April 10, 2010
Tax dollars paid; now audit them
By the SVN Editorial Board
You may have heard that Sunday is considered this year’s Tax Freedom Day for Illinois taxpayers. The 101st day of 2010 marks the point at which average Illinois taxpayers will have earned enough money to pay all their federal, state and local taxes, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.
Nationwide, Tax Freedom Day was Friday, meaning it took average U.S. taxpayers 99 days, or 27 percent of a year’s labor, to earn enough money to pay their taxes.
That’s a lot of time and money going toward government at all levels.
Most people don’t begrudge seeing their tax dollars spent for good purposes. Likewise, most people can’t stand seeing their tax dollars spent frivolously.
The problem is, most people don’t have the same amount of time to monitor government spending as it takes for them to earn the tax dollars they send to the government.
What to do?
One idea would be for people to demand that all governments be accountable for tax dollars spent by having those expenditures audited.
That is nothing new at the local level, where units of government, such as schools, regularly hire auditors for that purpose.
At the state level, however, an overall audit of all spending, hiring, procurement, and contracts awarded apparently isn’t done often, if at all.
House Minority Leader Tom Cross introduced a resolution last month that Illinois conduct a comprehensive forensic audit of state government spending. If the resolution is passed, Auditor General William Holland will have a year to conduct the audit at an estimated cost of at least $60 million.
But Cross and other audit supporters, led by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski, believe the audit could save the state $1.25 billion in wasteful spending and provide evidence of possible corruption. The former is little more than a guess; the latter is almost a certainty.
They point to comprehensive audits in Kansas in 2004 and Texas in 1991 that saved those states $1 billion and $8 billion, respectively.
Skeptics might wonder whether the Republican minority would be so eager for such an accounting if they controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office. Their political opponents might also question the timing of the proposal – in an election year.
As one might expect, House Speaker Michael Madigan is opposed to the idea. His spokesman questioned the audit backers’ motives and said it would be a waste of money at a time when the state is broke.
But in a state rocked by political corruption and unprecedented deficits and debt, a comprehensive audit could point the way toward a resolution of the state’s problems.
If nothing else, it would provide facts to skeptical taxpayers about how their money really is being spent. Motives aside, the process almost certainly would be a valuable one for the state to pursue.
Right now, we have only political leaders’ assurances that your tax dollars are being spent wisely. Given their track record, frankly, that isn’t good enough.
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