Ain’t God good to Indiana?
Folks, a feller never knows
Just how close he is to Eden
Till, sometime, he ups an’ goes
Seekin’ fairer, greener pastures
Than he has right here at home.


KOKOMO —  Reporter William Herschell wrote these words in 1919, but they are just as true today as they were then. What prompted me to recall these lines written so long ago, that became so famous that they grace a bronze plaque in the Indiana Statehouse? Why, Illinois, of course!

Illinois, home of incarcerated former governors, middling sports teams and mountains upon mountains of budgetary red ink in Chicago and in the state capitol, Springfield.  Illinois, the state that is called home by more than 200,000 fewer residents than five years ago. Illinois, the tax-and-spend state that has become the poster child for Democratic government mismanagement.

Illinois citizens, including my two daughters, awakened this past week to welcome in the New Year and nine new Illinois taxes totaling $1.7 billion. This new spate of taxes are in addition to 11 new taxes authorized last year that, in addition to the new taxes and fees, will gleefully extract $4.6 billion from the good people of Illinois. And, mind you, this does not even include the new taxes coming from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot!

Illinois is firmly in the grip of what former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels liked to call a “death spiral,” the process of budget deficits leading to tax increases leading to business and population loss, leading to more budget deficits…You get the picture. It isn’t pretty and it is almost impossible to escape without some cataclysmic event or a complete political overhaul.  

If only these new taxes could pull Illinois out of its current power dive, perhaps the sacrifice would be worth it. However, the Illinois Policy Institute believes that the operating budget will still be $1.3 billion in the red. Another analysis from the organization found that the $45 billion capital plan, which is partially funded by the new taxes, contains at least $1.4 billion worth of waste. Of course, waste is always in the mind of the beholder. New pickleball courts, dog parks and renovations of privately owned businesses may be perfectly reasonable to the budgetary elites in Springfield. “Would the last person left in Illinois, please turn the lights off on the pickleball courts?”

Let’s look at some of these new taxes or fees to be paid in Illinois:

You don’t have to scratch your head and wonder why Illinois legalized cannabis Jan. 1.  They project a minimum of $500 million of new tax revenue on the sale of legal “weed.”  And if you are thinking about opening up a cannabis shop on State Street, be advised that the government expects $170 million of licensing fees just to sell the stuff. New online and remote retailer sales taxes are projected to bring in $420 million more.  Everyone owning a vehicle will be dinged an extra $50 per registration, ringing up $441 million in additional revenue. The poor suckers who sought nirvana by buying electric automobiles will pony up an additional $237.50 per vehicle. Trucking company registrations will go up $100 per vehicle.  

Don’t think you can beat some of the higher taxes by just parking your car and walking.  Parking garage taxes will rise by $60 million.

My personal favorite of the Illinois tax scams is the trade-in-vehicle tax. That’s right, you heard it correctly, a trade-in-vehicle tax. Paying sales tax on a new vehicle is nothing new.  However, now when you trade your vehicle in toward the purchase of a new vehicle, you will pay sales tax on the full value of your trade-in.  

Let’s look at how this will work in practice. If you traded a car valued at $20,000 before Dec. 30, in order to purchase a $35,000 vehicle, you would have paid $1,311 in sales tax. Now, with the ringing in of the New Year, that same transaction will cost you $2,185. Ouch!  On the bright side, this will bring Illinois government an additional $60 million.  

The 20 new taxes enacted in Illinois over the past 12 months have amounted to a monumental shearing of the sheep. No matter how ugly these taxes have been and no matter how damaging to the future outlook for the Land of Lincoln, things may get worse.

Way back in 1818, the enlightened and conservative leaders of Illinois created their state constitution. For over 200 years, the Illinois Constitution has required that all taxpayers pay the same flat tax rate. This has been fair and has worked fairly well over the years. This constitutionally mandated flat tax does have a major drawback. It is a political hand grenade. If you want to increase income tax, you risk the ire of every Tom, Dick and Luigi who brings a paycheck home. From the local 7-Eleven clerk to the owners of the White Sox, everyone pays the exact same tax rate.  

Politicians, particularly Democrat ones (and you know who you are), have become adept at playing the class warfare game of soaking the rich and giving the money to their cronies. It is a simple mathematical function to figure out how much more cash you need to raise, determine what percentage of the voting public you are willing to offend and then stick it to them, all in the name of the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes.  The problem in Illinois is that the nasty old and dusty state constitution has blocked this practice. Well, that may soon change. In November 2020, Illinois voters will be asked to approve amending the Illinois Constitution to allow state government to abolish the flat tax and implement a graduated income tax scale.  

This important vote in November will be the defining moment for the future of Illinois. If the majority of the voting public allows amending the Illinois Constitution to enable state officials a seemingly never-ending and bottomless pot of cash, in the name of rich Illinois taxpayers paying their fair share, then there will be nothing to stop the inevitable death spiral to the bottom. The wealthy and productive class will continue the present mass exodus from the state, deficits will rise, property values will sink, large and small employers will abandon Illinois for the green fields of Indiana and the beat, or beat down, will go on. The good news is that the unemployed will have new pickleball courts to while their time away.

You may wonder why I would write about Illinois. I believe that Illinois serves as a cautionary tale. Prior to Gov. Daniels, Indiana ran up to the precipice, looked over the ledge and then took a giant step back. We have made the tough decisions that have put Indiana on firm financial ground, stimulated business development and employment gains and has given our state a bright and shining future for our citizens. But make no mistake, the same thought process that resides in the Illinois halls of power lurks in the Hoosier State. If given their way and the political power to do it, Indiana Democrats would take us down the same road to financial ruin as our brothers and sisters in Illinois.  

Don’t for a moment think that it can’t happen. It almost did just 16 short years ago.  Today, let’s rejoice in what we have achieved under governors Daniels, Pence and Holcomb, but remain ever vigilant to protect the state we hold so dear.

Ain’t God good to Indiana? You bet! 

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.