Public favors tax hike for higher education

By Diane Buerger

Eighty-nine percent of Illinois adults would favor a tax increase if the money was used to improve education, according to a survey conducted by the NIU Center for Governmental Studies.

Of a random sample of 805 Illinois residents, 65 percent favor an income tax hike if the money would go directly to education. Twenty-four percent said they would back a tax increase, if convinced it would improve the quality of education in Illinois.

Ellen Dran, research associate for the Center for Governmental Studies, said, “There is very strong support in Illinois for improvement in public schools and higher education.”

The survey, conducted from Nov. 9 to Dec. 4 by NIU’s Public Opinion Lab, questioned adults 18 years and older about which state taxes deserve increases. Residents were asked about taxes on income, sales, and food and medicine.

A non-earmarked income tax is favorable to 62 percent of those surveyed, 44 percent would accept a sales tax increase and 22 percent approved of applying the state’s five percent sales tax to food and medicine.

Those polled feel the state income tax is the least burdensome of the three major state and local taxes. One-third of those polled think the state income tax is too high.

“We hope the state legislature will support a tax increase for education, because the public is willing to pay for it,” Dran said.

Dran said the support of Gov. James Thompson on the issue of higher taxes “is not surprising” because “it’s not a ‘Republican’ or ‘Democratic’ issue.”

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has opposed a tax increase and has firm control of the votes of many House Democrats.

Steve Brown, Madigan’s press secretary, said, “It’s hard to say if there will be a tax increase. The governor has said he will not push for a tax increase. There isn’t much evidence that taxes should be increased.

“Those are the same questions they asked last year. It is unlikely that a tax increase would deal strictly with education.

“The data (in the survey) may be accurate, but it is flawed in terms of a possibility of such a bill. There are many other human services besides education,” he said.

ep. John Countryman (R-DeKalb) has been a past proponent of increased education funding and was one of four state representatives who proposed a tax increase for education last spring.

Countryman said, “It depends on what the governor does. The speaker of the house consistently has opposed such a increase. Last week, the governor proposed a budget with no tax increase. I plan to stay with the governor until the speaker changes his mind.

“Elementary and secondary education is funded by property taxes. An increase in income taxes would relieve the pressure on the property taxpayer. An increase could help curriculum and reading improvement. In higher education, it would allow an increase in salaries and compliment property taxes with funding having more access to state university systems,” he said.