Lame-duck lawmakers will help decide key issues

January 5, 2011 4:23:32 AM PST
The Illinois General Assembly is meeting in Springfield, and from tax increases to casino expansion, there are some important issues on the table.

For Mark Walker of Arlington Heights, these are the last days of his first and only term in the Illinois of House of Representatives. He says he will vote yea or nay on bills this week without regard to politics.

"The difference is that I get to vote my conscience, which I always try to do, without so much worry about what I am going to say about it later," Walker said.

Walker and 15 to 20 other lame duck lawmakers will help decide several key issues, possibly including a bill to increase the state income tax from 3 to 4, or as much as 5 percent.

"As you know, we already passed an income tax down in the Senate, so they're talking about trying to get the votes to pass an income tax, a version of that, out of the House," said Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, refused to comment on a possible tax increase bill. Madigan's Democrats have the majorities to pass one in both the House and Senate. Republicans still refuse to put any of their votes on a tax bill.

"Too many things would have to take place long before any colleagues of mine on the Republican side would vote for an income tax increase," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, D-Hinsdale.

Senate President John Cullerton is counting on post-election Republican support for a measure to borrow billions to the pay the state's pension obligation.

"The pension borrowing bill that already passed the House, we believe we have the votes for that, and that's what we're calling on this week," Cullerton said.

Other issues on the table include gambling expansion, education and Medicaid reforms, a $1-per-pack cigarette tax and a controversial bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.

"The state shouldn't be in the business of killing its citizens. I mean they just absolutely, positively should not be doing that," said Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Proviso Township, Ill.

But police, prosecutors and family members of murder victims appeared at the Capitol to protest the effort to end the death penalty.

"To abolish this death penalty is wrong. It's wrong to all of us victims," said Bill Sloop, a relative of a murder victim.

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