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Illinois Lawmakers Pass a Rare But Vital Tax Increase

Hours before newly elected legislators were to take office, cutting the Democratic majority in both the state House and Senate, the Illinois Legislature passed a major income tax increase to help address the state's $15 billion budget deficit.

The plan, which will increase the individual state income tax by 66 percent and borrow $3.7 billion to make this year's payments to the state-funded pension systems, passed by the slimmest of margins—one vote in the Senate and three votes in the House. "On behalf of the IFT," Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery wrote in an online column, "I sincerely thank those legislators who had the courage to cast 'yes' votes because it was the right thing—not the easy thing—to do."

The tax increase will help avert thousands of layoffs, help the state pay school districts and vendors billions of dollars in overdue payments, and provide critical revenue for public education and state services, Montgomery notes.

It's been a busy few weeks for AFT members in Illinois as they dealt with a series of legislative challenges. The state Legislature failed to approve other proposals that would have further eased the state fiscal crisis, including an increase in the cigarette tax, which would have provided nearly $300 million for education, and the governor's plan to borrow additional money to quickly pay down the state's debt.

But there were non-fiscal victories, as well. The state Senate did not act on a bill that would have limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees, and the session ended without a vote on education reform, including a plan the IFT opposed that would have eliminated tenure and the right to strike. [Dan Gursky, Illinois Federation of Teachers]

January 14, 2011