Last issue, State Representative Robyn Gabel explained why she voted for the recent income tax increases and to abolish the death penalty. This time State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, the Senate Majority Leader, shared the reasons for his recent “yes” votes on those same issues.

Income Tax Increase

Noting that he had voted against “the 2009 proposal to permanently increase the income tax,” Sen. Schoenberg explained his “yes” vote on this increase. “Despite efforts to rein in spending, such as the 2010 pension reform, significant Medicaid reforms, Illinois continued plummeting toward insolvency,” he said. He said the expiration of the federal stimulus package, other losses in Medicaid funds, the State’s declining bond rating and the deferral of payments to many not-for-profit agencies pushed Illinois “to the brink of insolvency. … allowing Illinois to slide into bankruptcy simply isn’t an option for hospitals, schools, human-service agencies, mass transit.”

Asked about the increase in the corporate tax rate, Sen. Schoenberg said, “Illinois individual and corporate tax rates are in line with [those of] neighboring states. We haven’t raised them in 22 years.”

The Senator said, “I strongly feel that we have to seek further spending reductions and rein in costs, which means continuing to move forward how government does business.” He said he had notified Governor Pat Quinn that there would soon be a bill on the Governor’s desk mandating “income-based means-testing” for retired state employees receiving health-care benefits. “While there have been pension reforms, there is a key element of retirement benefits that has to be changed,” he said. He added that information provided by Julie Hamos, director, Department of Healthcare and Family Services and Brian Hamer, director of the Illinois Department of Revenue, “There are 84,000 eligible participants in the employee retirement system, yet only 7,500 of them make any contribution toward their health care. The state spends half a billion dollars annually on health insurance for retirees. … We’ve got to quickly and responsibly move to rein in these spiraling costs.”

Death Penalty

Governor Pat Quinn has yet to act on the bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, approved by both houses of the General Assembly. Sen. Schoenberg’s “aye” vote on the issue represented an about-face for him, he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “From Aug. 1993 until today, I supported the death penalty. … I struggled in 1993 to vote on the moratorium [on the death penalty].” He said he had felt that there were sufficient safeguards and reforms in place so that the death penalty would be administered fairly.

“Now we’ve had a chance … to see how well these reforms have done. … This issue has taken me to a place I never thought I would go. … [This vote] is arguably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my public career.” He said he had read an article about capital punishment in Illinois written by Leigh Bienen of the Northwestern School of Law, which showed a lack of uniformity, county by county, in applying the death penalty. “These county-by-county disparities [coupled with the] absence of a centralized review, the presence of possible conflicts of interest [demonstrate] that the death penalty in Illinois is not marginally flawed, it is irretrievably broken.” He recognized Northwestern University’s work on the Innocence Project, which had exonerated more than a dozen prisoners on death row. These persons were “stripped of dignity, their quality of life [was] stolen by coerced confessions and eyewitness accounts that subsequently proved erroneous.”

Sen. Schoenberg read the names of former Death Row inmates who had been exonerated through the efforts of the Innocence Project – and “others convicted of non-capital crimes” who have been exonerated.

“Whether you believe the death penalty is a deterrent or not, it’s an indisputable fact that in the economics alone, our system of capital punishment is simply not working in Illinois.”