If you live in Illinois, try hard not to get into a car accident. Aside from suffering injuries, you may also take a critical hit in your wallet because you’ll have to pay a hefty tax for calling 9-1-1. This is in addition to the high taxes that Illinois residents already pay. My colleague Jordan Forbes tipped me off to this story, which underscores just how dysfunctional the tax system in Illinois has become.
As reported by CBS 2 in Chicago, Cary Feldman was hit from behind while riding his motor scooter in Chicago Heights last summer. Fortunately, Feldman escaped without injury. Nevertheless, someone called 9-1-1 and a fire truck was dispatched. "There was no fire, there was no explosion, there was no debris," said Feldman. "From what I saw, they came, they saw, and they left." But the fire department nevertheless billed Feldman a whopping $200 to respond.
The fee for the emergency response is commonly referred to as a "crash tax." States and municipalities all across the country are enacting such taxes for police, fire and EMS. Unsurprisingly, the public has voiced strong opposition to such types of taxes; nine states have enacted laws banning these fees. But Illinois is not among them. In fact, there is a bill pending in the Illinois legislature that would allow municipalities to charge up to $250 an hour for an emergency response.
Why would Illinois resort to such a tax? The reason: Illinois is a fiscal mess. The state is in perpetual economic decline because of poor decision-making when it comes to taxes and spending. Illinois has a complicated, opaque, and heavy tax burden; the 14th highest local and state tax burden in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. Additionally, the state’s unchecked, rampant spending has created a deficit of nearly $12 billion. This has forced the state and its municipalities to scrounge for money wherever they can, including from people like Feldman. Perhaps this is why the American Legislative Exchange Council’s recently released “Rich States, Poor States” report ranks Illinois as having the third worst economic outlook for this year among the states.
There are glimmers of hope that Illinois legislators realize that something needs to be done. In response to public demands, the Legislature recently passed a pension reform plan that would cut back some benefits to close an expected multi-billion dollar shortfall. But, sadly, the budget cuts are limited in scope. At the same time, Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed raising the state income tax rate by 33 percent. Let’s hope that the Illinois legislature realizes that raising current taxes and imposing new ones are not the answer to the fiscal mess and dysfunction in the state; only spending cuts and taxes reductions will help Illinois now.