By Jackson Adams -
SPRINGFIELD - A labor union representing nursing home workers, as well as a lobbying group representing their employers, pressed Tuesday for making permanent a 67 percent income tax hike during a Statehouse news conference.
The Health Care Council of Illinois and Service Employees International Union painted a gloomy picture for nursing homes if the tax hike is not made permanent.
HCCI led by saying they will see a 15 percent reduction in Medicaid funding if the tax hike expires.
“If the income tax surcharge is allowed to die, we could see cuts to Medicaid funding that would be devastating, putting elderly residents at risk,” said Shael Bellows, a board member of HCCI. “No one likes proposing higher taxes … but we must not try to balance the budget on the backs of seniors, many of whom cannot stand up and defend themselves.”
Despite the group’s rhetoric, there is no certainty just where cuts would be made if the tax hike expires.
And not everyone is sold on the idea that extending the tax hike is good for Illinois.
“I am vehemently against a tax increase,” said state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. “It was a promise made that it would be reduced on its own by way of life and that we would get our stuff together and we would as a state manage our fiscal situation far better because the economy would improve. Of course, none of that has occurred and now it is just a revenue grab in my estimation.”
HCCI said that the state puts them in a position to provide services regardless of reimbursement.
“We are caught in the middle between the state budget and what our residents require because we would be mandated to provide those services regardless of reimbursement,” said Pat Comstock, executive director of HCCI. “That’s why I’m saying that some facilities may make the decision to just no longer care for Medicaid residents because we just might not be able to bridge that gap.”
But not all lawmakers are buying this argument.
“I’ve seen a lot of organizations lining up with the same doomsday narrative,” said state Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville. “Taxes are way too high and it’s affecting people in the difference of thousands of dollars a year, not hundreds.”
And Democratic lawmakers, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, are far from unified on the issue.
“HCCI does not represent all of the nursing homes in the state,” said state Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago. “The HCCI homes are largely for-profit homes.”
Thapedi said that he hoped HCCI would look at their own practices before telling the state what to do.
“My biggest concern is not necessarily HCCI’s concern with extending the tax increase, but for them to be more cognizant of looking out for the well-being of the patients that they serve,” he said. “Before they start talking about the doomsday scenario of what happens if the tax increase is not extended, that they need to look at their own business model and make sure that they’re protecting the most vulnerable people, namely seniors and elderly.”
However, some Democratic lawmakers are on board with groups wanting to keep the state income tax at the same rate.
“There is a whole long list of very terrible things people do not want to see happen and all that it requires us to do is to maintain our current state of affairs as far as revenue is concerned,” said state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. “As a person of good conscience, I just hope that my colleagues will stand up and do the right thing.”
A vote to make the tax increase permanent is widely expected this month.
Jackson Adams writes for Illinois News Network.