Despite long odds, Quinn still pushing tax hike

May 29, 2009 7:49:36 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn continued pushing for higher income taxes to reduce the state budget deficit Friday, despite new warnings from lawmakers that a tax increase would not pass and a temporary budget was more likely.Quinn's fellow Democrats, even some who personally support higher taxes, said they lack the votes to pass an increase. They said it was increasingly possible that lawmakers would simply approve what money is available and then adjourn, leaving state agencies to limp along without a complete budget.

"We'll run out of money. That's the truth," warned Rep. Linda Chapa Lavia, an Aurora Democrat who chairs one of the House appropriations committees. "We're going to hit a day of reckoning where there's not going to be any more money to pay the employees of the state."

As she spoke, the House paused its business to recognize a group in the visitors gallery -- a handful of people on a five-day hunger strike to demand an income tax increase so that state services aren't slashed.

Quinn rejected the idea of passing a budget that covers only part of the state's annual expenses. But he indicated he was open to major changes in his original proposal to permanently raise the personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent, from 3 percent.

Lawmakers have suggested making the increase temporary, changing the percentages and dropping some of the tax relief proposals that Quinn wanted to accompany any increase.

"I'm willing to do whatever necessary to get the revenue to pay the bills for the coming year. We need a bipartisan effort to really handle what is an economic emergency in our state," Quinn said.

He urged the House to vote on a tax increase Friday. "Today is D-Day," Quinn said.

State government faces a budget deficit of at least $11.6 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1 because of a sharp drop in state revenues for this year and next, coupled with increased costs for health care, government salaries, pension and more.

Quinn wants to close the gap by raising taxes, using federal economic stimulus money, trimming some expenses and reducing the state's annual payment to government pension systems.

Democrats are the majority in the House and Senate, but some of them oppose raising taxes. They argue there's room for more budget-cutting.

"The more prudent measure is to pass a smaller budget and maybe come back in six months when this evaluation and the cutting has been done. Then we have a better idea of what we really need to do," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock. "But right now, it's just throwing more money at the problem and hoping for a different result."

Republican leaders have made it clear that they're not interested in helping pass a tax increase. They argue it would be bad economic policy, but the decision also carries political implications: Next year is an election year, and anyone who votes for a tax increase can expect attacks from political opponents.

"We've seen reckless spending the last six years, and no one seems interested in changing the culture in this place both from an ethics standpoint and an economic standpoint," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.


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