Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Little hope for compromise by July 1

By Bethany Jaeger
The General Assembly will return to the Capitol in a special legislative session Tuesday afternoon, seven days before a new fiscal year starts without a state budget in place. However, legislative leaders appear unlikely to agree on a way to avoid a budget plan that would cut at least $7 billion from state-funded services after July 1.

According to Senate President John Cullerton, legislators will return to Springfield to address technical problems with the $29 billion capital construction program approved last month, as well as some other bills that authorized limited spending. But Gov. Pat Quinn indicated he still does not intend to sign the infrastructure program into law without a balanced operating budget in place.

While Quinn emerged from a meeting with legislative leaders in Chicago this afternoon and said he hopes to achieve both next week with bipartisan support, none of the leaders mentioned income tax increases as part of next week's agenda. (Thanks to Capitol Fax Blog for providing video.)

“Unfortunately, it appears at this point in time that the Republicans are not ready to vote for any revenue increases," Cullerton said. "And that’s unfortunate.”

Democrats maintain that the state cannot cut its way out of what Quinn estimates to be a $9.2 billion deficit and that an income tax increase is the only way to prevent draconian cuts to human services to the most vulnerable citizens. Republicans repeat their call for government reforms first, which Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said could reveal savings that would offset some of the need to raise income taxes by as much as proposed by Democrats. “The Democrat proposal is to raise taxes now and we’ll figure out reforms maybe later, and we don’t accept that that’s a realistic way to approach this,” Radogno said.

She also described the state's budget situation as "manufactured." “I believe it is a manufactured crisis to the extent that we do not need to have those draconian cuts on July 1," she said, adding that the state could fund services for the first half of the fiscal year while legislators continued to negotiate. Quinn said it's irresponsible to begin a year by spending money that would run out halfway through.

Cullerton said before the meeting that a "reasonable solution" would be to enact the Senate-approved version of an income tax increase that also would relieve property taxes and expand the sales tax to some services. He said House Bill 174 would need Democratic and Republican votes to pass in the House. House Speaker Michael Madigan said that not enough members of his caucus, which has 70 members, are willing to vote for an income tax increase without GOP support. “There were a certain number of House Democrats who said quite flatly, ‘I’m not going to go on a roll call when it’s Democrats-only,’” Madigan said.

Any revenue-generating proposal would need 71 votes to pass now that the legislative session has extended beyond May 31, making it harder for enough legislators to get beyond politics and agree on a budget plan within seven days of the new fiscal year.

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