By Bethany Jaeger and Patrick O’Brien
At the same time Gov. Rod Blagojevich and top Democrats and Republicans met in his Statehouse office to talk about a long awaited capital plan, House members one floor above rejected an idea Thursday to help pay for it. Members of both political parties voted against letting voters decide whether to increase the state income tax rate for the wealthiest citizens.
After the vote, House Speaker Michael Madigan walked out of the Capitol without attending the leaders’ meeting. It appears last year’s political fissure between the speaker and other leaders and the governor still exists, and maybe even deepened. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie attended the meeting instead.
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard attended the meeting as part of Blagojevich’s plan to move along negotiations with bipartisan input.
After more than an hour, House Minority Leader Tom Cross came out of the meeting and said nothing substantial was discussed beyond the scope of a $10 billion plan, the same number mentioned last year. Cross also said the deal would be a consensus proposal designed so it wouldn’t have to be changed in either chamber, indicating long negotiations given the non-existent relationship between Madigan and Blagojevich, as well as between Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones Jr.
Cross and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson were optimistic that a deal could be reached this spring session. But Watson also said that May 31st, the day the session is scheduled to end, “is just another day in the week.”
They scheduled another meeting for next week. Hastert and Poshard also are holding more public hearings around the state.
No progress for progressive tax
The so-called graduated income tax was expected to fail. Even the Democratic sponsor, Rep. Michael Smith of Canton, said he wasn’t surprised, that he knew some Democrats would vote against the idea and that Republicans would band together to reject it.
The measure would have created two brackets for the state income tax, applying a 3 percent rate on those making less than $250,000 and a 6 percent rate on those making more. Projected to generate $3 billion, it would have been split equally on education, a statewide capital plan and tax relief with an increased personal income tax exemption. If legislators approved the idea, voters would see the question on a ballot asking them whether to change the state Constitution, which currently applies a 3 percent flat rate regardless of income level.
Republicans argued that the Democrats knew the measure would fail but wanted the chance to be on record of supporting a plan to increase education funding and capital projects before the November elections. “You know it won’t pass,” said Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican. “Get your roll call. Attack the rich. Attack each other. Attack philosophical differences, if you will. But at the end of the day, what have we gained? We haven’t gained a yard. It’s not 1st and 10. It’s 4th and 2 in the fourth quarter, and this isn’t going to help. It just further divides us from the job we need to do.”
Smith said he resented the notion and was serious about wanting the proposal to advance, but his expectations couldn’t have been too high because he didn’t have any “serious conversation” with senators to get a feel for how the measure would fare in that chamber. The measure could come back for another vote or in some other form, he said. “I’m not going to drop the issue.”