Mt. Vernon Register-News

June 22, 2009

Quinn, lawmakers heading to Springfield

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he won’t be picky when lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday to try to straighten out the state’s budget mess as long as they pass an income tax increase to avoid deep cuts in social services.

“I support anything that’ll balance the budget,” Quinn told reporters Monday after rallying with hundreds of supporters in a Chicago park to keep the heat on lawmakers who have so far been reluctant to pass a tax increase.

The Democratic governor summoned lawmakers back to work in a special session to come up with a new state budget, which he hopes includes more revenue from an income tax increase for the new fiscal year that starts July 1. Without it, Quinn says, the budget lawmakers passed before adjourning their spring session will force $9.2 billion in cuts — reducing or eliminating services for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

But lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, said Monday there were no signs an income tax increase would pass.

“Our expectations are very low,” said Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.

House Republican leader Tom Cross will meet with his members when the session begins Tuesday, but little has changed since the GOP refused to back an income tax increase before adjourning June 1, said his spokeswoman, Sara Wojcicki.

Republicans have said they want to see more government spending reforms and efficiencies before they’ll even consider a tax increase. They accuse the Quinn administration of using scare tactics to pressure lawmakers to pass one.

The GOP has more bargaining power this time around because a tax increase and any new budget must now pass in the Democrat-controlled Legislature with a super majority — 71 votes in the House and 37 in the Senate — which requires their support.

Democrats have 37 members in the Senate, but they don’t have commitments from everyone that they will vote for a tax increase, Phelon said. Democrats have 70 members in the House.

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, wouldn’t predict whether an income tax increase measure would be called for a vote and whether it had enough support to pass.

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno said without support for a tax increase, she hoped lawmakers would pass a temporary budget that continued funding social services until the overall budget is resolved. She has said that if a tax increase is needed eventually, it may not have to be as large as Democrats want right now.

At Monday’s rally, Quinn got so caught up in the moment that he jumped up and down with exuberant supporters demanding that lawmakers pass a tax increase.

Joining Quinn at the rally were a handful of Democratic lawmakers, who implored their colleagues to pass an income tax increase to avoid massive budget cuts they say would be felt statewide.

“It is not a Democratic issue, it is not Democratic cuts. Guess what Republicans? It’s happening in your own backyard too,” state Sen. Iris Martinez yelled to the crowd gathered in Humboldt Park waving signs that read “Don’t cut me out” and “Please, please continue the funds.”

Martinez said the House needs take up a measure earlier passed by the Senate that would permanently raise the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent.

The bill was not voted on in the House, which rejected a two-year, temporary tax increase Quinn wanted that would have raised the rate to 4.5 percent.

Quinn said Monday a temporary tax increase was still the best way to go.

Besides the tax increase, other issues lawmakers will deal with include taking care of technical issues in the $28.3 billion statewide capital construction bill that lawmakers passed to do a host of public works projects.

Lawmakers may fix the bill, but the governor is trying to exert some leverage when it comes to signing it. Quinn said he doesn’t want to sign the bill until he gets a better budget from lawmakers.

“Everything comes together,” he said.