SPRINGFIELD — A metro-east lawmaker says an anti-tax group is needlessly targeting him in mailers designed to prevent Illinois' temporary income tax increase from becoming permanent.
The Illinois branch of Americans for Prosperity says it will send the mailers to voters in the districts of 17 state lawmakers, including Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton. The mailers ask if the 17 will "stand with Illinois taxpayers" or with Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan, Democrats who are pushing to make the tax hike permanent.
"I would say it's misguided," Costello said Wednesday. "But at the same time, I understand there will be a full-court press by some groups in both directions."
Costello said he won't be voting to extend the tax.
"The people of the state were told they would pay this for a finite period of time. That time expires in January of 2015. In my opinion, we as a state government need to do a better job of living within our means," Costello said.
He added, "I think anybody who looks at my voting record knows that I'm fiscally conservative."
The temporary tax costs workers a week of pay. It was approved in 2011 as a temporary fix to generate $31 billion for paying off backlogged bills. But most of the revenue went toward employee pension funds and interest payments. Even with the cash infusion, the state still has a $3 billion budget gap.
Quinn and Democratic leaders in the legislature warn there will be severe cuts to state services -- such as prison closings and massive teacher layoffs -- if the temporary tax hike isn't made permanent.
David From, the Illinois director of Americans for Prosperity, said Costello was targeted because he stated in a February news account that he would vote against extending the tax.
"Many of these legislators at one point recognized that permanently increasing the income tax will harm Illinois's hardworking families and slow economic recovery. They need to honor their commitment to their constituents and allow the tax hike to expire as promised to taxpayers when the measure was passed," From said.
No other metro-east legislators are among the 17 targeted in the mailers. But From said the group might use a previous statement by Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, "in some efforts."
Haine, while running for re-election in 2012, said: "I'm telling you, I'm not going to vote to extend this tax, if I'm so fortunate as to be elected."
Last month, after hearing of the proposed cuts to state services if the tax expires, Haine left open the possibility of voting to extend the tax, saying: "I'd want to hear from my citizens as to the effect on their lives, our communities, across the board. I'm not going to consider it until we have all the facts."
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at email@example.com or 239-2511.