Metro-East News

May 15, 2014

Hoffman to GOP: Did a dog eat your budget plan?

Illinois House Democrats showed their reluctance to embrace an extension of the state's income tax increase Thursday when they passed dozens of bills to create a budget for next year by only the narrowest of margins.

Despite holding a 71-47 supermajority in the chamber, Democrats supporting a budget that would be funded by extending the tax increases could muster only the minimum 60 votes to pass many bills setting spending figures for education, social services and other state programs.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has not so far mustered enough support for the income tax extension, which is critical to bringing in enough revenue in the next year to fund programs at the levels Democrats want.

Madigan set up Thursday's budget votes as a way to pressure lawmakers not to let the tax increases expire as planned in January. But as each vote was cast, a number of reluctant Democrats waited at their desks until the last minute to record their votes, hoping to avoid supporting the budget.

Some Democrats joined Republicans in questioning the propriety of voting for spending bills before the Legislature has first agreed to raise the revenues to fund them.

"I can't vote for a budget without matching revenue," said State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Democrat from Des Plaines. "I was a chief co-sponsor of a bill that pledged not to make the (tax) increase permanent."

The budget under consideration would spend some $38 billion in the next fiscal year. But if the tax increases are allowed to expire as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2015, revenue to fund programs was forecast earlier this year at only $34 billion, leaving a huge gap.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, voted in favor of the spending measures. He accused Republicans of criticizing the Democrats' spending plan but not offering their own blueprint.

Hoffman, during a fiery speech on the House floor, said he looked everywhere for a GOP spending plan -- in his Springfield office, in his district office and in his mailbox -- and finally had to ask his dog, "Willie, did you eat the Republicans' plan?"

Looking to Republicans in the chamber, Hoffman continued: "You know what your plan is. Your plan is to not have a plan. Your plan is to criticize us."

Thursday's debate was long and contentious, stretching over eight hours, as Republicans, unhappy with the budget plan, made unsuccessful efforts to adjourn.

At one point, the Republican and Democratic sides of the chamber began posting dueling signs above their desks.

Republicans' signs read, "temporary?" -- a reference to Democrats' initial promise to let the tax increase roll back. Democrats, in turn, taunted Republican's lack of a competing budget plan with signs that read, "Got Plan?"

The Legislature has two weeks to go before its May 31 adjournment, which means more negotiating is on tap before they break for the summer. The tax extension also needs 60 votes in the House for passage.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who is in a tough re-election campaign this year, met with several lawmakers individually to stress his support for the $38 billion plan and extending the tax increases, his spokesman Dave Blanchette said Thursday.

"We'll get a responsible budget," Quinn told reporters. "We're not done yet. We have lots of work to do on the budget and this is a very intense time."

Republicans, who oppose the extension of the tax increase, argue that the budget maneuver flouts the Illinois Constitution, which states "appropriations for a fiscal year should not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available that year."

"We are voting for an unconstitutional budget plain and simple," House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said. "We must stop this reckless pattern of insane spending."

Mundelein Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of speaker Michael Madigan, asking for her opinion on the constitutionality of the current budget process and urging a "swift response."

Without action this year, the Illinois personal income tax rate will drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent in January and the corporate tax rate from 7 percent from 5.25 percent, causing an estimated loss of $1.8 billion in revenue. The tax hike is costing the typical Illinois taxpayer about $1,100 per year.

The tax increase, passed in 2011, was billed as a temporary fix for Illinois financial problems.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said a vote in favor of the spending plans presented Thursday was a vote in favor of extending the tax.

"Not only will the tax hike become permanent, but Illinois is still left with billions in unpaid bills that were supposed to be paid off with the increase," Kay said. "Instead of allowing families and businesses to keep more of their hard-earned money come January, the Democrats decided to spend more in order to tax more."

Under the $38 billion House Democratic budget plan being considered on Thursday, the state would make the full $6.5 billion payment for employee pensions next year. Spending on education, veterans and the prison system all would rise under the proposed budget.

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