Mt. Vernon Register-News

May 15, 2014

Illinois House Democrats reluctant to pass budget

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD — — Illinois House Democrats showed their reluctance to embrace an extension of the state's income tax increase Thursday when they passed dozens of bills to create a budget for next year by only the narrowest of margins.

Despite holding a 71-47 supermajority in the chamber, Democrats supporting a budget that would be funded by extending the tax increases could muster only the minimum 60 votes to pass many bills setting spending figures for education, social services and other state programs.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has not so far mustered enough support for the income tax extension, which is critical to bringing in enough revenue in the next year to fund programs at the levels Democrats want.

Madigan set up Thursday's budget votes as a way to pressure lawmakers not to let the tax increases expire as planned in January. But as each vote was cast, a number of reluctant Democrats waited at their desks until the last minute to record their votes, hoping to avoid supporting the budget.

Some Democrats joined Republicans in questioning the propriety of voting for spending bills before the Legislature has first agreed to raise the revenues to fund them.

"I can't vote for a budget without matching revenue," said State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Democrat from Des Plaines. "I was a chief co-sponsor of a bill that pledged not to make the (tax) increase permanent."

The budget under consideration would spend some $38 billion in the next fiscal year. But if the tax increases are allowed to expire as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2015, revenue to fund programs was forecast earlier this year at only $34 billion, leaving a huge gap.

The Legislature has two weeks to go before its May 31 adjournment, which means more negotiating is on tap before they break for the summer. The tax extension also needs 60 votes in the House for passage.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who is in a tough re-election campaign this year, met with several lawmakers individually to stress his support for the $38 billion plan and extending the tax increases, his spokesman Dave Blanchette said Thursday.

"We'll get a responsible budget," Quinn told reporters at an event in Cicero, noting proposed increased spending for education. "We're not done yet. We have lots of work to do on the budget and this is a very intense time."

Republicans, who oppose the extension of the tax increase, argue that the budget maneuver flouts the Illinois Constitution, which states "appropriations for a fiscal year should not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available that year."

"We are voting for an unconstitutional budget plain and simple," House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said. "We must stop this reckless pattern of insane spending."

Mundelein Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of speaker Michael Madigan, asking for her opinion on the constitutionality of the current budget process and urging a "swift response."

Without action this year, the Illinois personal income tax rate will drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent in January and the corporate tax rate from 7 percent from 5.25 percent, causing an estimated loss of $1.8 billion in revenue.

Under the $38 billion House Democratic budget plan being considered on Thursday, the state would make the full $6.5 billion payment for employee pensions next year. Spending on education, veterans and the prison system all would rise under the proposed budget.