Some Illinois Democrats defy leaders on tax rises

SPRINGFIELD – Some Illinois Democratic lawmakers reluctant to vote to make tax increases permanent are splitting with party leaders and calling for alternative approaches such as gradually reducing income tax rates or finding spending cuts to help balance the budget.

But Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan are unwilling so far to look at those options, despite being what Madigan described as “significantly” short of the number of votes needed for approval of the tax increases in the House.

The intraparty disagreement is playing out with less than two weeks to go in the spring legislative session, and with lawmakers still needing to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That is frustrating several lawmakers – including some who are fighting to hold on to their seats in November – who expressed their concerns during an at-times contentious meeting with Quinn Monday, and again on Tuesday.

“We all asked the governor yesterday ‘Do you have a Plan B? Because this isn’t working,’” Rep. Deb Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, said Tuesday. “And so far he says no. So that’s kind of where we’re at.”

Conroy describes herself as a solid “no” to keeping current income tax increases in place, but said she’s “waiting to see what they’re going to come up with.”

Democrats in 2011 voted to increase the income tax rate for individuals from 3 percent to 5 percent. The rate is currently scheduled to drop to 3.75 percent for individuals in January. The rate for corporations would drop from 7 percent to 5.25 percent. That would reduce state revenue next year by an estimated $1.8 billion.

Quinn, who’s in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, has said the drop in revenue would prompt massive cuts to areas such as education and social services. He’s pushing for a $38 billion budget that would increase funding for education and other areas but relies on lawmakers making the tax increase permanent.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, the House’s second-ranking Democrat and sponsor of the tax increase legislation, said there have been discussions about gradually rolling back the rate from 5 percent, but said she thinks it is the wrong approach because the state needs the revenue from a full 5 percent rate.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and Senate appropriator, said lawmakers also need to look at other areas of revenue.

“I think there’s support here to invest in areas of the state budget that need it the most,” he said.

The measure to make the tax increases permanent is expected to barely pass the Senate, where Democrats have a supermajority.

But Madigan said Monday that Democrats in his chamber, also holding a supermajority of seats, were still “significantly short” of the 60 votes he needs. All Republicans oppose the measure.

State Rep. Jerry Costello, a Smithton Democrat who opposes the increase, said he’s advocating for “going through the budget line by line to prioritize spending.”

“I’d like to see (other) proposals, and that’s what I told the governor and our caucus yesterday,” Costello said.

Like Quinn, Madigan has seemed resistant to the idea of a “Plan B.”

“We’re going to find those 60 votes,” Madigan said Monday, noting the House was “just supporting the governor’s plan.”

Those efforts were made more difficult Tuesday as GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner launched a round of robo-calls targeting voters in seven legislative districts represented by Democrats facing tough re-election battles.

Lawmakers targeted included Conroy, Marty Moylan of Des Plaines, Carol Sente of Vernon Hills, Sam Yingling of Round Lake Beach, Mike Smiddy of Hinsdale, Kate Cloonen of Kankakee, and Sue Scherer of Decatur.

“Pat Quinn thinks you don’t pay enough in taxes – but I disagree,” Rauner says in the calls. “There’s still time to help me fight Pat Quinn’s tax increase.”

Yingling said Tuesday he isn’t worried about the calls because he has long opposed making the tax increase permanent.

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