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Not Taxed Enough Already: Thousands of Protesters at Illinois Capitol to Press for Tax Increase

by Michelle Manchir and Ray Long

SPRINGFIELD -- Thousands of protesters bused down by labor unions and social service advocates rallied at the Capitol today in an attempt to pressure state lawmakers into raising the income tax to avoid more budget cuts.

Thousands of people, including state union members, teachers and social service groups, protest cuts to programs at the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday. An estimated 15,000 people rallied outside the Capitol to demand the tax increase.(Tribune photo/Abel Uribe) A spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White estimated the rally crowd at 15,000, with more than 12,000 marching around the building. That would appear to make it the largest Capitol protest since the Equal Rights Amendment crowds a quarter-century ago.

Bus after bus pulled up on streets surrounding the Capitol complex and dumped sign-waving protesters clad in purple, green, red and blue shirts that represented a show of strength from a variety of public employee unions and dozens of groups that formed what they named the “Responsible Budget Coalition.” (You can see a photo gallery by clicking here.)

"Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes!" they chanted, lined up shoulder to shoulder for a few hundred yards stretching a street in front of the Capitol.

"These 177 people who have a job don't want to do their job," said Henry Bayer, head of the Illinois chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, referring to the number of lawmakers in the House and Senate. "Yes people are hurting, that's why we need a tax increase....If you try to leave town without doing your job we're going to chase you."

Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing a 33 percent increase in the state income tax rate --- taking it from 3 percent to 4 percent --- to prevent cuts in state spending. Quinn has suggested that education will bear the brunt of the cuts, although that would have to be negotiated with the General Assembly.

Lawmakers, however, are leery about voting to raise taxes during a sluggish economy with an election less than seven months away. At the Capitol, it's thought that the earliest a tax increase vote will come is after the November election.

So organized labor showed up in force at the Capitol today to pressure lawmakers to change their minds.

Among the protesters is Terrie Monaghan, who took a hit last year when her choice was to have no fourth-grade teaching job in Grayslake or share the position with another teacher. She chose the latter, and also works as a substitute teacher and tutors students after school “to make ends meet.

“Half the salary, half the benefits … half of everything,” said Monaghan, 39.

A group of more than 60 teachers, staff and students from downstate Bloomington and Normal wore bright pink shirts and jackets to symbolize the thousands of pink slips circulating statewide. They carried bottled water and signs that read “SOS” that stood for “save our schools.”

Camille Taylor, a guidance counselor nearing retirement, said the district did away with field trips to state parks and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum this year. “We can’t afford to pay for buses,” she said.

She said she hopped on a charter bus this morning to Springfield “to raise hell, basically.”

Jennifer Ritchason, a middle school social students teacher in Bloomington, came armed with hundreds of letters from her students asking legislators for more money for schools. She said she hopes the children’s words will resonate with the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan, among other legislators the letters are addressed to.

“If you don’t care about your future, I don’t know what you can truly care about,” she said.

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