By Jamey Dunn
The day before thousands of citizens descend on the Capitol to call for an income tax increase, Gov. Pat Quinn met with legislative leaders to talk about the budget for the first time since he laid out his plan in March.
The Responsible Budget Coalition, made up of educators, union members, social services providers, religious organizations and others, estimates that more than 14,000 people will attend the rally it is holding tomorrow in Springfield. If that happens, it would be one of the biggest rallies at the Capitol in recent history — perhaps three times as large as last year’s rally when social service providers and unions packed the building to capacity advocating a tax increase.
“The Illinois General Assembly must stop the irresponsible behavior that led us into this crisis,” William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois, said in a written statement. “Instead of doing nothing and walking away, they must act now to save our state. That means passing comprehensive revenue reform like House Bill 174.”
However there is no talk of calling HB 174, which passed in the Senate last year, for a vote in the House this session. There also seems to be little hope for Quinn’s 1 percentage point income tax increase, which he says is needed to avoid $ 1.3 billion in education cuts, passing before the November election.
Quinn himself put emphasis today on his “surcharge for education” being called for a vote more than he pushed the idea of actually passing it. “They should vote. I think it’s important to have votes in a democracy. The representatives and senators are elected to come here to vote on important subjects.”
However, Quinn said he has no plans to pass a bridge budget to get through election season. “I don’t understand what a six-month is. It’s a fiscal year, that’s 12 months, so that’s the only way I’m going. I don’t see any good purpose to having anything short of a full-year budget that’s fiscally sound. … We can’t have elected representatives not addressing the most difficult challenges we have and postponing them. We have to deal with things right now to make Illinois stronger.”
Both House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said the meeting lacked specific details.
“The focus continues to be on borrowing and increasing taxes and very little focus on cutting. One of the questions we asked again, and we’ve asked for this a number of times, is specifically what cuts have been made. There’s been a lot of talk about potential cuts, and a lot of those things just haven’t happened,” Radogno said.
As the budget is being sorted out there is talk of extending the lapse spending period, the amount of time after a fiscal year ends that the state has to pay off any leftover debts. The current lapse period, with an August 31 deadline, gives the state two months to catch up on late bills.
The change would allow the state to legally push off paying its pile of overdue bills to schools, social service providers and vendors. Quinn’s budget director David Vaught said it would keep those owed money from having to go though the Court of Claims to get their money Illinois after the end of the lapse period.
“I think there’s a recognition that we’re way behind. And it does not make sense to send our really involuntary creditors — these are people that loaned us money that didn’t sign up to loan us money. They signed up to deliver a service — to send them to the Court of Claims after they’ve been patient … and have been waiting on their money. I think would be a major problem. I think there’s a recognition of that. … I think there’s an understanding that we have to do something,” he said.
Thousands of those owed money or directly affected by the backlog of bills will be coming to the Capitol tomorrow to make their case for a tax increase.
“Tomorrow’s rally will show there’s a lot of people in Illinois, a great majority, that don’t want draconian cuts in education,” Quinn said of tomorrow's rally.