Among the last acts of the 96th General Assembly in Springfield were passing a bill increasing the income tax by 66.6 percent and abolishing the death penalty in Illinois.  State Representative Robyn Gabel and State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg voted in favor of both.

Income Tax Increase

Rep. Gabel wrote a letter last week to constituents, in which she said the tax increase came in response to the State’s “severe financial crisis” that has rendered it “unable to pay its bills in a timely manner, causing suffering throughout the state.”

The General Assembly, she said, “is taking measures to accomplish three things: reduce expenditures, increase budget accountability so we know our tax dollars have been wisely spent, and increase revenues so the State can pay its bills.”

Expenditure reduction.  Among the cost-cutting measures Rep. Gabel cited were reducing the number of state employees to an average of 54 per 10,000 residents. She said the budget “will require $800 million in cuts this year.” She said the bill caps spending at a “2 percent inflation rate each year. If the State exceeds the spending caps the tax increase stops and reverts to the 3 percent tax rate.”

Budget accountability.  Rep. Gabel said the General Assembly passed a new law that “holds government accountable and increases public participation in the budget process; stops the automatic renewal of multi-million dollar contracts without competitive bidding.”

Increasing revenues. The General Assembly approved Medicaid and pension reforms that will reduce spending in future years. The income tax increases, which will inject revenues into the economy are “temporary” and slated to be reduced “to 3.75% in Year 5 and to 3.25% in Year 14.” There will similar reductions in the corporate tax rates, one in Year 5 and one in Year 15.

Rep. Gabel’s letter concluded, “In addition to creating jobs in the science and tech/green energy fields, solving the budget crisis is my number one priority.”

Abolishing the Death Penalty

Rep. Gabel told the RoundTable she was one of the co-sponsors of the bill to abolish the death penalty because, “I felt we had too many innocent people on death row.” She said Northwestern University’s Innocence Project showed that. “The thought of the State’s killing someone who is innocent is too terrible to think about. The criminal justice system, although a good one, is not a perfect one. People with money can afford good legal counsel – it sets up a two-tiered system to begin with.” The moratorium on executions, imposed nearly 11 years ago by then-Governor George Ryan, still costs the state money, because people keep appealing.”

In a statement released by Northwestern University, Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern’s School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, said, “The death penalty is incredibly costly, $5 million per case for every death sentence imposed, just spent on pre-trial investigations. After that, capital cases are far more costly on appeal and to try than other cases. Before we ever execute anybody, we would have tens of millions of dollars invested in that specific case. It’s obscene.”

Steven Drizin, clinical professor of law and associate director of the Bluhm clinic, said in the same statement, “The time has come for Illinois to follow United States Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s wise words and to ‘no longer tinker with the machinery of death.’”

Although the City Council took no position on the income tax increase, at the Jan. 9 City Council meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she had written to Rep. Gabel and to State Senator Jeff Schoenberg that she supported the tax increase for individuals, but she made clear she was not speaking for City Council.

The RoundTable was unable to connect with Senator Jeff Schoenberg.