safety and other personnel?

Naperville City Council member Grant Wehrli proposed a bold suggestion Tuesday night, when the council unanimously approved a new 1.5 percent tax on downtown businesses in order to pay for new parking decks.

Wehrli thinks Naperville should stop imposing a 1 percent citywide food and beverage tax, and levy a half percent instead.

This tax has been in place since 2004 and for the last few years its revenues have been doled out to various cultural and community groups, to the tune of about $2.7 million per year.

What do you think of Wehrli's idea? Other council members seemed cool to the suggestion. He says given this tough economic climate, every little bit helps. Do you agree, that taxpayer dollars paying for the arts is a luxury we can't afford these days? Or are the cultural programs too important to neglect, whatever the cost?

Sunday's Sun features the results of a Sun study about Naperville's highest-paid public servants. We used the Freedom of Information Act to ask the city, school districts and park districts for lists of their highest-paid workers, then combined the findings into one list.

In a moment, you'll be able to share your observations. First, here's a couple of thoughts from us:

Why are administrators in Indian Prairie School District 204 paid so much more than their counterparts in Naperville School District 203?

The highest-paid public servants work in schools, not the city. Why is that?

The park district's highest salaries don't even register in the top 20 citywide.

The findings reported in The Sun are simply base salaries. You gotta figure another, what, 20 percent in costs borne by taxpayers for health insurance and other benefits, then add whatever retirement contribution taxpayers are making, not to mention auto allowances, etc.

Now, your turn. What do you think of the salaries paid to public servants in Naperville? What would you change, if you could?

A two-part series beginning in Sunday's Sun explores pensions for public-sector employees. Part I delves into city pensions: how pensions for police officers, firefighters, public works employees and others are funded. A typical 30-year veteran of a municipality these days can expect to collect about $72,000 a year for the rest of his life. And often that person will be in his 50s when he retires.

Part II explains how the burden for funding teacher pensions falls mainly on the state. Still, the income and sales taxes you pay are expected to pay for these comfortable retirement plans.

These days, it's hard to find comparable benefits packages in the private sector, where 401(k) and similar programs designed to help individuals supplement expected Social Security incomes are the norm. Employers often make a modest match, but nothing like the 9 or 10 percent matches that municipalities and school districts kick in.

Given the state's financial situation, it's clear that pension reform is needed. Match amounts are determined by state law. Yet lawmakers seem to lack the political will to even consider reform, what with the clout wielded by unions.

How do we fix this problem? How do we even start? Or, do you even agree that there is a problem? Maybe you think the current pension systems are fair and sustainable, that it will always be the responsibility of taxpayers to fund these programs. It seems unlikely that any proposal to reduce pensions would ever pass--it would be political suicide for any politician to support that.

OK, then, here's a thought: If state law forces local taxpayers to pay for these generous $6,000-a-month retirement plans, what about getting the state or federal government to increase income taxes on those who collect public-sector pensions? Then the recipients at least would have to kick back enough until a fair balance is reached.

What other thoughts or ideas about public-sector pensions do you want to share?

Naperville Potluck

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